Eva Wise­man

A step-by-step sur­vivor’s guide to Jan­uary. Plus, the archive

The Observer Magazine - - News - @eva­wise­man

Shock and de­nial No. no, no, no, nope. This is not… ap­pro­pri­ate? It can’t be Jan­uary – time has bro­ken, has been dropped on a tile floor, much like that bot­tle of Cham­pagne, oh God it’s com­ing back to you now. Wait. Wait, surely you didn’t then say, “DON’T WORRY ALL UN­DER CON­TROL” and, on top of the glass, sprin­kle salt? It was shortly af­ter this that time cracked and it be­came 2019. Which is no co­in­ci­dence and which you ob­ject to.

Pain and guilt There used to be some quiet joy in a hang­over. There used to be some com­fort there, in clean sheets with suitable ibupro­fen stocks and a se­ries of the Amer­i­can Of­fice, and Philadel­phia on toast, and that sort of ripe peach gleam to the skin that some­times comes from four hours’ sleep. But it’s fine, be­cause the com­fort of a hang­over has been re­placed by some­thing far more in­ter­est­ing, a car­toon anvil wrapped in ex­is­ten­tial black­ness. Sick­ness that re­mains two weeks later, hav­ing set­tled some­where in­fi­nite near the heart. Sick­ness that makes it­self known in myr­iad sly lit­tle ways – how you feel when some­body uses trig­ger words such as “wine”, or “Matthew”. Of course, that doesn’t make you feel good. Be­cause it re­minds you of the cup­board, and his mar­ried hand, and the dark power you felt at mid­night, and the aw­ful­ness of day­light. As Jan­uary crawls its way up your spine, this mem­ory is night­mar­ish, stained, lodg­ing it­self within you like a stone in a shoe.

Anger and bar­gain­ing You will never drink again. Who de­cided it was a good idea to start ev­ery year with a party that de­stroys you? Who de­cided you would then ar­rive sud­denly back at work as if dropped from a plane? You SAID you didn’t want to “go wild” this year. You TOLD your friends you wanted to do some­thing cosy and grown-up, pos­si­bly in a cabin of some sort, with a lovely walk the next day. A bor­rowed dog. Why does no­body ever lis­ten to you? Why do your friends treat you like a child that must be man­aged, must be cod­dled, must be told a fake meet­ing time to al­low for your late­ness? When in fact, IN FACT, you are a strong in­de­pen­dent wo­man and if you say please don’t take me to a de­bauched party in case I do some­thing re­gret­table in a cup­board then they should have heard you, and done the cabin walk dog thing in­stead. They are bad friends.

De­pres­sion, re­flec­tion, lone­li­ness Un­less, un­less it’s not that they pa­tro­n­ise you, it’s that they don’t like you. That they have seen the real you and so, turned away. Oh. Well. That makes per­fect sense, you’re aw­ful. Delet­ing Face­book, you see a sta­tus up­date from Matthew – he’s mov­ing to Por­tu­gal. Which is… which is. Per­haps it’s time to re­assess, in quite a fun­da­men­tal way. What do you need from friend­ship? This year is all about leav­ing, so you add un­friendly friends to the good­bye list. Frexit, 2019. The soli­tude will give you space – to con­tem­plate the year ahead, to stick to res­o­lu­tions, the first of which is: no more cup­boards, and so far you’re do­ing very well. If only there was some­one around to cel­e­brate with. The up­ward turn This morn­ing it was light out­side. At first you weren’t sure what was dif­fer­ent. You padded to the shower, then to the kitchen and, stand­ing by the sink hav­ing toast, you no­ticed you weren’t gob­bling it with the same grim fury. Like a res­cue cat that fi­nally emerges from un­der the sofa, Jan­uary is set­tling in with sulk­ing ac­cep­tance. Down­load­ing the Couch to 5k app you get an un­der­stated adren­a­line rush. You feel al­most… alive?

Re­con­struc­tion Why, ev­ery new year, does it feel like your life must be taken apart then be put to­gether again piece by piece? And why, ev­ery new year, does it feel like you’ve lost an­other allen key, or small dowel? You have changed. But you are stand­ing and that’s some­thing. You stand partly re­built, hav­ing shrugged off your angst and re­sent­ment (hang­overs have got harder since you were young, the op­po­site of ex­ams) and had a rad­i­cal-for-you hair­cut, and re­mem­bered how to be. To­day you spent your lunch hour on AirBnb, brows­ing cab­ins.

Ac­cep­tance and hope A whole year in front of you, a buf­fet of pos­si­bil­ity. Jan­uary is not a beast to be con­quered, only a sack of days lumped on top of each other – they will be re­cy­cled shortly, and you will emerge into Fe­bru­ary. Un­mut­ing your What­sapp no­ti­fi­ca­tions, you re-en­ter a warm bath of in-jokes. You felt bad be­cause of two things, fes­tive ex­cess and the pass­ing of time. And of the two, only the time thing re­mains and you can press that down with such cop­ing mech­a­nisms as buy­ing stuff and im­proper crushes on unavail­able peo­ple who may or may not one day fol­low you be­neath the stairs. You re­turn to your friends, your light slightly cooler but no less bright, and with small, al­most im­per­cep­ti­ble flashes of hope. Things might not get worse. Spring will come. ■

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