The countdown began just before midnight in the bowling-alley bar, drunken voices calling out the final seconds of the century in a jumbled chorus. My mother had disappeared into the crowd, and I was sitting on a folding chair next to the lanes, looking up at a muted TV that showed a party in a city I didn’t recognize. As midnight approached, something compelled me to go outside into the cold night air and look up at the sky. I wanted to see it happen firsthand: Everything thrown into chaos. The end of the world.