Do you remember where you were on December 31, 1999?
I was in a bad place. The lady I'd spent the last seven years with, two of them married, had just moved out, and we were headed for as rapid a divorce as both of us could manage. Surprisingly, I wasn't second guessing myself over bailing on such a long-term relationship, that would come later, but instead was depressed over having wasted so much time with the wrong person. After building a life with someone for that many years, the thought which kept ricocheting around my head was, "What the Hell do I do now?"
All of my close friends lived far away, and although that hadn't ever bothered me before, suddenly I felt as though I was completely alone. It used to be, talking on the phone or chatting on the computer were perfectly natural ways of maintaining my friendships, but now I just wanted people to hang with. I guess I thought, if I could make a connection with someone, it might prove that I hadn't been spinning my wheels for seven years after all.
Then, there was the Y2K issue. You remember, right? It was the concern that many computer programmers had shortened the year field in dates to only two digits, and that, when 2000 dawned, those double zeros would start raising Hell all over the planet. Some people insisted that the whole media extravaganza was nothing more than scaremongering, while others just as vehemently screeched that several nasty surprises were in store for all of us. Preparing for the apocalypse, the major television networks scattered their reporters across the globe, planning to hopscotch from one locale to another as the dateline traveled around the world. Personally, I didn't really care which side was going to be proven wrong, I just hoped they'd have as crappy a New Year as it looked like I would.
Clearly, bracketed by the destruction of my personal life on one hand, and the possible annihilation of the real world on the other, there were only two things I could do. First, I needed to obtain some Dr Pepper. Go ahead and scoff if you want too, but if I was going to die, I wanted to go down drinking something I enjoyed. So, off I went to the neighborhood convenience store, where I obtained two twelve packs of the chosen beverage. All went well until, at the foot of my driveway, I fumbled one of the twelve packs, and cans went rolling every which way. Score one for Team Annihilation.
The only other thing I could do was find a very long and well written book to read. Fortunately, one of my favorite authors, Lois McMaster Bujold, had just published a new book in her popular Miles Vorkosigan series called A Civil Campaign. I didn't know if it would be any good, but I had just finished scanning it into my computer earlier that day, and, once I had picked up all the illusive Dr Pepper cans, was ready to begin reading.
As night fell, I curled up in my favorite recliner, chilled Dr Pepper easily reachable by one hand, the TV tuned to a news station in case of onrushing doom, and began reading my long awaited book.
I knew the main character, Miles, from previous novels, a man driven to be the very best at whatever he tried, mostly because of his all too noticeable physical limitations. In this installment, he'd decided that it was time to get married, and even had the appropriate lady picked out. Unfortunately, the female in question was recovering from her husband's recent death, and really wasn't looking to marry anybody.
Next up was Mark, Miles' brother. Mark had recently rescued a scientist who hadn't been able to pay his bills, and asked if both of them could move into Vorkosigan House, the family estate where Miles was currently living alone. Miles agreed, unaware that his brother was also planning to start a business selling highly nutritious butter from genetically engineered bugs.
Finally, there was Donna, the daughter of a recently deceased count. Determined to inherit her father's title and property despite a law barring female children from doing so, she underwent a sex change operation, and switched her name to Donno.
As the night passed, I would periodically check the television, discover that no doom had fallen, and return to my book. Miles had planned a dinner to impress his prospective bride, and was enraged when he discovered that Mark had collaborated with the cook to have each dish composed, at least partially, of bug butter. Back on TV, I watched a round table discussion being held by several talking heads, and thought that everyone, the news anchors, numerous experts, and scattered reporters seemed bored. Eventually, I gave up on Team Annihilation altogether, turned off the television, and concentrated my full attention on reading the story. By this time, all the butter bugs had escaped, and much like Y2K reporters, were scattered throughout House Vorkosigan.
At one point, I caught myself laughing out loud, and thought, with amazement, "I'm happy. I figured this was going to be the most miserable night of my life, and instead I can't stop laughing."
My problems weren't solved of course, but I'm not kidding when I say that reading that book changed my whole outlook on life. It was the ninth book about Miles, his family, and his friends I had read, and watching all those people, almost like family of my own at that point, go nuts, repeatedly screw everything up in a hilarious manner, and eventually win despite all their past mistakes was marvelous.
On January 1, 2000, I badly needed to laugh, and I did. Ms. Bujold showed me that, no matter how badly I screwed things up, there was usually a way out, although, chances were, finding that path would probably make me look pretty ridiculous at times. I decided that I was cool with that, so long as I didn't have to change my name from Dan to Danielle.
(And now you know why I put it at the end of EVERYTHING!)