GENERATION WHY

None of us remember much of September 11, 2001 except that we could still sit upright in bathtubs while our mothers lathered our hair in twirls of Johnson’s baby shampoo. It was a day of soap bubbles and her tears and wondering without language why she shut off the Barney VHS tape to watch two buildings melt into earth as if they had never been there to begin with. To be born in the finite and contestable space between Y and Z means that nothing about our childhood is definitive. Nothing, one could argue, is authentically ours. We had patterns to follow. Our baby photos were the last to be stored behind plastic photo album sleeves, developed from Kodak disposable camera film, before the birth of digital. But we were not the first. I remember holding reels of pale orange negatives up to the car window on the way to the drugstore and finding my whole life confined in a world of shadow. My childhood was Firecracker Popsicles and plastic Kens and Kellys and Barbies with mismatched clothes and French-braiding American Girl doll hair until my fingers lost feeling. We weaved friendship bracelets with rainbow craft store thread and traded Silly Bandz at recess, a thing we invented, but still relished in our Easy Bake ovens passed down from the 90s. So much of our joys were hand-me-downs and borrowed clothes and copied fads. We didn’t trend Scrunchies; we stole them from our older cousins. It was the age after the world lost innocence. It was the age before the beginning of the end. We were simple and suburban, products of scraped knees and Heelys and the second Bush presidency. When I think of being little I don’t remember screens or upgrades or this newfangled hatred that permeates through all of it. When I think of being little I remember feeling big. I made Play-Doh castles and carried my purple CD player to the corner ice cream shop. I wore mosquito repellent as perfume and measured my worth by how many laps on the sidewalk I could make on my Razor scooter. I lost count at 26. I think about it now and there had to be a last time. There was a day we traded Pokemon cards for sitting on our phones at sleepovers and our View-Master 3D stereoscopes for Instagram filters. None of the new is evil or bad or wrong; it’s just not the same. Back then we all wore shirts we tie-dyed in our backyards with our aunts. My mother tells me that after I was born everyone thought the world would end. ‘99 was dying, the Times Square ball would drop for Y2K, and all of America assumed apocalypse. But no, we’re still here; some of us, at least. There was a last time, though. A last time life felt real.

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