I was alone at the end of the bar staring down one more shot of tequila when something green, shiny, and plastic caught my eye. It was wedged between two bottles of forgettable bourbon on the shelf in front of me. I wanted it like a rash wants lotion.
Glenda and Will were at the other end of the bar, deep in conversation. Something about new shoes and leftover Thanksgiving turkey. What’s the best way to cook a steak? When is the best time to buy crabmeat? They were heavily engaged and hardly noticed me.
When the time was right I snuck around, grabbed it carefully, and sat back down. It was a pair of big goofy glasses. The kind that drunk people wear to celebrate events. Like New Year’s Eve. This one read 2020. I stared at it intently.
I offered Glenda and Will a cheer, downed the shot, and asked for another.
After a moment I raised the glasses to my head and put them on. The room was suddenly noisy and full. People in glittery clothes drank champagne and laughed.
Horrified, I took the glasses off, drank the tequila and asked – this time - for a double. The room was empty again. Just the three of us. I put the glasses back on and it was full, back off and it was empty, back on and it was full.
I sensed a pattern.
I put them on again and watched intently. I saw faces I recognized, familiar voices, sounds of joy and hope and longing for a bright future. A future full of company, camaraderie, and connection, of opportunity and travel. All for nothing. They had to be warned, but how? And what would it matter? I felt responsible for these people, my friends and acquaintances. They had to be told to prepare. It would be negligence and cowardice on my part if I didn’t.
I took the glasses off and thought things through. I’m a shy and reserved person at heart, but a man must do what a man must do.
“What’s that, honey?”
Glenda and Will were both looking at me. I had been muttering to myself.
“Nothing,” I smiled as best I could and chuckled nervously. They went back to their conversation. I kept a straight face and stayed cool on the outside, but my insides were bubbling over and I broke out in cold sweat. I threw back the double shot, put the glasses back on, and confronted the crowd.
“Listen to me!’ I shouted, but they didn’t. “A virus is on its way! On its way from China! You have to prepare! You need masks, you need to stock up on food, you need to stock up on toilet paper! Toilet paper!!”
No one paid attention, no one batted an eye. I ran around the room grabbing people, shaking them, and screaming in their faces, but it was like I didn’t exist. They couldn’t see me. They couldn’t hear me. They just kept drinking and dancing and laughing and carrying on as if all was well, and all would always be well. I saw some friends. James, Jenny, Cat, Reg. They looked right through me. I’d reach out for them and my hands would pass right through their bodies. I ran around frantically, opened the door to the restroom, grabbed two rolls of toilet paper, held them high, and dashed back into the room.
Then things got really weird.
I slipped on a spilled drink and tumbled over a table. I landed face first on the floor and the glasses broke in half. I picked myself up and looked around. The room was empty again, except for Glenda and Will who stared at me, not saying a word. I brushed some dirt off my pants. I grabbed the toilet paper and put it back in the restroom. I nodded to the two and took my seat at the end of the bar.
“Sweetie, I think I’m going to have to cut you off.”
I agreed with Glenda and asked for a glass of water.
They resumed their conversation.
I heard her say, “This year has been tough on everyone.” Then they went back to talking about what to do with leftover turkey.
Last New Year’s Eve when hopes were high, the future fresh, and possibility was still a possibility.