As 2016 turned into 2017 my husband Steve Evans reminded me that this night was in fact the thirty year anniversary of the New Year’s Eve that could, from a certain perspective, be said to be the beginning of our relationship. In honor of which I decided I would share an edited excerpt from my memoir, pulled from the chapter titled “New Year’s Eve,” and describing real events that took place at a party I threw in my San Diego apartment on the last night of 1986, the first morning of 1987.
from The Middle Room
Rodefer, accompanied by two friends from Berkeley, was one of the first to arrive. In the presence of these out-of-towners he augmented his nonchalance and increased his poetic asides such that, where on a normal night he might mention “Visions of the Daughters of Albion” and move on, tonight he threw in several passing references to “Jack” Donne and “Andy” Marvell, as though he had just downed a few scotch and sodas with them at some mid-priced hotel bar. He prodded me on the issue of Steve, demanding: “Where’s Evans?” “Why isn’t Evans here?” holding his cigarette between his middle and fourth fingers and up by his face like a girl. I was relieved of this taunting by the arrival of Helena, attired in a perfectly fitted black rayon dress and black seamed stockings, her golden hair, smelling of the rose-hip conditioner she used, neatly parted in the middle and brushed straight over each shoulder.
Chuck and Scott came next, and then Jack, followed by a bohemian cortège, four or five boys who brought their own beer, ignored the central group, and instantly set about rifling through my albums and commenting on their relative merits as though customers in a record shop.
Flushed with alcohol and the swish of my black taffeta, I remained undaunted when Steve showed up in the company of Marianne Binken.
This shockingly thin girl, who had bleached-blonde hair which, but for one long piece that fell forward into her face, was shaved very close to her head, was an ever-present figure on the periphery of my romances. I knew her only slightly. Originally she had been part of Jack’s circle, and before he and I formally met I saw them so often together that I had wrongly assumed they were dating. She and Steve were good campus friends as well, but as far as I knew their relationship remained perched on that threshold where the door of possibility remains open just enough that, thanks to the humidity, the ink on the appellation “just friends” is never completely dry, but not so open as to prevent the elements from smudging it into the far less legible mark of lovers. Ignoring her I walked right up to Steve and, just as I had done with Shannon, wrapped my arms around his waist and moved them up the length of his back. The proximity of our faces instigated an unspoken kiss—the first such show of affection we had ever exhibited in public. Suddenly he moved back and said, “Ah, the ever present Billie Holiday!” for he found my habit of playing her records at all of my parties impossibly morbid. I was unapologetic, knowing that my nostalgic passions were never better served than by her early recordings. . . . .
When I released Steve from my arms Lady Day was singing “Miss Brown to You,” and the lines “just wait and you’ll see” served as a suggestive backdrop to our unexpected kiss. I then learned that he and Marianne didn’t plan to stay. They were just making a brief stop before heading off to a far more stylish event being thrown by the art department—non-representational division—a party that I imagined would be absolutely crawling with those breathtaking lithe artistes. This news produced an emotion in me similar to the feeling I had experienced as a child when my father, after having made a big show of inviting me to lunch at a fancy restaurant, would be greeted on our arrival by a business associate, and I would realize that I was not going to be the center of a father/daughter lunch after all, but the prop at a business meeting, obliged to sit quietly while the men discussed important matters, regardless of which my father would still expect me to view the dining experience as a “special treat,” in turn making me very angry with myself for having anticipated with any pleasure the thought of spending time with him in the first place. I grabbed Steve by his upper arms, looked him straight in the eye and, with as determined an expression as I could muster given my stinging disappointment, made him swear to return before the clock struck twelve.
I put aside my annoyance at Steve’s hasty departure to attend to the remainder of my party, whose male guests seemed to arrive and depart in shifts like factory workers, the first shift of Rodefer, Chuck, and Scott relieved around eleven by the second shift of John Granger, Douglas, and Bill . . . .
Bill looked stunning in high-waisted vintage slacks, a very wide tie and a camel-colored fedora. His customary “in the doghouse” expression seemed to have been replaced by a grin not unlike that of a small boy trying to charm the hardened heart of an isolated old heiress who has been shut up in her memories just long enough to be classified by the medical establishment as suffering from a mild dementia. Helena and I both shamelessly flirted with him and, over the course of the evening, she and I convened several secret conferences in the kitchen to discuss what we thought the odds were that he might be persuaded to yield. . . .
