New Year’s Eve was never a holiday that mattered to me, but 2009 was different. My partner, Matt, had drowned that summer. The last day of the year meant entering a year in which he had never lived and a new year he would never see.
I was slumped over on the kitchen counter when my phone rang. It was my friend Rick. When I answered, he said, “There’s a New Year’s ritual I started awhile back. I go to the grocery store, buy a lobster, bring it to the beach, and set it free. I think of it as a second chance for the lobsters — and for me. I figure this might have some meaning for you.”
It wasn’t a question. It wasn’t really a demand this New Year’s Eve.
Years back, Rick and I hit a decidedly rough patch in our friendship, and had stopped talking. About three months after Matt died, I ran into him in my therapist’s building, and told him what had happened.
So that New Year’s Eve, we met at the grocery store. After choosing our lobsters, we drove separate cars the mile to the beach — the lobsters in a bag in my backseat.
It’s quiet, cold. Rick and I are on the dark, pebbly side of the beach, beside the ferry launch. We unwrap our lobsters. He takes out a knife to cut the thick bands that had been wrapped around their claws. We fumble and laugh, and the lobsters flail and click at us in the shallow water.
Holding his lobster by the ridge of its back, Rick says, “We can’t guarantee your life, or even that you’ll survive this night. But you are free. I am free. Whatever bands have held me back, I release them. Into the water, into the night. You have a second chance now, a second life. And so do we.”
We let them go. For a few moments, the lobsters just sat, stock still, unmoving in the shallows.
And then they left. Propelled out of sight, under the ferry dock.
Rick turned to me, clapped his gloved hands, and said, “Alright, that’s it. Well, I have people waiting for me, and a party to get to, so I’m off.”
No hug, no kiss goodbye. He just drove off in his sporty little car. And I stood there on the rocky beach, alone.
Back then, releasing those lobsters didn’t have that much impact on me. It was one intense thing in a sea of intense things. What comes back to me as I re-read my journal from that time is just missing —missing that time when my life with Matt was still so close to me. Grief and love were everything.
I am light-years now from the person on that beach. I am light-years from who I was as I’d hauled myself across the kitchen floor, debating whether I wanted to see a year without Matt in it. Whether to kill myself or make cupcakes. Crawling up the face of the cabinets. One hand over the other. Putting down the knives. Dragging the mixer out. Collapsing across the countertop. Answering the phone, agreeing to set lobsters free.
I lived those things. I don’t live them now. It doesn’t seem real anymore that he died right there, just feet away from me and I couldn’t stop it from happening. It doesn’t seem real to me that he was here at all. It happened, but didn’t happen; it happened to someone other than me.
Despite my best intentions, despite never once shying away from all that pain, I’ve changed. There is a freedom, a wildness I had back then that is so orderly now, within this life far away from those days.
Nearly four years from night, I think of those creatures, clipped and contained. How they paused before swimming back to their depths. If I were to release something this New Year’s night, if there is something captive in me to be set free, it would be this: the distance between that beach and now.