In The Nineties

Michael Crifasi

© Copyright 2004 by Michael Crifasi
 “‘Darling? Did that man say something to you?’ 
‘Yes, mommy.’
‘Oh. What did he say?’
‘True things.’”
-Neil Gaiman
The Sandman: Brief Lives
Photo of a path through trees.  (c) 2004 by Richard Loller.

 There are many ways to tell a story. This is one of them.

It was in the nineties that the great American wave finally crested. We can see it now. There were no more worlds to conquer after the nineties. The golden age had arrived. Any new improvisations or inventions could only succeed in prolonging this zenith, as there was simply nowhere else to go. In the nineties I knew this. I saw it coming.

In the nineties, an entire generation, searching for the rebellion that had once lived and breathed in rock’n’roll, thought they found it in the rust of grunge and the chrome of rap. But, a lot of the time, it seemed that all that was left of the spirit of rock’n’roll in the music we dropped out to tune into was the despair of the Seattle scene and the resentment pulsating out of South L.A. Albums took on such titles as Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness and “Cop Killer”. These were bestsellers. Sometimes it felt like the power and soul that had fueled change in the past was absent from our music. Sometimes it felt like all that was left was the anguish, or “just the dregs” as someone once said, “just the dregs.”

 But only sometimes.

 I remember carrying a condom in my wallet early in the nineties, years before I would actually need one. I never questioned my need to do this, even if birth control was the furthest thing from my mind. This is what became of youth and “Sex in the Nineties,” thanks mostly to MTV, I think. You see, in my junior high sex education classes, we didn’t talk about sex, or babies, or masturbation, or abortion; we talked about AIDS.

This was the nineties, after all.

 In the nineties, I remained in love with the wrong girl for the whole decade. Her name was Shannon. She was obsessed with Kurt Cobain. She wore expensive clothes. She liked to experiment with drugs, and boys. She drove a Mustang. She was smarter than me, but afraid to admit it. She answered to the name of Nico. She loved The Crow. She was my Courtney Love. She was the perfect girl for the nineties. I still do not regret being in love with her.

 We tried to recreate the sixties in the nineties. But Desert Storm was over to quickly, the ’94 riots in L.A. over Rodney King just seemed like an excuse to steal (thanks to the constant coverage of CNN), and we only managed to burn our Woodstock to the ground. Events seemed to spark into full-blown flames much more quickly in the nineties, but the fires of the nineties only seemed to be half-wits roaring with mindless rage. I thought the fires were stupid in the nineties…especially when it was Generations X and Y that started them.

Then again, maybe I listened to the Boomers too much.

Maybe we all did.

I had a friend named Brian in the nineties. He betrayed me. Then years later, he did it again. And again. I still buy him a drink when I see him.

 I remember looking up the number of reported AIDS cases in my part of the state early in the nineties. There were six. Still, we were all deathly afraid. In the nineties, I never worried that I might get crabs, or the clap, or maybe a child. Somehow I was sure, it I slept with one of the “fast” girls in the grades above me, and I got anything, it would be AIDS. I imagined lying in bed and feeling my backside rot into something of a soupy consistency thanks to the horrible bedsores created by the total shut down of my own immune system. I saw my hair falling out. Still, I wanted to have sex with those fast girls very much. But I also took a secret pride in the caution that AIDS has injected into my generation. It made us adults more quickly, I thought. It was something our parents actually couldn’t understand. It was our plague, and it was ours to rage against, armed with latex and the guidelines passed on by our health teachers and Music Television.

Crystal Pepsi existed in the nineties. It seems the clear symbol of the desperate need we had in the nineties to improve, to make things our own—and how we generally fell short. We were the new Lost Generation, but no one cared, because most of us were not going hungry.

I really liked Crystal Pepsi.

