For me the Christmas/New Years time has always held special meaning because it's also the time of my birthday. I was born December 22nd 1981. I've come to be fond of that date. I really like 1981 as a year to have been born. The 1 makes it feel like it was the start of something. I always imagine people born in the later half of a decade to feel as if they missed out on what made the decade of their birth special and important. They might be a 70's kid but they don't have any of the memories associated with that. I remember the '80's. That's the other part I like about my birthdate. I think the 1980's were a really good decade to grow up in. They represented a time of relative peace and prosperity in America. The cold war was winding down, it was obvious to anyone paying attention who would be the winner. Sexual and racial liberation were already accepted facts of life and even homosexuality was starting to gain acceptance, but we had not reached the stage of full sexual saturation, or at least that's how it seemed. Network TV hadn't seen its first NYPD Nude butt and there were no porn stars with giant billboards in Times Square.
Speaking of Times Square, New York was still a dirty dangerous place to live. I can remember back when I was a kid there would be a notice of a new rape or robbery just a few blocks from us almost every month. There is a manned guard booth right across the street from the building I grew up in so nothing ever happened here but it was all around us. One of my first incidents of true gender awareness was figuring out that it was only female joggers who got robbed and rape in Riverside Park. That made my friends and I perhaps a little too foolhardy about going there after dark, but true to advertising we never experienced any trouble. These days I walk through the park at midnight with hundreds of dollars of electronics equipment pretty fearlessly, but the difference is that women can pretty much do the same (Not that I'd recommend it.) That's part of what Giulianni did for the city and something that outsiders and commuters will probably never understand.
Fortunately for me my parents had enough money to keep a house outside the city that we could go to on the weekends. That's where I played little league baseball and learned how to shoot a bow. It was a magical place for a young boy and if I ever had children I wouldn't want them to grow up without the opportunity to experience that on a regular basis. The things that really stick in my memory from my childhood are not the trips to Broadway shows or the museums in the city but rather the things we got to do up there. I remember ski trips in the winter. I remember my friend William's family had a big farm (He was also a city child who had a country house in the same area as I did) and we spent countless hours roaming through fields and woods in his property. I remember getting lost when it was dark and snowing and we would imagine there were wolves and bears all around us as we crashed through the snow hoping to stumble upon a path or a puff of smoke or anything to lead us back to "civilization." Forty five minutes later we were sitting in front of a roaring fire eating home-fries and drinking hot cider.
I remember Nacho eating contests (the local place sprinkled them liberally with jalapenos and the rule was the first person to take a drink lost. I rarely did.) I remember lobbying parents to go to a particular restaurant purely on the basis of whether or not there were arcade machines there, and passing news among friends of which PG-13 movies stretched that limit enough to be worth seeing. I remember snowball fights and "Canoe Surfing" and bike rides between our houses where we got lost in the rain.
I'm not reflecting back on my youth to claim it was a better time or to talk about lost innocence (Although I can't imagine kids today have even the shred of innocence we did back then. Not with everything that's been going on these past couple of years and all the smut out there on the Internet, which didn't come into its own until we were teenagers and had already experienced the wonders of late night HBO and Playboy magazine.) I reflect upon it simply because I can. For a very long time I was incapable of thinking back on that time without thinking about my father and feeling profound hurt. Over the last year or so that has lifted somewhat and I can recall the good times for what they were, good and special times. I look towards my future and I can see it's a little brighter than it used to be, but you can't have a really good future if you don't acknowledge your past and that's something I have to do. Not just the tragedy but the wonderful things. Not just the pain and agony of loss but the moments of bliss. I need to remember my friend Jake and I riding our bikes through the cemetery way after nightfall and throwing rocks at a nest of wasps then biking away faster than they could fly. Or the time when I was like 10 and hit a home run on the baseball field where the high schoolers played. I need to remember blowing up army men with firecrackers and setting them on fire near the cinder block chair. Climbing trees and skipping snails across William's pond. I need to remember these things because they are a part of who I am AND because I'm going to need them if I want to be able to write as well as I'd like to write. I need to remember them without flinching and without fear of how they'll make me feel.
I'm not sure I'm capable of doing that yet, but I will be.