December 31: Clean Slate: Tomorrow begins a new year. What will you do with your new beginning?
This post could well be called Meredith’s Uncanny Habit of Getting in Cars with Strangers.
When I was in Chile two years ago at Christmas, I went wine tasting in the Maipo Valley. I took subways and buses and taxis to get out to the wineries.
I ended the day at a rather large winery, and thought I was the only American in the group touring the grounds. But as we emerged from the caves, one of the other group members placed a Penn State cap on his head, so I struck up a conversation and we hit it off. He was an older fellow, and was travelling with his partner. At the end of the tour, we stopped in the wine shop. There, we picked up half a dozen bottles of wine, a corkscrew, and took our tour glasses and sat out on the veranda and drank ourselves blind.
Eventually, the sun began to set, and the winery informed us in no uncertain terms that we’d have to leave. It was then that I discovered that they had driven to the winery from Santiago, did I want a ride back to the city?
I’d been drinking all day in the sub-equatorial Patagonian sunshine, so yes, it made perfect sense to get into a car with two drunk strangers in a foreign country. But we made it back to Santiago, and they invited me out for a lovely dinner — which we had, and we drank until well past midnight over seafood in the heart of town.
This got me thinking: I trust strangers all the time. I get into taxis; towncars. I believe in these strange men with whom I often do not even share a language and trust that they will take me to where I want or need to go. And yet…I so rarely trust the people who are closest to me.
So on New Year’s Eve, I found myself dining alone at a celebration dinner.
This was fine, because I’d planned for a quiet night in. But over dinner, a fellow at the table next to mine struck up a conversation, and I discovered that they were a table of Americans. I moved over to join them for drinks, and somehow wound up in the ocean, with my clothes on, and then later, having changed, on my way to ring in the new year in a nightclub in Chaweng.
As we piled into the taxi to head from the resort to town, I must’ve looked mildly amused or perturbed by the whole thing because one of the girls gestured to her girlfriend and said: Don’t worry, the two of us are going to stay till Midnight, then we’ll be back if you want to make sure you’ve got a safe ride.
The club was called Green Mango, and we were about 10 years older than everyone else in the place. The music thumped and we stood on the platform above the crowd, as I drank bottled water and danced. At dinner, the band had finished their set by playing “You Can Call me Al,” and there we were — spinning in infinity. Angels in the architecture.
The clock struck midnight, and I was ready to leave. So were the girls. And we left.
In the taxi on the way back to the resort, we somehow got on the subject of life, and family, and where we were from. Somewhere along the line, we discovered that I’d gone to school with the cousins of one of the girls; they’d lived one street over from my parents. I didn’t know them terribly well, but well enough to recall very specific details about the family.
And then it struck me: I had done so much spinning and running and dancing and moving around the world; so much chasing my own tail and getting into cars with strangers, only to find someone related to a family who’d lived on the street next to my parents.
The point, I suppose, is just what it seems. The things we run around searching for are exactly where we left them — which is typically right back at the start. A girl like me could run from city to city chasing boyfriends and husbands and couching those moves as the pursuit of her own academic advancement or her career dreams, but never finding That Thing — that magical It that would soothe the existential ache. In Recovery, they call it “Doing a Geographic” — running; taking chances; assuming that trouble won’t follow.
In sum, on New Year’s Eve, I once again got into a car with strangers, and after midnight discovered that I was in familiar territory but not at all in the way I had expected. Instead, I was right back at the start. I was so confident with people I didn’t know very well, but so often failed to trust that the people close to me (or one step removed from closeness) could get me to where I needed to go.
Last year, I was the captain of my own shipwreck — washed up on a beach in Australia, in the company of the familiar but not comfortable in my own skin. And this year, I had run willingly into the sea fully-clothed, surrounded by strangers, but suddenly, no longer strange to myself.