While I was talking with a friend, the subject of New Year's resolutions came up, as it tends to do every year around this time.
"I don't like the word 'resolution,'" I told him. "I mean, it should be a strong word, resolve, you know, but because of how it's been used for New Year's, it's gotten all weak and lazy. Now it means that you let the calendar decide when you're going to start being a better person, which, really, just gives you some other external force to blame when you inevitably go back to being a jackass. As if half the world needed another way to avoid that responsibility.
"I like 'goals,'" I said. "I think that's a good word."
"Got any goals, then?" my friend asked.
I nodded. "I'm going to try to grow wings," I said.
My friend raised his eyebrows, shook his head. "Only you," he said. "Okay. What kind of wings you got in mind?"
"Crow," I told him. "I don't think I could grow anything else and be taken seriously. I mean, come on. Imagine someone gets called up for an open mic and they flit up to the stage on these dinky little hummingbird wings. And then imagine they go, 'I've got some poetry I want to share with you tonight.'"
"I see your point," he said.
But that wasn't what I was telling my friend at all. What I was telling him was something that already hung everywhere around us, over our heads and on top of our shoulders, as sharp as the chill in the air, which was that the previous year had been almost absolute crap for just about everybody we knew. If someone had told me at the beginning of the year, in fact, all the details of how bad it was going to be, I would have called bull. Impossible, I would have said. And yet, there it was. There it had been.
So in the face of all that impossibility, why not? Why not wings?
"I think black feathers are the way to go to show I mean business," I said.
"Got any other goals?" my friend asked. "Any that are a little more realistic?"
"The usual," I said, shrugging. "Career goals, some publishing goals."
My friend let his cigarette hand fall to his side and squinted at me. "I think I see something sticking out of your back," he murmured.
I had no cigarette and so had been playing with my breath, wishing I could trick it into curls and loops as it spread out in front of me against the whip crack of the air. When my friend said that, though, I won't lie--I let a cloud of my breath just go. I bit back a tiny laugh and a little bit of hope, holding those in my mouth in its place. My friend reached behind me and with only his fingertips touched my shoulderblade.
"Just a piece of sweater fuzz," he said, showing me the offending curl of black cotton.
My laugh left me like a vapor trail in reverse. "One time," I said, "I had a piece of fuzz on my arm, right above my wrist. But it was curled up so tightly, and I had never seen it before, and I guess static was keeping it stuck to my skin--I swore I had all of a sudden developed cancer."
My friend laughed.
"See," he said, "long ago when you looked at sweater fuzz, you assumed you had a cancerous mole. Now you hear about it and hope you have wings. Already your outlook is brighter." He nodded. "I think you set a good goal, actually."
I thought about this and smiled.
"What about you?" I asked him. "Got any goals this year?"
"I have a resolution to stop smoking," he said, flicking his ashes down the driveway.
* * *
Happy New Year!