It's no secret that I've been a little bummed lately. General anesthesia plus morphine plus a couple of weeks on a narcotic pain reliever always seems to mess with me somewhat; add to those things a few weeks off work and a lot of mandatory time in the house with my leg encased in ice and elevated, and you can bet I've been a little stir-crazy.
So when I found I'd be spending New Year's Eve alone, I thought, Of course.
Don't get me wrong: Kevin fully deserved to go to Illinois for his family's Christmas celebration, and we both knew I wouldn't be able to make the 10-hour round trip when I can barely stand to remain in one position for five minutes. It wasn't his fault my kids also happened to be out of state visiting their dad. The timing sucked, purely and simply, and I was left alone with the dog.
Some well-meaning friends, upon learning of my loser-on-New-Year's-Eve status, invited me to various gatherings, but I really didn't feel up to it; I still can't walk well, and I tire pretty easily. So, as no one was willing to bring the party to my house, I mentally settled in for an evening of watching the ball drop with Anderson Cooper and Kathy Griffin.
Then came a last-minute invitation -- one I couldn't refuse. And I'm so glad I didn't.
My dear friend Shelly is the parent of two sons; one of them, Jake, is a young adult with Down syndrome. Jake lives in an apartment with two other young men with special needs, and Shelly was planning to hang out at their place New Year's Eve so their caregiver could have some time off.
"You have to go with me," Shelly said. "When you're feeling a little down, there's nothing like these guys to make you feel better. They're a hoot."
I love Jake and welcome any opportunity to see him. And it would be just for a couple of hours; I reasoned that I could do that without watching my knee swell to a size larger than my head. And so, chocolate cake and buffalo chicken dip in hand, I went.
When I arrived, the party was in full swing. Jake and his roommates, Nik and Zach, were playing ping-pong, and the trash-talking was in full force as the guys and Shelly counted to see how many times they could volley over the tiny net without missing. A New Year's Eve special was on in the background; I found out the guys were waiting anxiously to watch their favorites, Justin Bieber and Lady Gaga.
The guys greeted me with hugs and enthusiasm. "Thank you for coming to our party," Zach said again and again, and Nik, the least verbal of the roommates, just smiled and said, "Yeah." Jake gave me a hug and showed me all the Iowa State memorabilia he had received for Christmas.
We shared dip and cake and conversation, and then Shelly and I visited as the guys watched their New Year's special. They blew noisemakers and laughed and talked as their favorites sang on-screen, and once in a while one of them would shout out, "2012!" We played more ping-pong then, with all of them cheering on my good -- and not-so-good -- shots.
As the ball-drop neared, Shelly filled the roommates' glasses with sparkling grape juice, and the guys took cautious sips. "This tastes like the real thing!" Jake, who has never tasted alcohol, said with a laugh.
At 11 p.m., when the ball dropped in New York -- the guys aren't night owls -- there were well-wishes and hugs all around. The guys drank their beverages, laughed at their own antics, and began to prepare to wind down for the night.
It was then that I -- always the worrier, always thinking of the next step -- realized that these guys were totally in the moment. And that was something I envied. Here I was, smiling at them as I worried about whether the just-starting rain would make the roads slick, and about carrying things out to my car with my bum knee. But they were thrilled about the new year, and about being together.
Jake, Nik and Zach are by no means "simple," as my grandmother would have worded it back in the day; each one holds a job, and they help manage their own household. They shop and they cook and they clean, keeping order in their world and keeping tabs on their money so they can enjoy the things they love, such as watching their favorite shows, attending Iowa State games, and taking part in any number of activities around town.
But they're filled with their own joy -- the joy that comes from simply being together and looking forward to doing the things they love. When they thought ahead to the new year, they didn't think ahead to "What's going to happen with this?" and "How am I going to afford that?" They simply luxuriated in the moment.
I learned from that last night, and I hope I have the good sense to keep learning from it. Happy new year, guys. Thanks for inviting me to your party.