Your whole life changes, it really does.

We found comfort in a group of people that, aside from Matt, we hadn’t really been friends with prior to Rich’s illness.  Rich had a circle of friends that existed independently of the circle we shared – we had the same thing, obviously.  The difference was, of course, that Rich’s group was mostly all still in New Jersey, whereas our college friends were scattered all over.  Rich’s group still spent a lot of time together.  So we latched onto them for support.

Eventually we wound up spending a lot of time with them.  We sat around, talking, laughing, trying to make sense of what was going on with Rich and also trying to keep our sanity.  It didn’t always work – sometimes we’d get through an entire night, laughing and having fun.  Other times one of us would break down, thinking of all Rich was going through.

As the weather began to get cold, Sandy and I had decided that we were going to sell our house, and move west, further out to the country.  We liked the solace, and since I worked in Morris County and no longer needed to travel, I could handle a longer commute.  We were becoming aware of the small, postage stamp-sized yard we had, and how difficult it was in such a populated area to have three kids.  Ryan and Jonathan were sharing a bedroom, which was fine at the time, but as Ryan got older was going to become cumbersome.

We filled out all the paperwork to list the house with Angie, the wonderful agent who had helped us find the house six years prior.  And, to give us an idea of what we should expect once someone made an offer (something we expected to happen very quickly), we hired a home inspector to come and do a routine inspection.

And, of course, he found that our septic system was completely shot – a possibility I’d been warned about before we bought the house, and a warning I ignored.

Our property was so small that there was no room to put a new system in the backyard, so we had two choices: either install a new septic system in the front yard, along with a pumping system that would move all the junk out of our house, around to the front, and up the small grade in our front yard – or tap into the town’s public sewer system, which would involve digging up approximately 350 feet of private road, getting easements from all our neighbors, and tapping into the town’s sewer system on the main street.

Either choice was a five-figure expense.

We took the house off the market (it had been listed for one day) and elected to tap into the town’s sewer system.  That involved an ungodly amount of planning and paperwork, which was mostly handled by Sandy.  It was a fucking nightmare.

In hindsight, though, it was probably the best thing that could have happened to us, for four or five different reasons.  But the most important reason at the time was that it gave us something to occupy our time, rather than focus entirely on Rich and his medical issues.  Sandy and I could sit there and bitch and conspire against the town planners, zoning guys, neighbors, contractors, inspectors and workers who were making our lives miserable.

On New Year’s Eve, 2001, we had a party at our house.  It was just a handful of people who attended, mostly mutual friends of Rich and ours.  It wasn’t rowdy, or anything remotely resembling rowdy.

It was, however, pretty fun, given the circumstances.

Because of the work that was going to happen on our septic system, the contractors had dropped off a boatload of supplies, parts, heavy equipment, and one big port-o-john, which was camped out on our front lawn so that the workers didn’t have to keep coming in and out of our house during the day if they needed to use the bathroom.

Usually, when we had people over to our house, our front lawn became an extension of our driveway – our road was too narrow to parallel park, and our driveway would only fit perhaps three or four cars if they were crammed together very tightly.  So our front lawn was a mish-mash of bulldozers, sewer pipes, and cars that night.

After a few hours of drinking, one of the female guests at the party, a friend of Rich’s and a great friend of ours during the tough times, looked at me pleadingly and asked “Can I ask you a question?”

“Sure,” I replied.

“Do I really have to use the port-o-john?”

It was about the funniest thing I’d heard.  Knowing we were having problems with our septic system, she thought that the port-o-john was for us to use.  Not wanting to use the unsanitary portable bathroom on our front lawn, she’d opted to just hold it in – until her eyeballs were floating and she had no choice but to ask if she truly needed to pee outside in the freezing cold, in a filthy plastic box.

We all had a good laugh over that, and, ice broken, we were all able to enjoy our New Year’s Eve.

Later that night, I thought back to New Year’s Eve, 1999 – the first New Year’s I had spent without Rich since 1993.  Rich was a big Y2K buff – he had been, actually, since long before the Y2K hoopla became so overblown.  It was 1995 or 96 that he first started talking about it, initially discussing it as a curiosity – “What’s going to happen to all our computers when the date no longer begins with a 199?  Are the computers going to think it’s 1900 again?”

As he started reading more about it, though, he started getting more serious about it, often talking about the implications it could have on the financial system, public utilities, and the military.  Once he laid out a doomsday scenario that was so complex it even described traffic lights going off-kilter, making it impossible to drive safely in urban areas.

Ultimately I figured Y2K would yield few problems, but I was still unnerved enough to have stocked up on a few days’ worth of food, water, and a week or so worth of emergency supplies like batteries and first-aid gear.  Rich, on the other hand, had done virtually nothing.  Still, he was convinced something bad was going to happen, convinced enough to freak me out ever-so-slightly.  He’d laugh at my little supply of food, and then tell me about another major system that was going to crash on January 1.  And so on New Year’s Eve, 2000, Sandy and I stayed home and watched the ball fall together – when it became midnight in Russia I excused myself and walked upstairs and sat in Ryan’s bed, having decided that if all the Soviet missiles launch as a result of some Y2K flaw, that’s where I wanted to be.  And once it was 12:30 in Russia and I had not yet been vaporized, I sheepishly walked back downstairs, simultaneously relieved that nothing had happened, and wishing we had gone out to have a good time somewhere.

And here we were, just two years later, with the state of the world in a different kind of flux – and the state of our world even more so.

Each New Year’s, when the ball falls, I celebrate – kiss the people I’m with, have a sip of champagne, guzzle a little beer, and, more recently, tell Sandy that I love her.

Then, I call my mother.

When my father left during my childhood, my mother eventually established her own social life and her own social circle.  And on New Year’s Eve, she would go out and celebrate with her friends, leaving my sister and me home, either with a babysitter or, as we got older, alone.  But at midnight, I could always be sure that my mother was going to call as soon as that ball came down.

As an adult, I simply reversed that tradition, calling my mother to wish her a Happy New Year, because now it was me who was out and she who was home, New Year’s Eve parties long gone from her list of enjoyable social activities.

On New Year’s Eve, 2001, I called Rich as soon as I hung up with my mother.  Lissette answered the phone quietly.  We chatted for a few minutes – Rich had gotten tired and gone to sleep, unconcerned about ringing in 2002.  Lissette watched the ball fall alone.  We told her we loved her, and asked her to wish Rich a Happy New Year in the morning.  We passed around the phone, and our guests did the same.

~ by Al on December 11, 2009.

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