Because I’m mentally ill. Thanks for asking!
…Oh, you wanted more than that? Fine.
I was born in 1990. I made it to existence just in time to live through the last decade of the 20th century.
Looking back as an adult, I understand that the way we count time is arbitrary. The calendar year changing from 1999 to 2000 is no more significant than watching the odometer on an old car roll over from 99999 miles to 00000 miles: It’s satisfying, but not meaningful in and of itself.
But that’s not how it was presented to me as a child growing up in the ’90s. Popular culture was obsessed with The New Millennium. The year 2000 will be here soon! It’s almost The Future, and everything’s going to be different! Who knows what wonders the 21st century might hold? Alongside the rapid development of personal computing and the Internet, it really seemed like anything might be possible.
When the calendar rolled over from December 31, 1999 to January 1, 2000, everybody celebrated rapturously, as if it were a great triumph of humanity. It was, of course, no such thing, because the passage of time is not a human feat. But to a 9-year-old who had not yet lived to see two digits in the year change at once, let alone all four, it certainly seemed significant. Nothing changed immediately, of course, but I didn’t expect it to: building the future takes time, right?
Then something strange happened. The calendar rolled over again, this time from December 31, 2000 to January 1, 2001. That’s it? The year 2000 is over? And we’re just going to…keep going? The future is just normal life now?
Around this time, my personal life began to change in significant ways, too. I started middle school in 2001, and as an autistic child with no support network in the school environment, meltdowns became a frequent occurrence. I missed the simplicity of elementary school. I missed a time when I was allowed to make mistakes because I was “just a kid” rather than being “old enough to fucking know better.”1
Then the calendar rolled over from September 10, 2001 to September 11, 2001, and the promise of The New Millennium vanished almost in an instant. The world would certainly be changing, but even as a confused 11-year-old, I knew that change would be for the worse, not for the better.
The year 2000 is forever etched in my mind as the one year of my life when the future seemed entirely open-ended, when it seemed like almost anything I could wish for might one day come true. It was a magical feeling that only arose as a bizarre coincidence of having been born at the a specific moment in time.
And now, almost a quarter of a century later, I still find myself mourning a future that never was—a future that was, perhaps more importantly, never going to be.
- This is something a cop actually said to me while trying to shove me in the back of his car when I was 12. ↩︎