Final Moments of a Never-ending Year
The watch gives me five minutes. Not a moment more, not less- but the rest of the world seems to disagree. In the distance, I can hear cheers and carried whispers from a large group fifty meters away. One minute. That’s all this year has left to offer, according to them.
Pre-celebration fireworks scatter the sky sporadically. Here, on silvered sand and waves aglow, I have watched them all. Bursting, fading. Fading. And with each that dispels, my grip tightens around the glass. This week’s bottle isn’t labelled. It’s smaller than the usual- my hand wraps around it fully with ease- but the folded note still fits cleanly inside as I take a deep breath and push it in.
I hide my secrets in the ocean. Always have, since we moved here. Every week, fears and wishes and hopes and horrors. Every bottle empty of pain, sunk down by a person I don’t recognise any longer. My dreams wash away what slept there before.
The cheers reach me again. Thirty seconds. My watch adds four minutes. I’m in my own world now- this one isn’t waiting for me. A green firework escapes into the night sky. Its colours cast me into a time of infinite summer. Empty sprite bottles and full green cups sitting on the dock, as we splashed in the lake.
Merrin and I had grown up together from day one. We were best friends, and neighbours until the day she left for college. Being two years younger than her had never gotten in the way of our friendship, and I would forever admire her outlook on life. She always said it was about the little things; the small, micro-cosmic moments in time that made you smile. It was about the deep-rooted appreciation for whatever made you happy. For her, it was the colour of palm trees and lime soda. The memory of lying in grass and watching the clouds float by, sipping on sour citrus as worries washed away. And maybe it was that, or envy, or simply coincidence, but on the last day before she left, everything was green.
The green turns to night sky, but a fireball is quick to replace. Twenty seconds left.
Flynn was wearing red the day he brought me to the carnival. It was a faded T-shirt I constantly saw on him that never seemed to match his expensive shoes, and he laughed when I bought him a new one for Christmas. He’d gotten me a mug to add to my collection. It was the colour of Santa’s suit, with a white outline of a stocking. That was the first time I cried over a present. Three days later, he declined my call.
The saddest thing is when people you thought the world of become strangers. The laughs, whispers, and memories fade into living dreams and you cross each other by in streets with barely a second glance. Ties severed. Regrets in the air. I saw him two weeks later at the market square. Flynn only met my eyes for a second before his pace quickened and he looked down to readjust his scarlet bag. I was suddenly reminded of something he used to say whenever we missed a bus or the cinema was full; life moves on.
Ten Seconds. As the countdown starts, gold showers the navy skies amongst the sprinkling of stars.
I was never after the medal. I didn’t glance at the prize cheque. All I saw as I entered the field was the high jump bar, yellowed grass, and the blonde woman sitting at the front of the crowd. She’d cleaned up today. Her hair was slicked into a ponytail, jeans freshly ironed. Mom hadn’t come to an event since Dad died, but the second she found out I’d made it to such a big competition she sprung out of bed. I was living her dream. It was her confident smile that eased my frenzied butterflies and made me take the leap. For a second, I flew. Soared with hope and gazed at the sunflowers by the fence when I landed.
It was only when I got up from the mat that I noticed the bottle neck sticking out of her handbag on the floor. The sunny rays of hope dimmed out, and the medal put on me was never worth its weight in gold. Two days later, she would grab it from me as I cried on the floor. “You quit the only thing you were ever good at, and I hope you know you’ll never get that opportunity again.” Her tone was sour, raspy, and cold. The gold medal left with her, and all I had was an empty bottle and yellowed paper pad for groceries.
I recall that day so often, terrified it’s what my future holds. But you don’t become your own ghosts, no matter how much they haunt you. The past doesn’t repeat. It can’t. At least not within families, when there are people so determined to never become reflections of those they always knew.
My stories are painted across the sky for me, blues and pinks and oranges all painting countless memories in this frozen, final moment. It’s been a hell of a year. Enough to reflect on for a lifetime. But I am so done reflecting. And thinking. And being stuck on pasts while everyone goes into the futures.
As the numbers diminish, I glance at my watch. Almost four minutes still. Four minutes in the past, away from the now. Around me, mini gatherings are taking place, sparklers filling the air with the sweet smell of champagne and sea salt. It’s time to let go, I think. Life moves on. And I race the world to the finish line. The bottle cap comes off, and I cram the watch inside.
I get the end of the strap inside, and I spin the top back on. My feet pick up toward the ocean, that the tide has slowly been pulling away from me.
I start to run. A group of people near me glance my way for a heartbeat, but the count makes them look back as they shout out their last moments of 2020.
My arm pulls back, throws forward.
I let go. The bottle spins in the air.
It lands in the water.
In the distance, the group cheers. I smile with them. Standing here as the sky fades into bursts of rainbow embers, a cycle of dreams renewed. Somewhere in the waves, there is a bottle four minutes behind the rest of the world, still clinging to the past. But I’ve stopped holding on to that. I fall in love with the anonymous crowd cheering on the beach, with the invisible groups setting off fireworks, the families no doubt hugging their loved ones. I fall in love with people.
In the loud bustling momentum of day, we chase after wishes and hope that tomorrow will surpass our today. When silence falls, we push back with smiles and voices and flashes of all the colours you could imagine.