by Annamarie Davidson
It was December 1999. And the world was coming to an end. No, seriously.
1999 was an amazing time to be alive. I was eleven. The future had never been so close. Everything was “millennium this” and “millennium that.” My whole life I’d grown up with “2000” being synonymous with the high-tech, automated, chrome world we were promised by books and television and movies.
In my house, despite our humble means, we were very tech-forward. My mom worked for a local cell phone company. We tested a beta version of the first mass-market cellular phone. It was the size and weight of a brick—I know that’s a description you hear often about these old cells, but let me assure you, it is accurate. It was gray, had no screen, and couldn’t do anything but call local numbers. AND IT WAS THE COOLEST THING I’D EVER SEEN.
Also, because of my mom’s work, we had a “personal computer,” which only a few houses had in those days. Daily, I played on a site called Neopets; a digital world with games and shops and its own stock market. Flying cars didn’t seem that far off if you could call someone with out a phone line wire and log onto a chat room to make Neofriends in Zimbabwe.
So much techno-possibility awaited me; awaited us all. Until I found out about the Y2K bug. The Y2K bug wasn’t a real bug, like the ants that lived in my bathtub. (Those bugs were the ones my mom spent a couple minutes a day “psychically asking to leave,” and refused to poison. This was not successful a endeavor, in case you were wondering.)
Y2K (standing for Year Two Thousand) was a computer bug, and the death of the future.
The gist was this: when people made computers in the 1960s, they’d saved space on mainframes by using double digit dates instead of quadruple. So, in computer code, 1999 became 99. Which was fine, until you realize 2000 would equal 00, or, for those of you not inclined to math: ZERO.
Predictions and theories were this Y2K could wipe out everything at the stroke of 2000. Melt the entire infustructure of all computers. And this wouldn’t just affect my daily Neopets play.
Even in 1999, computers controlled everything. The Y2K bug could zero-out the banks and the stock market (which I knew about from investing Neopets stocks), short-out the power grids, mess with the security of nuclear power plants, and take the whole world back to before tech.
I know what you’re thinking. You’re thinking that this was just some conspiracy cooked up by one of my aunt’s bearded women friends from the mountains. You’re thinking this was just for total nutters and people making hats out of tin foil. You’d be wrong. Y2K even made the cover of Time Magazine. This even had people at my public school— people who didn’t already have a garage filled with bulk bins of molasses in their garages— scared.
I was scared, too. But this felt different than my usual fears; like watching a violent crime by a mob boss, going into witness protection, and never seeing my dog again. With ACTUAL impending doom, I was surprisingly calm.
So was my mom. But it wasn’t because she didn’t believe all the news of Y2K. For all the tech surrounding her life, I think she was actually hoping Y2K would happen (remember, this was the women who tried to move us to a teepee in the forest four years prior.) She was unbothered. This forced me into real action mode. If she wasn’t going to take this seriously, I would have to.
I accompanied my aunt to an antique store and watched as she bought cast-iron skillets, fireplace pokers, and witches cauldrons for the soups we’d eat to prevent starvation. Inexplicably, we then bought even more molasses from Smart and Final.
I also brushed up on my homemaking skills. I knew I would not be the “Field and Stream” hunting kind of girl, but my old babysitter Richard had taught me how to fish. I would have get over the “not throwing them back into the ocean” thing. If someone could gut them for me, I’m sure I could cook them over a campfire. I just needed to find someone who could start a fire…
I also knew how to sew (yarn in cloth from Montessori school, but I was sure the thread would be similar.) I could bake cookies (obviously, in the agrarian future we faced: only molasses ones). And I already mowed our lawn with an antique grass cutter that required no gasoline or electricity.
I was in full-logic mode until the morning of December 31st.. I woke up already desperately missing all the things that Y2K would rob from me. I had no choice in the future that was hurdling toward me in exactly thirteen hours and forty-two minutes. I decided, right then and there, that instead of spending it prepping for a future I could not control, I would enjoy the one thing I did have control of: this one day.
I used every electric item in our kitchen to make breakfast. I savored the cold orange juice from the refrigerator and the hot oatmeal from the stove. I played my Savage Garden CD on my Discman. I hadn’t determined if it would survive Y2K — but I decided to air on the side of caution.
I played Neopets for hours. All my favorite games. Wished a farewell to my Neofriends; and put my Neopets, Ingrid and Algernon, into a pet hotel so they wouldn’t starve. Where would they go when the internet no longer existed? I didn’t know, but I hoped, maybe, they’d be somewhere out there.
