It was New Year’s Eve, 2022, and I hadn’t had a drink yet, which was unlike me, but there were errands to run. For the last 15ish years, we’ve spent the holiday in New Jersey, making the four-hour drive from Maryland’s Eastern Shore. The parties always have been festive if sedate, great food, plenty to drink, and the preponderance of my brothers, children and spouses in tow, in the house.
This year was going to be quieter. Two of my five brothers and their families were there, as well as my wife, Kelly, and Megan, one of my four daughters. Megan and I volunteered to go out for the Robitussin Kelly hadn’t packed and needed to fend off an irritating, benign cough. Megan was visiting from Washington State, a biannual treat. She arrived from the West Coast the week before and would fly out the next afternoon. I was pretty proud of that when reserving it four months earlier. My plan had been to hang out with everyone all night, sleep until noon or so and drive away at 3 p.m. with plenty of time for her to catch her 6 p.m. flight.
I don’t book many flights and didn’t understand that typing “EWK” for Newark showed flights landing at Laguardia or JFK in New York. I even bragged over Thanksgiving dinner about finding a cheap flight into Newark. By the time I learned it was JFK instead, it was too late.
The new working plan, as we arrived in New Jersey for the holiday, required getting on the road closer to 1 p.m. I shrugged my shoulders and considered it a lesson learned, even giving Megan a credit card so she could book future flights herself. I honestly don’t know what would have happened if I hadn’t given her that card.
As we pulled into the Walgreens parking lot, I suggested Megan pay with the new credit card to make sure it worked.
I don’t believe in the supernatural, including mind-reading, but as she casually told me she didn’t have her wallet, I understood she hadn’t just left it at my mother’s house, but had left it at my home in Maryland. It was just a tick; I don’t think she even knew for sure that she’d left it behind. Her voice barley caught when she spoke and I barely noticed.
I gave her one of my own cards and we headed back home with the medicine and some last-minute snacks. An hour later I was into my second whiskey and asked her the last time she’d seen her wallet. She couldn’t recall.
A brief but thorough and earnest search followed. I didn’t take part. I knew there was no wallet to be found in the house and that I had an eight-hour drive home and back ahead of me that night.
Megan was sick over it.
One of the most contentious aspects of our relationship is her unwillingness to carry a purse. Her father is not a misogynist monster, he is an airhead. I started carrying a purse in the late 1990s when I tired of losing my wallet and keys.
As I’ve explained to my daughter every time she can’t find her wallet and keys, it would be easier on the entire world if she carried a purse. My purse isn’t frilly, she didn’t need a frilly one, only a way to keep track of her stuff. We’ve been having this fight since she learned to drive and started losing keys.
Megan called her stepsister (who takes care of our cats when we travel) and asked her to look around my house for the wallet. It took her seconds to find it on the floor, where it had fallen out of Megan’s pocket.
It devastated her for a time, but my brother John and conciliation and kind words from everyone brought her out of it. I wasn’t angry, only resigned. There was no one to blame and nothing to be done for it.
I had another drink and went to bed three whiskey’s in hoping to fall asleep and stay that way until my 4 a.m. drive home and back. I planned an eight-hour round trip that still would get us to the plane on time.
The midnight celebration woke me and I slept fitfully for another hour or so before rising and starting my trip. After being gripped by the certainty that I’d sleep through the alarm and have to book another flight, sleeping was impossible.
Though disappointed about missing the party, I don’t mind long drives. Kelly slept in the passenger seat as our dog, Pepper, lounged in the back.
Megan moved out west for the first time in 2019 and every year since then I’ve driven cross-country at least once, sometimes twice. Long drives aren’t unpleasant for me and 15-hour drives aren’t beyond the pale. While I remember very little of it, I spent the next 12 hours driving back and forth between New Jersey and Maryland.
The weather wasn’t great and, it being the wee hours of 2023, there were some crashes from the night before. The wrecks dared me to judge them, and I fought the urge, as if Karma would smell it.
I haven’t always made the greatest driving decisions, which isn’t ideal, but there are three or four days in each year that driving under the influence tempts fate in a way only the foolhardy would consider. New Year’s Eve is one of them.
I don’t recall how many there were, more than three I suppose. Only one was “fresh” announcing itself from miles away with flashing red and blue lights and encouraging me to put my foot down a little. Accidents tend to close speed traps.
Megan appeared to have completely forgiven herself by the time I handed her wallet over, which was a blessing. When someone thinks you’re upset with them often there’s little you can do in the way of reassurance.
I saw her off (my mother volunteered to make the trek to JFK), pretended to nap for an hour and pointed my car back at Maryland.