My Word: Back to the Start

21 January 2014 Melissa Cranenburgh

My Word: Back to the Start

Melissa Cranenburgh, Ed#448, December 2013

Saying goodbye to a year that began with an ending.

I’ve always loved New Year’s Eve. Even now, well into my thirties, I become childishly animated by that rocket-launching countdown, setting us hurtling into an untrammelled set of days, weeks and months.

Growing up in a determinedly secular family (with a background straddling the Christian-Judaeo divide) it was the one holiday everyone could agree was wholly without baggage. Sure, family and friends celebrated Christmas and Chanukah and we very happily raked in the largesse – without bias. But at home, it was all about New Year.

We had New Year presents. We had New Year treats. People were in a great mood and there were always novelty acts somewhere in the mix: fireworks, neighbourhood streakers, some guy called Jock downing a yard of beer, tipsy grown-ups smooching, kids bouncing each other off unfenced trampolines at 12.05am. I would call my mates and scream “HAPPY NEW YEAR!” down the line. And with the kind of passionate belief that only the young or relentlessly optimistic can muster, I’d press the reset button and truly believe that the coming year was going to be bloody great.

This feeling of possibility would last for weeks into the New Year. Until February hit and things would set into the new-old shape, whittled away by monthly exclamations of Can you believe it’s already [insert month]? Chip, chip, chip until it was December, again.

Then it happened: 2013, annus horribilis, the year things lost their shape. This year started with an ending, ended with heartache and made several siren-blaring trips to Accident and Emergency in between.

Each month brought a new, confusing plot twist. And, as the year progressed, so did the fervent wish that 2013 would just give it a rest. That I could speed up the countdown, flick wildly through the calendar pages like some kind of bad cinematic cliché. As early as mid- January of this god-awful year, I’d wanted to move on. But the year kept on going, as years tend to. All I could do was remind myself that it would surely have to run out of numbered squares soon.

Now, at long last, the end is in sight. And while my totally irrational investment in the New Year is far from diminished, I am starting to feel a new element creep in. A complex note mixed into the champagne cocktail. As this New Year approaches, another New Year’s Eve comes to mind.

It was the turn of a new decade: baby-fat 1989 edging into the grungy 90s, just as I was stage-diving into adolescence. I was 14 and my baby sister, the youngest of five siblings, just over a year old. For the first time, my 16-year-old sister and I were in charge of babysitting a bunch of younger kids while their parents, and ours, went to a local party.

As the countdown to midnight approached, I could hear my baby sister crying through the bedroom monitor. I left the Cheezels and Fanta‑fuelled excitement upstairs and found her lying in her cot, face contorted, little arms raised.

I picked her up and held her chubby body close, singing some nonsense song. As she settled, I heard the crack of distant fireworks, the muffled screams of Happy New Year! I had missed the countdown, but I felt kind of grown up and weirdly content. We’d seen in the New Year together. My baby sister and me.

Now, finally, 2013 becomes 2014. But even as I welcome the possibilities of a new, as yet untarnished, year, I know I will never be entirely free of the old one. For the first time in 24 new years, I see in the New Year knowing that my baby sister will not.

We buried her in 2013. And, while she will never make it beyond that, the people who love her will. This New Year, we toast her. As we will the year after that, and every single year after that, until the countdown finishes.

So bring on 2014. I just know it’s going to be bloody great.


» Melissa Cranenburgh is The Big Issue’s associate editor.

This article first appeared in Ed#448 of The Big Issue magazine.