I won a poetry contest in the nineties. I was eleven. The title of the contest was “Stop the Violence.” “Stopping the violence” was very important in the nineties. Rappers said so. Menace II Society said so. Slick Willie said so. My entry was two pages long. None of the other entries even came close in length. I had already been in a couple fights by that time. I had already had the shit scared out of me by angry older kids, both white and black. I thought this made me extra qualified. For receiving the first prize, I won this cool baseball cap. It was wool, dyed black, with “Stop the Violence” emblazoned on it in white. It looked like something Ice Cube might wear in one of his videos. Or maybe Snoop Dogg. He always had cool hats.

I still have the hat.

I’m sure my mother still has the poem.

 I took things too seriously in the nineties. I couldn’t understand why I wasn’t supposed to. I wanted to know when it would be ok to actually feel what I felt.

I thought I wanted to be around to see the fall of the American Empire in the nineties. I thought I wanted to indulge in the decadence that was sure to preclude the end of days. Secretly I admitted that I wanted to avoid growing up in a world where I might have to take responsibility for something so huge as the American Empire. Now there is the frightening possibility that I may get my wish. In retrospect, I think I should have wised for a fast car in the nineties. But I had to be so cool, didn’t I?

 I remember the day I decided I was not going to kill myself. It was spring. It was on the phone. It was outside. It was walking in the grass. It was without shoes. It was in the nineties.

My grandmother died in the autumn of 1995. That fall, I was in eighth grade, the last of my junior high days. Brian was my best friend. Shannon was my girlfriend. Our football team won the conference.

I spent many nights after those games at Stein Hospice, where my grandmother had been placed after her breast cancer had been diagnosed as terminal. I recall the light in the room, a light I will always be terrified of, I think. It was rose, but at the same time, sickly soft, as if it was shining through an old bottle of wine, or old Vaseline smeared across a forgotten lens. I would stand in the back of the room, my mother would stand next to the bed, and my grandfather would sit in a chair in front of her, holding my grandmother’s liver-spotted and skeletal hand. My father and brother stood on the other side of me, closer to the door. I do not remember any conversation in that room. I remember my grandfather crying. My mom did not, not then.

What I remember most is that I didn’t look at my grandmother in that room, lying on her side in that sick-rose-wine-Vaseline light, both breasts long gone for what seemed no purpose at all, wheezing in breath and having no thought but pain left in her eyes. I looked at my mother, and my grandfather. Somehow, I could feel a distance between us, a distance I did not feel existed in the space between me and my brother and father. Something changed in that room. You could taste the distance. It was as if my brother, my father, and I were not supposed to be there. I never forgot that. I can still taste that distance now. It’s bitter—very, very bitter.


My grandmother was laid to rest on a Friday. The night before, I had to run from my football game at the high school to the junior high just to be in time for the wake. No one was there, and I had to wait for my coach to arrive and unlock the door to the locker room. All that running, the minute time expired, and still I had to wait. Before the funeral the next day, I was playing a new CD I had got in the mail days before. It was by Sponge, titled Rotting PiÒata. I always listed to music in the morning. My father came into the room and told me to turn it off. He said that particular morning was not an appropriate time for my music. My mother said nothing at all. It was very cold that day. I can’t remember if I spoke at the funeral, or if I did, what I said. I remember the cemetery was an exceptionally ugly place, crushed up against a dirty neighborhood and a withered stretch of woods. It rained. There was nothing I could say to console my mother that day. I don’t remember talking at all by the gravesite. Not even to my brother. That day, I was a ghost. Later that night I met up with Brian. He asked me how it went. I told him I did not know what to say. He put an arm around my shoulders and we headed down to Shannon’s to meet the rest of our friends. It was cool, but there was no breeze that night. My wave crested on that day.

On that Friday, my wave of the nineties crested, and I can see the high water mark now. Nothing after came close to hitting the emotion I felt that day before the nineties ran out. I don’t know if anything else ever will. Perhaps that day, my wave crested not just on the nineties, but on my very life as well. I can’t tell you that for sure, but for now at least, I keep my eyes on the waves.

Michael Aeneas Crifasi is currently working on his Senior Thesis in English at Ohio University. The four stories to be included in that work will appear under the title Sacrifice sometime in the near future.

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