The last time the world was supposed to end or at least, the last time people acted like the world was supposed to end, it wasn’t prophesized about or etched into ancient calendars; it was just that we were about to catch up with the digital revolution we’d spent centuries lurching toward and we were on the brink of discovering what happens when the playing field is leveled for humans and their precious, autonomous, intelligent machines. It was theorized that all records of debt would be lost, and maybe even the social security numbers, maybe all of the everythings would vanish along with the 20th century, who knew? It was unpredictable and complicated for just a three-symbol acronym, Y2K, but all I could understand of it was that the internet might not work for a good while and so I was gravely concerned.
We lived in a house that I had only known for two months. The carpets were still white or off-white or bone and the walls smelled of fresh paint and did not have any fingerprints on them. We had yet to decide where the cat’s bathroom would sit, and in my closet hung two prom dresses the home’s former owner had hand sewn for her daughter’s prom sometime in the early 80s. One fuchsia, one bubblegum. The bathroom had last been wallpapered in 1961, when the house was purchased for the first time. Yellow and brown floral. I spent most nights on my air mattress and scribbling in a notebook that had once been for English class but had then become a journal where I meticulously noted the shortcomings of every member of my family, and my new town, and all the kids at school, and everyone breathing.
On the night the world was supposed to end, I sat on “my side” of the basement, the side with the desktop and the bottles of water and the dried goods that my parents purchased in bulk from Costco ‘just in case.’ The other side of the basement belonged to my brother, who sometimes lived with his father when I was younger but now lived with us and made fun of my hoop earrings and my brown lip liner and all my other 13-year-old girl decorations that looked nice in the mirror until someone pointed out how hideous they were.
A nightly performance of ours, my brother and me, was to argue over whose turn it was to use the computer, which would lead to him gutting me with insults that disturbed every morsel of confidence I had, for example he would cut me with a comment about how “Latina” my hairstyle looked, and who was I trying to be with those hoop earrings, and etcetera. The thing is that my aesthetic at that time was a mask to blend in, the result of befriending and competing with Latina girls at my old school, the result of having been born with olive skin that paled in comparison to that of my mother, sister, and brother, all of whom appear naturally suntanned year-round, and so a seemingly innocuous remark about how much gel was in my hair had the power to awaken inadequacies in me that I didn’t know existed.
But on this particular night, my brother was not home and this was how I liked him best, not just because there was no one around to argue with but because I could read his journals. He had one purple Mead notebook in which he chronicled various nights spent dropping what I discerned to be acid, but who knows because I was 13 and I wasn’t familiar with all the ways one can be fucked. Some entries were written in a spiral formation so that I’d have to turn the notebook round and round to read the entire thing, and some were written with letters dripping down the page and it was almost like I was experiencing everything he had experienced, even though we didn’t have much in common besides half of our genes.
I would take the notebook off its shelf sometimes, to my side of the basement, and transcribe it for my online friends. My online friends were the only ones I got to keep when I moved, they were still right where I left them even though I was someplace entirely different.
That’s who I spent that New Year with, my online friends. I spent most of my time with them, actually — we’d meet up after school (although time zones meant that some of us were always late to the conversation while others of us had to check out early) and spend countless hours talking or, I guess chatting is the correct vernacular. I knew about crushes and boyfriends and parents and pets, I knew birthdays, I knew friendship, I knew love. At least, I knew their versions of it, and my own version of it, which was always about 20 degrees shy of the truth. All the wires and cables kept even the closest friends at a comfortable distance.
We sat in a chat room that night and prophesized since no one had thought to do that before now and when the clock struck twelve we waited. We waited for lights to flash, for networks to fall to their knees, for computers to meet their makers and tell us no, go outside and kiss someone or fall in love or remember the sensation of cold air and warm hands, anything but this. But then someone typed, “Guys?” And another typed, “I’m here,” and we continued to chat because nothing had changed, at least not that night.