2024 Melinda Wyers
Welcome to Y2KQ!

The fall of 1999

Shana Hammaker

In the fall of 1999, I was faced with three potential apocalypses: personal financial ruin, the violent destruction of my family, and a literal, global apocalypse. Only one was probable: personal financial ruin. Guess which one I mostly ignored? Yep! When you and your family live in a trailer park, and you and your partner both work part-time at Olive Garden, personal financial ruin is basically an inevitability. It doesn't really matter how well you budget your meager resources.

I never expected to live long enough to see the New Millennium. But there I was —we all were— at the cusp of it. I had reached the age of twenty-three, breath held tight in my chest, teeth clenched, fists balled. I had a partner (Tony) who I loved and feared would destroy me and a beautiful toddler (Meredith) who I loved and feared I would destroy.

The Old Millennium was dying and the New Millennium was dawning. Everyone everywhere frantically consulted their astrological charts, their tarot cards, their psychics, and their priests for guidance. The air crackled with excitement, or was it portent?
Nostradamus wrote about the end of the Millennium. He wrote about mysterious threats in cryptic quatrains. Then he shuffled those quatrains and threw them in the air and died before they floated to the ground. From his grave he wailed to future generations:
"Good luck figuring those out!"

In 1999 if I were to write quatrains about the apocalypses threatening me they'd be far more prosaic than the ones Nostradamus wrote.

No Gas and No Diapers
They had our paychecks already.
Fucking boss hid them with a smirk.
"No gas!‚" I screamed. "Diapers?! Won't work!"
Life lived on the edge: unsteady.

Ever since I'd heard the stories about the cocaine-fueled bonfire parties Mark threw for the front of the house staff at his ranch I couldn't look him directly in the eye. He must have sensed my discomfort because he stared with even more intensity now.
"I can't pay you early, Shana, you know that."
"It's just a day, though. It's right there on your desk!‚" I pleaded with his nose.
"It doesn't matter."
I shifted Meredith from my right hip to my left. "We have ten dollars, Mark. The car's on fumes and the diaper on this baby's ass is the last one. Have some compassion."
He twisted his mouth into a sneer. "No."
I drew in a deep breath. Tony waited for us in the car outside. There was an eighty percent chance that he was chain smoking and a one hundred percent chance that he was furious at the hold up.
"Then don't expect Tony to come in tomorrow morning because I'm buying diapers on our way home."
Mark swiveled his chair back to face his desk.
"Tony can find a new job if he doesn't clock in by eight," he said before moving the envelope of paychecks into his drawer and locking it.
I stared daggers at his back before turning on my heel and storming out of his office. Angry tears streamed down my cheeks.

Dandria, a server, called out to me as I crossed through the bar. Meredith squirmed in my arms and I knew why: on days when we picked their dad up after work we would wait for him here and Luke, the daytime bartender, would give Meredith a piece of biscotti to gnaw on. Sometimes, if he was in a particularly jovial mood, Luke would throw in a bowl of grated Romano cheese, as well.
"Stop it, Meredith, we're not here to eat."
Meredith bristled at the irritation in my voice.
Dandria approached with a twenty-dollar bill in hand. "I'm sorry Mark's such a dick. You can pay me back whenever."
My mouth dropped open. Dandria and I almost never spoke to one another. We were both technically front of the house staff, but she was a server (read: cool) and I was carry-out (read: not). Her generosity was astonishing.
"Th-thank you," I stammered.
She walked away before I finished speaking.
In the fall of 1999, I was a student at Owens State Community College in Toledo, Ohio. I had earned my GED and was nearing completion of my associates degree. I lived and co-parented with a man that I met when I was a homeless seventeen-year-old. Tony had started out as an exciting lover but never morphed into a good life partner. Everything about our lives together felt tenuous and desperate.
The Old Millennium was dying. The New Millennium was dawning. And I didn't think I was ready for it.
I spent my days mentally composing quatrains for every one of the doomed futures I foresaw. There were quatrains for me flunking out of school, for Meredith starving to death, for our return to the gutter, and for me and Meredith's bloody murders.

Meredith Woke Him up From a Nap
Blood pools on a toddler-sized bed.
Blood drips from a toddler-sized fist.
Horror in my chest as we kissed.
It's a fantasy that I dread.

I envisioned myself scrawling these quatrains on college-ruled notebook paper that I cut into tiny squares, then gathering all the squares and flinging them up at the trailer's low ceiling. I watched them float lazily down to the worn carpet. It took too long. Maybe Nostradamus's spirit kept them aloft? I had time in my fantasy to swallow two fistfuls of aspirin before the quatrains settled on the floor. I collapsed among them.
I could never see past that point. There was no future for me or my family. And, if Nostradamus was to be believed, there was no future for anyone else, either. The Old Millennium was dying. The New Millennium was dawning. Or was it?

