“Praying these 20-somethings don’t kill me…”-SZA
The clock on my phone reads 1:03 a.m. as we wander into the kitchen. It is the second night of the presidential election and my month-long anxiety has started to subside, momentarily. “Two glass tired,” the boys muse as we crack into a box of white wine, intending to finish the night off after a couple of glasses.
During any other time and in any other year, we’d usually be at a bar around this time, relishing in what are supposed to be the best years of our lives. Instead it’s 2020, the most chaotic, up-in-the-air year of our young lives — if not in recent history. The energy in the room is a tense calmness, almost like the mundane moments of a sitcom. We’re stock characters, completely removed from having any control over our situation, but still reacting in the only ways that we know how.
In the past 20 years, the United States of America has become almost unrecognizable when compared to what our parents and grandparents knew. Y2K babies have come of age in what seems to be the dying years of the American empire. Our first birthdays coincided with 9/11, and our early childhoods were filled with news reports of soldiers fighting in for-profit wars that have followed us into adulthood, along with an uncertain economy.
The education system vaguely prepared us for our post-secondary years, but we rode into college nonetheless because our parents goaded us into it. I can remember the brightness in my friend’s eyes three years ago as we embarked on the paths that we believed would grant us access to a comfortable and happy future. Now, as we sit in their Wrigleyville apartment, it feels as if we’ve aged decades in just three short years of knowing each other.
Uncertainty has replaced our naiveté, but on this historic night, we wear the same smiles as when we first met. When “the boys” (now men, in earnest), begin talking, I sit and listen at first. However, as they continued to converse, I found myself grabbing my notebook during our nightcap. Devin and Jack are describing video games as if they’re an academic text. “I only play video games with an actual story. The story keeps me sane,” Jack muses, prompting Devin to chime, “It’s a distraction, but isn’t everything at this point?”
They are poetic in the way they speak, and their words are steeped in candor and knowledge, the wheels in their expansive minds accelerating. Here we are, seated around a table as the children of the new millennium. We’ve been treated to the leftovers of broken promises of Baby Boomers, the pessimism of Gen-X and the participation trophy millennials.
As college juniors, our world has been completely flipped upside down. Half of our time at Loyola and DePaul has been spent online, and it seems as if we’ll complete our degrees remotely. As a generation, we are also undergoing significant ideological shifts. Almost all of us are recognizing that the process that our parents utilized to graduate from adolescence into adulthood is absolute bulls––t: $40,000 in debt for a degree in a field that’ll keep me in debt. The more leftist among our generation have recognized that the wars that we’ve inherited are futile and for profit.
Many of us also recognize the importance of unity and diversity. As we sit around the kitchen island, I absorb our differences. The boys are both white and of Catholic backgrounds from the mountains of Denver. I am Black, Baptist and a woman from the steel valley of Pittsburgh. I’m a writer on the cusp of hitting my stride. Devin is an incredibly gifted scenic designer with a knack for history. Jack is a pragmatic and quick-witted philosopher. Despite the ignorant efforts of previous generations to segregate, here we are. We stand on so much creativity, intelligence and a deep sense of camaraderie in a time of so much fear.
Along with many other ‘00 babies, we’ve cast our first-ever presidential votes for Joe Biden. At this point in time, we had no knowledge of whether or not the nation would echo its youth’s cries for justice. As the sole woman and Black person in the room, I stood to lose the most under another four years of Donald Trump’s white nationalist regime. Rationally, I was terrified of what the morally corrupt monster of a man could do with more power. However, as I observed the boys talk, my fear strangely began to subside. That gnawing terror began to slowly replace itself with a glimmer of hope. We come from many backgrounds, and we’re finally old enough to be heard.
At 20, we are adult enough to recognize the sins of the father in order to craft our own future. As the night wound on, Jack and Devin both showed this to me in their own funky ways, reflective of the expansive thought patterns I see in our age group. “Art, history and politics are all similar. The narrative impacts the design. When the narrative is f—ked, so is the design. America didn’t start with a clean narrative, so our design is already flawed,” Devin said. “This framework is f—king broken,” Jack begins, pausing for a swig of wine. “But within the brokenness, we can figure something out. Then again, I could just be very wrong and way too optimistic,” he finishes. When he says that, a bulb goes off in my head and I instantly think, “What the hell am I mourning for?”
In that moment, I realized that my past few days of sulking have been useless — futile almost — because there is so much to look towards. Yes, COVID-19 and the Trump regime have taken countless opportunities from us, but we’re still here. Despite the absolute calamity of the year, our spirits still remain strong. We’ve been faced with extensive challenges and never-before-seen adversity and we’re still kicking. We have refused to lack empathy or joy and have instead dedicated ourselves to building a future where we are not reliant on the old ways of the American empire.
We have united ourselves in the language of kinship instead of rooting our lives in oppressive destruction. In this little kitchen, we have done what even the most skilled diplomats are unable to do: Seek peace regardless of difference. Over a $12 box of cabernet sauvignon, we’ve turned the generations ahead of us on their head through the simplicity of togetherness. I pray that this group of three lost 20-somethings pass that same mentality onto generations to come. The future is ours, millennium babies, and we must lean into our communities in order to truly craft the change that we are owed.
Header image by Phoebe Nerem
If you or someone you know is experiencing substance misuse, you can call the Alcohol & Drug Abuse Action Helpline at 1(800)662-4357. You can also visit Drug-Free America’s website to learn more about drugs, treatment and online screenings.
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