Our grandmother was still alive and still well, and our parents still young enough to go out on New Year's Eve -- so this was a long time ago. We could stay up until midnight, she told us, and we could have popcorn and cocoa. We could watch the ball come down.
What ball? Come down from where? In New York, she explained, a large lighted ball falls from a tall tower ten seconds before midnight. When it hits the ground, it's the New Year. That was the strangest thing I'd ever heard -- how does the ball get up there? How does it know when to fall? .
Well, midnight -- anything can happen then. What was the world like at midnight, we wondered. It must be very different from what it is in the non-witching hours. What was it like at the moment when one year yielded to the next? Everything in nature must stand still as the world draws breath for this walk into the unknown, I thought. We'll be able to tell when it happens! The prospect was unbearably exciting.
The hours between my normal bedtime at seven and the magic at midnight were interminable. I was not then, nor am I now, a night person. We put on our pajamas. We played some card games. We had our popcorn and our cocoa. As eight o'clock and nine o'clock came and went, sleep began to beckon. But I fought it hard -- I wanted to stay awake, to see the ball come down -- I still didn't understand what that was all about -- and to smell the obviously new scent of a new year. How strange it was to be up, to be in my brothers' room, all of us. I would just rest my cheek against the rough wool of the army blanket on David's bed, just close my eyes for a moment...
Wake up,< he shook me roughly. The ball's coming down. I squinted at the black and white television -- the overhead light in the room was harsh and glare-y, and the screen was so small. I couldn't see anything on the screen except what looked like a blizzard.
Where's the ball? I asked, but nobody heard me. My brothers and my grandmother were counting backwards: 6...5...4...3...2...1...0... Happy New Year! The crowd on the television sounded just like the crowd at a football game. No different. My brothers were the same as before. The room was the same. Where's the ball? I said again, beginning to panic. What happened to the ball?
You missed it, David said, and I began to cry.
Time for you to go to bed, said my grandmother. She took my hand and led me into my room. It was the same, too. But my pillowcase was soft and smooth, and my quilt smelled like lavender. My stuffed animals were there waiting for me, and my dolls gazed at me from their shelf. They were just the same as before. Things change, oh yes, everything changes. But not upon anybody's signal. Not at the behest of anything as artificial as time. Who cares about a dumb ball anyway, I said to myself, and drifted off. It was the New Year.