On a rainy Tuesday in early September, I found myself alone in Books a Million. My English lit professor had cancelled class at the last minute, Tony was at work, and I had an hour and a half before I was due to pick up Meredith from daycare. Unstructured free time! I felt a little at loose ends and roamed the store aimlessly, sipping from a seventy-five-cent gas station cappuccino. I eventually meandered over to the occult section. Back in the day, most of my bookstore excursions wound up there. In the pre-Amazon-dot-com era of book shopping, book sellers played fast and loose with categorizations, and nowhere was this more evident than in the occult section. Most subject categories aren't up for debate. History sections only contain books on history, westerns would never be shelved with romance, and you won't find Stephen King novels in the travel section. But it's not so cut and dry in the occult section. There, you might find an anthropological text on folk Catholicism shelved alongside Rachel Pollack's 78 Degrees of Wisdom, and above a shelf full of Big Foot erotica. You never knew what you'd find. I loved the chaos of it all.
That afternoon, in that occult section, one book figuratively leapt off the shelf at me: Nostradamus 1999: Who Will Survive? By Stefan Paulus. I read the title three times in succession, my heart beating faster with each reread. I'd heard of Nostradamus, of course. He was that long-dead European soothsayer. But I didn't know he had written anything about the current day, or about anything that was relevant to me.
1999: Who will survive?
The familiar nightmare film of death and destruction flickered behind my eyes. I saw the hastily scrawled poems —quatrains of starvation, murder, and despair— fluttering down around my prone body while Tony towered above me with a knife held aloft. The scene ended the way it always did: in blackness. No future.
1999: Who will survive?
The book cost $19.95. We had $23.54 in our bank account, a half tank of gas, and three packs of cigarettes between us. Payday was the day after tomorrow. We'd make it. I bought the book.
My obsession was immediate. I drove straight to the daycare center downtown, planning to read in the parking lot until naptime was over. But I couldn't wait until then. I drove with the steering wheel in one hand and the open book in the other, reading snippets at each traffic light. Though I'd never read a single one of his prophesies previously, I felt a sudden burning need for Nostradamus's wisdom. He knew who would survive to see the New Millennium. He knew if my family would make it.
Would we eke out something resembling a decent living? Or would we become homeless again, this time with a toddler?
Would I be forced out of college?
Would Tony kill us all?
Whenever I tried to divine my future all I saw was a black void. Nostradamus would know, and this book would tell me. I trusted it. I pulled into the daycare's parking lot. I had thirty-four minutes of freedom left to read. I killed the engine, reclined my seat, and dove in.
And was immediately disappointed. Nostradamus had nothing to say about my future, at least not mine, specifically. He had, though, written a whole series of quatrains about a comet that he predicted would hit Earth in the final days of 1999, effectively wiping out humanity.
If we were all doomed, I wouldn't have to worry about money anymore. Nor would it matter if I successfully earned my college degree. Likewise, I didn't see any reason to devote headspace to worrying about my partner killing me and our child if all of humanity was doomed, anyway.
Suddenly I understood the promise of Nostradamus's prophesies. I was unshackled. I had nothing to fear. Nothing, that is, except the King of Terror itself—the comet.  
I checked the car's clock. Naptime was over. I dog-eared my page and went to retrieve my kid.

I read Nostradamus 1999 three times over in its entirety between September and November 1999. I studied it in exhaustive detail, annotating the pages and bookmarking important sections. I talked about it to Tony daily, though I could tell he only half-listened. Tony wasn't worried about the future. Ours, or anyone else's, for that matter. Tony only lived for his next high. Anything beyond that was meaningless.
It didn't matter anyway. I didn't need Tony's help. I had that Nostradamus book memorized, forwards and backwards. At night in bed, the nightmare fantasy that played through my head changed. I still scrawled doomsday quatrains on college-ruled notebook paper, cut them up and threw them at the ceiling. They still floated unnaturally slowly down around me. But now, instead of them foretelling futures in which we starved to death, or futures in which we slept on the sidewalk, or futures in which Tony chopped me and Meredith into bits, it was nothing but comets colliding with the Earth, triggering earthquakes and tidal waves, and fires that engulfed whole continents.
My individual family's doom was too much to bear. But humanity's collective doom was somehow manageable. I clung to that, took it into my heart, and worried over it. It became my lifeline. It softened the edges of Tony's threats and took the sting out of debit card declines.
While the rest of the world was consumed by Y2K and fears of a digital demise, I planned for the coming apocalypse. The Old Millennium was dying and there would be no New Millennium if the King of Terror could help it.

I woke before Meredith and Tony on January first, 2000. I yawned and stretched. Puffs of my breath hung in the air. Our trailer's little furnace struggled to keep the temperature above freezing. I brewed a pot of coffee and checked the TV and the computer. Both still worked. The car started without issue. There was no comet on the horizon. No digital demise.
My future wasn't rosy or black. It was whatever I had the creativity and the stamina to make it to be. I listened to Tony snore, and dreamed of something better."

Shana remains shocked to still be here. Her work can be found on Amazon,and includes a few more memoirs. She can be found in Austin TX and on Twitter @LiteraryGrrrl

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