On New Year’s Eve, two years and six days ago, M asked me to take a walk in subzero temperatures. The sun was shining, and that feels rare in an Indiana winter, so I said, Sure, why not? We went downtown and stopped at a coffee shop we never go to (and haven’t gone to together since) and bought warm beverages. From there, we wandered onto campus and found ourselves at the Rose Well House, a gazebo where M and I had lunch together for the first time.
M started talking about the history of the gazebo, the legend about it, how it came to be, and what it was made out of. It was all very interesting, but I wondered why he knew all of this and why he was telling me now.
I knew it was going to happen about 10 seconds before it actually happened. It feels like it happened in slow motion, but I’m sure it was only a few seconds.
Standing in that gazebo, with both the sun and the moon visible in the sky at the same time, M asked me to marry him.
I was surprised. In shock. Freezing.
And I reacted the way most people do in those videos of proposals: I gasped, covered my mouth, and cried, even though it was far too cold for me to cry as many happy tears as I wanted to.
And I said, yes. Of course.
A few minutes later, the campus clock began chiming the hour.
It couldn’t have been a more perfect moment for the two of us.
Even before this moment, New Year’s Eve has always been my favorite holiday. I’m good at celebrating a new year. I’m good at dancing all night, I’m good at counting down, I’m good at drinking champagne. I’m good at cooling my face on the bathroom floor on New Year’s Day.
More recently, I’ve been good at eating well and hydrating so I can wake up sans hangover on New Year’s Day.
I’ve been good at knowing what I want to work on for the coming 12 months. I’m good at setting intentions, and I’m good at working hard at them and being kind to myself when I fail (usually).
This year, though, I haven't been able to come up with one or two words to set my intentions for the coming year. I’ve tried to sit down and write out what I want for myself and out of myself, and my body resists it. I feel like I’d rather crawl out of my own skin than write down what I want in 2017.
I love New Year’s rituals. My mom does, too. She’s collected so many over the years, both from Filipino culture and others. On New Year’s Eve, when the clock strikes midnight, she opens the front and back doors to let out the old energy, and lights candles at both open doors. She fills her pockets with silver dollars and walks around the house, throwing silver dollars around the perimeter. On January 1st, she doesn’t leave the house (unless it’s to go to church), she wears as much polka dots as possible, keeps those silver dollars in her pockets, and makes black-eyed pea stew. Her new tradition is to eat 1 round fruit a day for the first 13 days of the year.
When M and I started telling people we were engaged, the responses varied so widely. Everyone wanted to know when the wedding was. Our joke was, “Oh, we don’t know. One, one-and-a-half, two, two-and-a-half years from now?” To each other, we said, "Isn't it enough that we finally made this commitment to each other? Why do we have to rush this?"
When people started asking questions about dates, the ceremony, dresses, bridal parties, I started to realize how uncomfortable I felt with the whole thing. I wasn’t uncomfortable with my commitment to M — far from it. In those early days of our engagement, it felt like we were in this cozy, private bubble that no one and nothing could enter. The world was what we made it, and we were making it our home.
What was making me feel claustrophobic and uncomfortable was all the tradition around weddings and gender roles and marriage. When I looked at wedding dresses on Pinterest, I started clenching my jaw and felt a rage cry bubble up in my chest. All the dresses looked the same, they cost so much money, and I just hated them. All of them. When it came to the ceremony, there were so many options, and so many of them were patriarchal nonsense or cheesy or creepy or not reflective of who M and I are.
I could go on and on about everything that overwhelmed me when I started to think about planning a wedding. I don’t know about M, but for me, it felt like there are so many expectations on every aspect — the wedding itself and how we should do it, and where we should do it, who we should invite, picking the right color scheme. And then even more expectations and projections on who we’re going to be as a married couple — the old “You’ll see when you have kids” routine, the “You think you don’t want kids now, but you’ll change your mind” routine, the old “Is the old lady being a ball and chain?” routine. And on and on and on.
When I sit down to map out my intentions for 2017, I am overwhelmed by uncertainty. It feels like I’ve just been washed up on the shore after being sucked under by a wave and tumbled around violently. It feels like I finally have the ground under me, and I finally know which way is up, but I don’t know where I am and I don’t know what to do from here.
And god dammit, shouldn’t it feel that way? It should fucking feel that way. 2016 was a real shit show of a year, but the past three years for me have been full of life-razing moments. In the past three years, one of my parents came out as a trans woman, M and I got engaged, I fell into a new career path, I had the privilege of being accepted and able to attend the VONA/Voices writing workshop in Miami and the Pink Door Women’s Writing Retreat, and my mother was diagnosed with stage 4 lung cancer.
And that’s not even mentioning all the other things happening in the world to marginalized folks that always weigh heavy in my mind and heart. Police brutality against Black folks with no repercussions, mass shootings, stripping away reproductive rights and access, the Dakota Access Pipeline, the weight of daily microagressions, and and and. As I'm writing this, I'm thinking of all the things I'm not mentioning here. It's too much to write out all in one place.
The results of this election were the thing that finally broke me.
Since the election. I’ve been trying to figure out how to look into the future and still be able to get out of bed in the morning.
There is so much uncertainty that lies ahead. I don’t know what the world will look like. I don’t know what will actually happen. I know what I’m afraid will happen, but I have (some) hope that it won’t turn out that way. For once, I truly have no idea what lies ahead. Sincerely.
And it’s terrifying. Because it’s hard not to know what you’ll run into in the dark.
M and I still haven’t gotten married. But we’re close. We’re getting there. I think we’re finally ready to do this thing, and do it our way.
In times of uncertainty — in times of possibility — we turn to ritual to maximize the potential and luck of what will come next. All those new year’s rituals might not have any influence on the future. But who's to say that they won't?
Coming up with intentions for the new year has been my ritual. And this year, 2017, I’m not going to do it. I can’t. My body won't let me. I have to leave everything I know behind. All the old tricks that worked in the past just ain’t gonna cut it anymore. It’s time to clear away all the old shit, all the old equations.
This is a time to be radical. To uproot everything that I know. This is a time for revolution. In society, yes, but also in the self.
It’s time to do something new. To make something new. To be new.
So I won’t set intentions for the year. What I will do? I’m going to marry my guy. I’m going to keep writing. I'm going to write 52 essays in 2017 (this is the first). I’m going to be active. I’m going to care for myself. I'm going to follow my heart, my intuition, and my gut. And I’m going to see who I become and where it all goes.