At midnight the culmination of these conferences came to pass. As my guests were counting down the clock and preparing to chime in the New Year, I found myself face to face with Bill in the unassuming, though private, environment of the bathroom. Without thinking or caring about the repercussions of my actions, I took off Bill’s fedora, looked into his light blue eyes, and put my lips on his mouth. Just as I felt the edge of his tongue on mine the door was thrown open and from the witness a cloud of gossip rippled out and into the living room where it swirled around the heads of the guests like a great animate smoke and was kept alive just long enough so that Steve might learn of the kiss when he returned, a little after midnight, in a far more passionate and bold mood than the one in which he had left.
I shudder to think that, but for the interruption of this lavatory kiss, the whole history of our circle may have been rewritten. I can only believe that the Fates must have been paying especial attention that night when they decided, as the weave of our futures came nearly unraveled, to re-thread our destinies back into their right and proper place. Though Steve hardly could claim the exclusivity of my affections, he was nevertheless harmed by my lavatory transgression. It was too close to home. And though I doubted the justice of his reproach, it smarted on my conscience all the same. I attempted to make up for it by dragging him into my bedroom for a passionate and prolonged kiss. We then rejoined the party, but in order to prevent more erotic ambiguity we made a promise that, whatever else happened, we would stay together that night.
When we walked out into the living room, John was sitting cross-legged on the blue foam couch and, having installed himself with a glass of champagne, was summarizing the various effects of our personalities on the western world. “Steven,” John said, catching a glimpse of his “all black” under the lintel, “yes” Steve replied, “You are the end of Christian thought.” Then John pronounced Douglas, who was making out with Tracy on the twin bed that sat in the corner of our living room, “the end of all thought,” and finally Helena, John confidently informed us, was “the end of everything.”
None of us wanted the evening to end and perhaps some part of us truly believed that our collective will, as long as our feet were moving, our thirst unquenched, and our passions unfulfilled, might actually keep the new year at bay. Shannon, having slept through the midnight revelry, awoke refreshed and rejoined the party. We moved the area rug out of the living room and slow-danced to Billie Holiday and Edith Piaf until four in the morning. Finally Douglas, who had made a covert plan to spend the night with Tracy, volunteered to drive Bill and John home. Shannon fell asleep on the twin bed in the living room and, after we pulled it out and fitted it with a clean sheet.
Steve and I went into my bedroom. Only a long night of abandon such as the one that was just ending could have freed me from the fear of another disastrous encounter like the one we had shared on my twenty-second birthday. But everything that had gone wrong then now went right. Our exhaustion, mixed with the tension of my illicit kiss with Bill which, for all I knew, had coincided with an analogous kiss between Steve and a lithe artiste at the non-representational-art party, provoked a luxurious and uninhibited night after which we fell asleep in each other’s arms just as the sun began to rise.
When I opened my eyes I felt sublime. On the floor by my bed my black taffeta dress and his leather jacket lay like a heap of coal interspersed with tiny glinting pieces of obsidian. I crept out to the kitchen to make coffee . . . . Steve joined [Shannon and I] in the dining room wrapped in my blue kimono robe. He had pulled his long black hair into a ponytail with one of my hair elastics, revealing his long thin neck and his extraordinarily large Adam’s apple. Struck by his gaunt appearance Shannon nicknamed him “Ichabod Crane.” He crouched down on the floor and held the white porcelain cup of coffee I had handed him balanced on his knees. The three of us savored the post-mortem discussion. Steve refused to believe that Douglas was in the house. “I can’t hear him talking,” he argued. Douglas’s loud voice, which rang with that whining tone typical of ardent denouncers of minor injustices, could usually be heard at a distance of four, sometimes five, rooms. Using pure scientific reasoning, Steve concluded that given that the morning’s stillness, and New Year’s Day is stiller than most, was broken by only the sweet chirps of a neighboring bird, it was categorically impossible that Douglas was on the premises.
The debate over the likelihood of Douglas’s presence, though he be silent, went on for some time until finally the man in question produced irrefutable evidence by appearing in the flesh, looking like a man looks when he is sure of his place in the world and all that is required of him. Soon after his triumphant appearance, Marianne came by to pick up Steve and we all walked down to Topsy’s 24-hour coffee shop for a big greasy breakfast of eggs, bacon, sausage, hash browns, toast, and coffee. Though I had no idea how these our furtive pairings might find their final significance, I was content, certain at that moment that there were no other friends with whom I would rather be nor breakfast I would prefer.