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FALL RIVER, Mass.--If I lived in a small peasant village thousands of years ago where it was customary to dance naked in the fields on New Year's Eve to ensure a good growing season, I would be the first to drop his fur britches and start cavorting through the stubble corn.
Which is to say I like ritual. I
Every New Year's Eve, my wife and I attend a party in a local saloon. There's a buffet and music. It's a small bar, and the owner limits attendance to 25 couples, all people we know, all people he knows.
It's nice. You eat some shrimp cocktail, some cheese, maybe a little salmon and a piece of prime rib. I drink tap beer and toast the New Year with undistinguished champagne in a two-piece plastic glass.
The crowd is cops, a dentist, construction guys, firefighters, people who work in grocery stores, a couple small-business owners. And the owner puts a big sign in the window that says "PRIVATE PARTY" and then locks the doors so we can smoke.
My wife, who is fond of sequins, shines in the half darkness. I am drab in tweed, though she usually makes me put a glittery "Happy New Year" sign in the band of my fedora.
It is my favorite time of the year to look at my wife, who seems like blond magic in the scruffy basement tavern, and I like it when she leaves me to go to the ladies room, just so I can watch her come back to me, hipping her small body through the crowd, an absent, lazy smile on her face, and fresh lipstick on her small rose of a mouth.
And every New Year's Eve, I ask her to marry me, or at least I offer her the chance to "un-marry" me.
I didn't ask my wife to marry me in a bar. I asked her to marry me outdoors, on a sidewalk in our hometown. I did this because I figured if she said "no" I could just walk away, instead of having to finish dinner in some restaurant or rise humiliated from the couch in her living room, fumbling into my coat, and shakily undoing the deadbolt on her door.
I was 51 when I asked her to marry me. A lifetime of bachelorhood and casual girlfriends had taught me to always have a clear way out, an unobstructed escape.
But she said "yes."
And, the year after we married, at the New Year's Eve party, I waited until we were alone, until the friends who were sitting with us were either at the bar getting a drink or dancing, and I said to her, "So, you want another year?"
She's a smart woman. She knew what I meant.
And she said "yes."
It's a hard life. Things turn out to be different than what you thought they'd be. You get trapped in things, and it's hard to find that unobstructed escape route.
My wife is a flashing blue-water diamond in the scuffed setting of my life, but once a year I offer her the chance to take the gem back, to take herself from me, to start something else, to find a smoother road home.
And she halfway thinks I'm kidding, and maybe I do, too. Halfway.
But I watch her beautiful face when I ask because I know there are things I'm not good at. I know I'm self-absorbed. I know I fail at things often and embarrassingly.
And she says "yes."
And I dance.
Marc Munroe Dion is a columnist for Creators Syndicate.