Oof, New Year's Eve. That's going to be tough, I think. But armed with a new persona and a new outlook, I'm gonna give it a shot. I’ve always liked the idea of second, and fifth, and tenth chances and I embrace every opportunity to start over and try again. Even on years when I didn’t make it to midnight, I sealed the promise of the New Year with a kiss and slept tingling with anticipation of new opportunities. For the first time in a long time, it’ll just be me holding out my arms to welcome the future, but when I look back at the girl that I have become this year I think that’s not such bad company.
About a million years ago, a girl from Huntsville, Alabama, gave me the nickname “Sabra.” This cactus is tough and covered with sharp spines on the outside, she explained, and one translation of the Arabic word subbār is “tenacious.” But she noted that another translation is “patience,” and that patience with this cactus rewards one with visions of bright luminous flowers while carefully pulling off the thorns reveals a coveted delicacy. I was, she said, all tough sharp outside and occasional beautiful surprises inside.
And for a long time, that worked, but damn it’s tiring. So in 2015 I took the liberty of renaming myself “Petal.” I just let the gentleness show, and ever so lightly I fell to the earth all slightly faded colors and velvet soft texture. I was reminded that petals are delicate, and I got punched in the chest enough that I have a bruise radiating outward from my heart. But crushing a Petal also releases her fragrance; it’s only in damaging her a little bit that all the good stuff starts to show.
New Year’s Eve is going to be one of those crushing events.
Petal- née-Sabra was so wan and so frightened looking at the start of the year, sitting next to the man she wanted to save, with his oxygen tank and chemo bed and bald head and big deep unfathomable eyes. She had such deep circles under her eyes, and her smile was often brittle and forced. She was doing her best to maintain those thorns. But they didn’t protect her, in the end. Then a few months later, she appeared in the photos again and slowly, incrementally, she shed the spears. She appears on mountaintops and the streets of strange towns and cities. She throws her arms around friends. She’s right in the middle of the gang of runners, at the base of the pyramid of old school chums, in the midst of the co-workers and colleagues. She is joyous witnessing the love of a dear friend, and incredulous at the sight of natural beauty. She is hugging dogs, and riding horses, and petting a camel. She’s dancing and driving and striking a ridiculous pose. She’s laughing and singing and blowing kisses and playing her banjo in her cowboy boots. She’s peeking out from under baseball hats and a way-too-big Stetson. She’s on a motorcycle, roping a hay bale, driving a tractor, and trying to stay upright on a pair of skis. (She was also on a trapeze, that didn’t go so well, frankly.) And she’s smiling. Really smiling. She still looks a little tired and sometimes a bit sad—shit, she IS sometimes a little tired and sad—but from time to time she’s actually radiant. Sabra was well loved, but she never really understood why. Petal is actually kind of adorable, even to herself.
So moving into 2016, Queen Sabra is dead, long live Princess Petal. If you want to find her at midnight on the 31st, just follow the sweet strong scent.