Here I am standing in Times Square at 11:30 at night on New Year’s Eve. For the last nine years, my wife and I never miss being right here. This is the most famous location for New Year’s celebration in the world.
Our first New Year’s Eve celebration together happened on this very spot where we are tonight, twenty years ago.
Let me start at the beginning and tell you the whole fantastic story from that fateful night so many years ago.
I’m Victor McCarthy and I work as a senior actuary for a large life insurance company. Boring so far, right?
Well twenty years ago, I was six months out of college and six months into working for the company I still work for. Getting the picture? I have been a rather unremarkable person since birth, reliable and predictable.
Except for one adventure I decided to go on twenty years ago tonight.
I woke up New Year’s Eve in the small apartment I had rented in New York City’s upper west side and suddenly a strange feeling came over me. I had a growing compulsion to go to Time’s Square that evening and watch… no, be part of the most publicized New Year’s celebration in the world, the ball dropping at midnight.
I didn’t have a lot of friends then… still don’t for that matter, so this was going to be a ‘lone ranger’ event.
Me, the guy who didn’t go into crowded restaurants because I was painfully shy. Me, the guy who had never taken one girl on a second date because I couldn’t get up the nerve to ask, was going to go into a crowd of one million people and celebrate the arrival of the New Year.
I believe very strongly that there are no coincidences. All events happen because they play a part, regardless of how small, in moving us along the path our lives are supposed to take. I have believed this most of my life because my Grandmother held it as one of her deepest convictions and passed that faith onto me.
I therefore accepted this inclination to do something completely out of character and prepared to spend hours in the cold streets of mid Manhattan awaiting that magical moment when the ball (aluminum studded with red, white, and blue bulbs twenty years ago, crystal today) slid down the seventy-seven foot pole and lit up.
Although it was cold that night it was not unbearable, one million people tend to generate a lot of body heat. So at one minute to midnight, I was on the corner of Broadway and 45th Street joining the crowd in the countdown to midnight.
At midnight people all around me were hugging and kissing each other, passing glasses of champagne about (definitely against the law in New York City streets), and screaming ‘Happy New Year’. Of course, I was not one of the participants in those festivities. My God, being there was a huge leap for me, grabbing a strange girl, hugging and kissing her was to me just an unattainable fantasy.
It was taken out of my hands!
Before I knew it an adorable, smiling, screaming little blonde beauty, tapped me on the shoulder and when I turned to see who was doing the tapping she threw her arms around my neck, said “Happy New Year” and kissed me.
I believe she was about to turn and do the same thing to another reveler when the crowd started moving north up Broadway… as a crowd. There was no separating at that point; we were part of the largest moving mass of humanity one could imagine.
Somewhere between 45th Street and 50th Street we began holding hands and at 51st Street I started easing, with her in tow, towards the east side of Broadway and at 52nd Street turned east into a far less crowded thoroughfare.
I knew this area well because my office was six blocks away.
At this point, I mustered up enough courage to introduce myself and ask her if she would like to have the first cup of coffee of the New Year with me. My knees started to buckle when she said, “Yes”.
We spent over an hour together in an all night coffee shop I knew would be open. She told me her name, Annemarie Padelford, and a little about herself. Mostly we were silly and laughed a lot. There was not a minute of awkward silence and I wasn’t shy for even a second, for the first time in my life.
It was the best New Year’s Eve of my life to that point… hell, it was the best hour of my life to that point.
At one-thirty she said she had to go, but we swore that we would get together in the New Year. She gave me another kiss and left.
It would be another hour before I realized I had no idea how to reach her nor did she take any information about me.
Annemarie Padelford and the happiest hour and a half of my life had slipped from me forever.
Destiny had another plan!
For the next eleven years, I worked hard and smart at the insurance company rising to the position of Senior Actuary, Director of Actuarial Services.
I made a good living, had a much better apartment and dated occasionally, sometimes for even more than one date. However, without fail, I returned to the same corner each New Year’s Eve, always alone and always looking, hoping and praying to find the girl of my dreams, Annemarie Padelford.
Finally, after the vain effort nine years ago, I decided to become proactive. I woke up one Saturday morning two weeks after the New Year and said to myself, “How many girls in their late twenties or early thirties named Annemarie Padelford can there be? Find her, it is either meant to be or it’s not, but use your head… and technology and find her.”
Well, I did just that. First, let me point out there are a hell of a lot more Annemarie Padelfords than you would ever believe. But, by narrowing down the field, I wound up with a list of three that fit all the characteristics I knew… which were very few.
Once I had the list, I composed a letter and sent it to all three, one via e-mail the other two on Facebook.
Two answered that they had never been to New York at all, much less on New Year’s Eve eleven years earlier.
The third didn’t answer for two months, and then one day I got an e-mail saying she thought she might be the ‘Annemarie Padelford’ I was looking for and she enclosed her picture.
I couldn’t believe my eyes. There was my dream girl, petite, blonde and a smile to die for. Sure she changed a bit in the intervening eleven years, but who hasn’t and probably my recollection of her was less than accurate.
Well, the rest is history. Since she lived in New York City, Brooklyn to be exact, we got together for dinner. It was a repeat of that fateful New Year’s Eve twenty years ago.
We laughed, we talked non-stop, we closed the restaurant, but this time I knew how to get in touch with her… which I did the next day.
We dated for three years and six years ago we were married.
My advice to everyone: don’t fight destiny, listen to your instincts and if a strange feeling is encouraging you to do something, listen to those feelings and do it. The path to happiness is not always straight, so watch carefully for the signs along the path.
I never thought I would be as happy as I was that hour and a half on New Year’s Eve twenty years ago. I listened to those feelings that day and again eleven years ago and I am the happiest man I know. I love my Annemarie and I am loved by her more than I ever thought possible for me.
I’m Annemarie McCarthy, formerly ‘Annemarie Padelford’ and I’m going to add a few lines to this tale of destiny, love and happiness.
When I got Victor’s e-mail, I was completely negative on relationships and had accepted that I would be alone for the rest of my life. His e-mail read like some kind of fairytale. I didn’t erase it for some reason and then one day I decided, ‘why not give it a go’, so I answered him and as he says above, the rest is history.
I cannot believe I have been blessed with the man of my childhood dreams. I was so skeptical of men and relationships that I held off his efforts, to make the relationship permanent, for three years.
Thank God he didn’t give up on me; he is and always will be the center of my universe as I know I am his.
I was in New York City that New Year’s Eve twenty years ago.
I was at the celebration in Times Square to watch the ball drop.
I never got below 57th Street and Broadway.
I didn’t kiss Victor or have coffee with him.
I realized this three months into our dating, but didn’t want it to end.
I promise myself to tell him each New Year’s Eve… but don’t.
I thank who I call ‘the original Annemarie Padelford’ at least thirty times a month for her giving my husband that wonderful hour and a half twenty years ago and me a life beyond my dreams.
…and I am the strongest believer in my husband’s advice, “The path to happiness is not always straight, so watch carefully for the signs along the path.”
Oh well, I’ll probably tell him… maybe next New Year’s Eve!