I scrounged up the last of my babysitting money: $11. I walked to the Thrifty’s by my house. With $11, I could by a lot of things for the non-tech tomorrow. Fishing lines, tools, thermal underwear…but I didn’t.
Instead, I bought a People Magazine. I wandered over to the makeup aisle, a place I still felt too young to even walk through alone. But this was not the day to be meek. I asked myself what I really wanted on this last-of-days?
The answer was: I wanted to spend my last night wearing lots and lots and lots of glitter eye makeup. I wanted to look as sparkly as the New Year’s Ball.
On the way to the check stand, I grabbed a soda. It was a grape soda, with artificial colors and flavors, and contraband ingredients times two. I clutched it like a baby in line. I looked behind my shoulders guiltily. I expected the pock-marked face, sallow cheeked check-out boy to tear off a rubber mask and reveal himself to be my mother, ready to give me a lecture on the medical studies linking grape soda to birth defects. And on the last day of life…
He let me pay and just let me walk out, like I was doing nothing wrong.
Now emboldened, I made another stop on my way home to Dolly’s Donuts. I couldn’t decide between a maple bar or a glazed twist. And then I thought: It’s the end of the world! So, I got both.
I thought about going to the local movie theatre alone; a favorite past time. But the movie they were playing was Angela’s Ashes. I was NOT going to celebrate the last day of everything cool by watching a movie about Irish poverty. Angela’s Ashes, I also had a sneaking suspicion, would be my life story tomorrow.
So, I rented Blast from the Past. I decided, the last-ever VHS movie that I ever watched had to star Brendan Fraser. I owned the town on my way home. I walked on the sidewalk, in full view of every potential one of my mom’s friends who could drive by, chugging my grape soda, and double-fisting my doughnuts.
It was incredible.
At home, I watched Blast from the Past and packed an overnight bag for New Year’s at Skye’s house.
I should probably wear something sensible, my brain told me. Every paranoid part of me told me to find boots and jeans and an all-weather jacket. But I didn’t. Instead, I opened up a storage chest from my garage, evidence of our impending doom—our new cast iron kitchen— casting heinous shadows over me. Rummaging through my mom’s old gowns and grandmother’s fur coats, I found what I was looking for: My Aunt Eileen’s red carpet dress. This was the prettiest dress anyone had ever seen. It was a long-sleeved, two-piece gown made from pink crushed velvet.
My mom drove me in our car, a beat up, red Ford Aerostar van. For some reason, I felt a genuine love for the first time for the whine of the failing power-steering unit and the seatbelt that the dog had chewed. Who knew if cars would work tomorrow? Or even if they did, would gas stations? Or would the nuclear power plant meltdown at midnight?
I got to Skye’s house. Our parents were going to a New Year’s Party, hopefully optimistic about the evening. One last time, I wanted to impress upon my mom the horrors of Y2K. Right before I left the car, I smiled and I decided to let her enjoy her one last night of dancing in a fancy dress and red lipstick.
When she’d gone, I spend twenty minutes covering my face in glitter and extending it outward, making little celestial galaxy swirls on my cheeks. Skye had green hair spray left over from Halloween and sprayed it in my hair over the sink. It made my blonde hair crunchy and brittle, and the color of mold, but I felt like a punk rock singer. With my pink velvet dress and three bottles of Martenelli’s sparkling apple cider, I was ready to celebrate the end of the year, and the end of life as we knew it. I drank a lot of cider, straight from the bottle, because why not?
Skye also had marshmallows and Jell-O. We melted the marshmallows over the stove using straightened out wire hangers (I noted the ease of this for the future). The gooey marshmallows were my appetizers and the Jell-O was my main course. We played Solitaire on her dad’s computer (he also had one) for the last time, cranked up some music on our favorite radio station, SLY 96 FM. We danced while Dick Clark presided over a packed Times Square in the background on the T.V. I had another marshmallow.
And then I woke up. Glitter smothered Skye’s pillow. My mom, still wearing her New Year’s dress, was backlit by the television light. I looked at Skye’s digital clock, glowing fire engine red on the bedside table: 3:36 A.M.
I couldn’t believe I’d wasted even a moment of my last night. I’d slept through the End Times! Then I realized, her clock was working… And the T.V. was playing a late-night infomercial.
“What happened with Y2K?” I asked.
My mom smiled and shook her head, “It didn’t.”
Sometimes, choosing the kind of world you want to wake up to requires planning and action. Sometimes, it just requires putting some glitter eye shadow on and saying, “Bring it on.”
And very, very rarely, it’s totally okay to get a crazy sugar high, and sleep through the apocalypse.