by Len Lear
Right before any new year, one will see articles about all the great things to do on New Year’s Eve or the great experiences one has had on previous New Year’s Eves. Well, my most unforgettable New Year’s Eve experience was anything but great.
I was an 18-year-old freshman at Muhlenberg College in Allentown who rarely dated and spent most of my time studying. The only girls I knew were those in my classes, and there were not many of them. The previous year was the first year the college had ever admitted female students, and there were only six of them. In my own freshman class of 300, there were about 20 girls at most, and those who were interested in dating no doubt were looking for upperclassmen, not fellow freshmen and certainly not one who was small and thin and had no money or car or anything much except textbooks and a personality.
But there were two girls in my English class, and one, Wilma (last name withheld for obvious reason), was appealing to me. She was taller than I, quiet and reserved, very plainly dressed and very intelligent. Whenever she was called on by professor Ralph Graber, her comments were thoughtful and articulate. It was obvious that she did her homework, was not out partying and was a serious student. That impressed me greatly. Graber made it quite clear that we were his two favorite students, and we were the only ones who wound up getting A’s in both semesters. I could be wrong (after all, it was last century), but I’m pretty sure that no one else even got two B’s. So I felt Wilma and I were kindred spirits.
So right before the Christmas break, I screwed up my courage and asked Wilma out for New Year’s Eve. Imagine my surprise when she smiled (she rarely did) and said yes. I wanted to go out and celebrate with a milk shake. (I did not drink alcohol — yet.)
Over the Christmas holiday I learned of a New Year’s Eve party at the house of a friend from high school in Mt. Airy. He said that his parents would not be there and that there would be lots of alcohol. As I mentioned earlier, I did not drink alcohol, but I figured what the heck, it will be New Year’s Eve, and if you can’t drink booze on New Year’s Eve, when can you drink?
I am not sure, but I think Wilma’s parents drove her to the party, and I got there by public transportation. (How lame is that?) Anyway, we were having a fine time talking about school and actual ideas. She liked reading about political authors like David Hume, Edward Gibbon, John Stuart Mill, Voltaire and John Locke, and so did I. (I still do.) Meanwhile, other kids kept walking by and offering us drinks of straight whiskey. I don’t think Wilma drank anything, but I wanted to feel grown up, especially on New Year’s Eve, so I let my hair down, metaphorically speaking, and drank a few glasses of the rotgut that tasted like fire water, but I soldiered on. After all, how are you going to become grown up without going through this phase?
Well, after about an hour my head started to spin, and I became so dizzy that I could not even stand up straight. The whole room was turning around faster than a weather vane in a hurricane. A few people helped me get to a bathroom, where I kneeled on the tile floor with my head in the toilet bowl. I began throwing up and could not stop. After a while, I just fell over on the floor, unconscious. The last time I looked at a watch, it was about 11 p.m…
The next thing I knew, I woke up in a bed and opened my eyes. It took a while to get acclimated, but I looked over and saw a table clock next to the bed, and it was about 12:10. I tried to get up but was not very successful. After a while a woman walked into the room and said hello. I said to her, “Is that clock saying 12:10 a.m. or 12:10 p.m.?”
“I’m afraid it is 12:10 p.m.,” said the elegant, tall woman, who introduced herself as Wilma’s mother.
“Where am I?” I asked.
“You’re in our house in Moorestown, New Jersey,” she said. “Wilma called us and told us what happened, so we drove to Mt. Airy and picked you both up and brought you back here. You have been sleeping ever since.”
“Oh, my God,” I said. “I am so sorry. I can’t believe this happened. I am not a drinker and only had some because it was New Year’s Eve. I cannot apologize enough.”
Since Wilma and her mother would have been justified in burying me alive, I could not believe how kind and saintly both of them were. They kept saying they understood and forgave me, which made me feel even worse. I wanted them to yell at me, call me names and throw things at me.
I called my parents, who were very upset, of course, although my friend who threw the party called them the night before to tell them what had happened.
Wilma and her mom drove me home on New Year’s Day, and I was so embarrassed I never had the nerve to ask Wilma out again. I’m not sure I even talked to her again. But she went on to a very successful career in public service in New Jersey, and I learned never to get drunk again. And I have not. Not on New Year’s Eve or any other day. (I do like wine with dinner, however.)
Len Lear can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org