"Happy New Year" by Will Musgrove

Will Musgrove

Will Musgrove is a writer and journalist from Northwest Iowa. He received an MFA from Minnesota State University, Mankato. His work has appeared or is forthcoming in The Penn Review, Florida Review, Pinch, The Forge, Passages North, Tampa Review, and elsewhere. Connect on Twitter at @Will_Musgrove or at williammusgrove.com.

Happy New Year


“A new millennium,” Dick Clark said on the television a room away, all of New York City celebrating behind him, “a new you.” The ageless celebrity offered a fresh start to everyone as Uncle Jimmy filled our bathtub. “Clean drinking water,” Jimmy said, checking his Garfield wristwatch, the cartoon cat’s paws showing five minutes until midnight. He wasn’t our real uncle. He was just a middle-aged dude who showed up at our parties, so we nicknamed him uncle.

Since I didn’t have anyone to kiss, I volunteered for Jimmy duty, which normally meant listening to his conspiracy theories about little green aliens and secret societies. Not that night. That night, according to Jimmy, a computer glitch was sending us back in time to 1900, causing planes to plummet out of the sky, stock markets to crash, and nuclear missiles to launch without warning.

Jimmy glanced at his wristwatch again as if he were waiting for a bus and not for everything to come to an end. We only knew what he told us. He claimed to be possessed by the spirit of an ancient fortune teller, claimed that was how he knew what was really going on. We didn’t care. He always brought a few cases of beer and made us laugh. In 1999, that was all we needed, a couple of brews and a good laugh.

Dick Clark rambled about how 2000 sounded like something so far away, something out of a science-fiction novel. He predicted all that humanity would accomplish. He talked as if the year were more than just a number. I knew no one was listening. Why would they? All of that was for tomorrow. Today was a New Year’s Eve that wouldn’t happen again in anyone’s lifetime.

“If we’re going to survive, we’re going to have to stick together,” Jimmy said, flashing me his wristwatch, Garfield’s paws now just a couple of minutes until midnight. “We’re going to have to trust each other.”

He said trust like a pinky promise, like he did not doubt that, at the stroke of midnight, the world would become this scary, unbearable place.

“I trust you, Uncle Jimmy.”

Jimmy grabbed my elbow. He looked like he didn’t believe me. Probably because I didn’t believe him. His eyes flashed with a man choosing between fight and flight, and I thought he might pop me one, might accuse me of trying to befriend him so I could steal his bathtub full of water once everything went to shit, regardless of whether it was my bathtub or not. Instead, he leaned forward and whispered in my ear.

“Prove it. Tell me a secret.”

So I proved it. I don’t know if it was the holiday or if it was because it was just Jimmy and me in that ‘90s bathroom, but I told him a secret.

“I’ve never made it to midnight.”

It was true. I was eighteen, had just moved out of my parents’ house. Every New Year’s Eve prior, I’d drink coffee and do jumping jacks but never crossed the finish line, never saw the ball drop. The next day, everyone would wake up hungover and tired and I’d be rested. For me, it was just another day. For me, nothing changed but the date.

Ten, nine, eight, seven… My roommates counted backward to something new. When they hit zero, the power grid didn’t fail, the lights stayed on. An electronic, monotone meow emitted from Jimmy’s wristwatch. He unplugged the bathtub, shrugging his shoulders as if to say, “Oh well, maybe next year.” We rejoined the party, and I didn’t feel any different. I thought I had avoided Armageddon. The next morning, I woke up hungover like everyone else, but even hangovers are temporary.

Many years later, I realized no one avoids Armageddon, that Armageddon starts when we’re born, that we’re all being stalked by a cat hidden in the bushes of our peripheral vision. The cat’s limbs move in slow motion, so we can’t see or hear the danger until it’s too late and our bones creak with routine.

When I made it to midnight, the version of me in that ‘90s bathroom died, replaced with the 2000s version of me, the version of me where staying up until midnight on New Year’s Eve was no longer new. With each following day, each new experience, I became less and less—the duality of each decision collapsing into a single thread, one possibility, one life. Soon, I had no new experiences left to observe, and now I’m middle-aged, 42, and people are counting backward again.

Golden Christmas lights are strung along the perimeter of my living room like a halo. My wife squeezes my hand. I have someone to kiss this New Year’s Eve. We’ve been married for almost two decades. Earlier, I explained to one of our friends at the party how we plan to renew our vows in the summer. I tried to hold the word renew on my tongue, but it was slippery and dissolved like a piece of hard candy. Dick Clark is gone, replaced by Ryan Seacrest. On the television, he lists all the things we survived to make it to a new year.

Ten, nine, eight, seven… Friends and family blow into noisemakers, and corks pop, but I’m not thinking about the now. I’m not thinking about the future. I’m thinking about being in that bathroom with Uncle Jimmy, about how I’d yet to make it to midnight, about how I always woke up unchanged. I’m thinking about how all that’s left to do is shrug my shoulders and say, “Oh well, maybe next year.” Until then: My wife kisses me, and I taste the champagne on her lips.