The Locked Diary #16: Writing Myself Into The Wrong Scene
A different kind of writer's strike.
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I don’t lose the Chanel bag. Before I dipped out I found it slung over the bar chair, untouched, exactly as I left her. One of the (many) good things about attending a gay party as opposed to a regular party is that you’re far less likely to be stolen from. Not because gays are necessarily better people—we can be as selfish and untrustworthy as any Tom, Dick and Harry—but because our community is too small. Unless you’re planning to immigrate from the sparkly West Village to the hetero-boring Upper East Side—you’d be quickly busted, caught red-handed with my stolen Chanel—which would likely lead to a beating from the downtown lesbian mob and nobody wants to experience that.
The downtown lesbian mob is not to be messed with and they’ve had my back for as long as I’ve been carousing the bars on Christopher Street. I try to pose with them as much as possible and post those pictures onto Instagram, so everyone knows to never fuck with me. It’s an effective tactic that has rendered me safe from gay-on-gay theft—so long as I stay below 14th Street.
Uptown, I’m not protected; I have to watch my back.
On the taxi ride home from the party I’m consumed with the most all-consuming emotion (besides love)—grief. I’ve been knee-deep in grief ever since I left New York, the first time. But I’d committed to staying inside of the grief, no matter how unbearable it felt. The only thing that has stopped me from completely numbing the grief with drugs and booze and pointless busy work is trusting (for once) my internal knowing. I know—more than I’ve ever known anything before in my entire life—that delaying the grief isn’t going to serve me in the long run. I have to feel it. I know this not because I’m evolved or superior or super bright or anything beatific or impressive like that.
I’ve just learned the hard way that grief doesn’t go away just because you want it to go away. And when you mask grief—put her in the prettiest pink dress and hand her the prettiest pink cocktail to clutch between her prettiest pink manicured fingers—the grief doesn’t get any lighter. Her weight still crushes your insides. And all the best doctor-prescribed numbing pills in the world will never be powerful enough to rid you of her.
Have you ever avoided a splinter? I did one year at summer camp when I was about nine years old. I’d broken a rule and kicked off my shoes before braving a notoriously splintery old dock by the lake and decided to recklessly run up and down it, barefoot.
I felt it the moment the splinter pierced my skin. I knew right away that I needed to march over to the nurse’s office and have her remove it, but I was afraid of two things: 1) the pain of having the splinter pulled out from my delicate little foot with tweezers and 2) I didn’t want to have to own up to doing something so stupid. I didn’t want to get yelled at for breaking the rules.
So I ignored the splinter. After all, it was so tiny, I could hardly see it. And if I couldn’t see it—maybe it wasn’t even real?
The next morning the splinter was buried even further into my flesh. It was now completely undetectable to my eyes. Maybe I had made the whole thing up in my head? After all, I had a giant imagination! But every single time I took even the tiniest step I’d feel a pin-prick of pain. (A Little Splinter of Pain—A Memoir.)
Feeling the grief, it’s a lot like removing a splinter. Which—I quickly learned after breaking down and seeing the nurse three days later—hurts. You have to cut through a thick layer of skin in order to get the splinter out. Which is brutal, at best. But keeping the splinter stored within you is also brutal. It’s a different kind of brutal. It might look prettier and you might not have to watch it be unearthed from your body, which is a jarring and grotesque sight for sore eyes—but keeping it inside of you is what causes an infection to happen. And no matter what you do or where you go or how many fabulous parties you attend with your designer handbag slung chic-ly over your shoulder—you always have this feeling that something is not right.
Yeah, you might not be weeping on the subway or dropping to your knees in the bathroom stall of a red-carpet event or falling apart when anyone dares to ask if “you’re okay,”—but you’re always uncomfortable. You live with the weight of a foreign object taking up space inside of your body. And the longer it stays inside of you, the more it starts to bury itself deeper and deeper until it makes your way toward your bones, which is dangerous.
And even though intellectually you don't know it—you start to get this strange sixth sense that this repression is becoming increasingly dangerous, too. After all, the further it’s shoved inside of you, the closer it is to penetrating very tender organs and arteries. You become so afraid to take a breath, because each breath, brings that sharp sliver of wood closer and closer to your heart, which must be protected at all costs, so you live your life breathlessly. And when you don’t breathe, you’re not really living, you’re not really connecting, and being disconnected is the most agonizing feeling of all so you start to do things to take the edge of that agonization.
What takes the edge off?
Glad you asked. I think the things that make us betray ourselves. Things that let our beautiful, kind spirits down—like drinking too much, or drugging too much, or using *people* like *drugs*—all of which will always keep us stuck. Addiction is a cycle. Cycles don’t move forward, they spin ‘round and ‘round. When we’re in a cycle we’re hampsters on a wheel. And I don’t know about you—but I’ve felt like that too many times. And I can’t bear to feel that way another goddamn day in my life. That was the whole point of putting myself through this excruciating separation, in the first place—you know? I’ve been longing for movement. How counter-productive would it be to do something this painful, this harrowing, this disruptive—only to numb—when numbing is what got me into this life of going up and down but never getting anywhere—to begin with?
So here I am exhausting my feelings of grief, because if I do, maybe they’ll eventually get tired and take a nap. And then maybe I’ll be genuinely free? And that’s the ultimate goal, here. Freedom.
But I don’t feel free on this cab ride home from the party.
I feel shackled to the grief. I feel shackled to the choices I’ve made. I feel shackled to this city. I stare into my lap and reflect on all of this. I mean, everything inside of me told me to NOT GO TO THE PARTY. But I was dedicated, furiously dedicated to showing up with a brave face. Why? Maybe I wanted to prove to myself that not everything had been taken from me in this breakup? Maybe I wanted to prove to myself that I still possessed the ability, the talent, the “whatever” it is that has always allowed me to show up for work glittery and smiling despite the fall of Rome happening in my chest? Maybe I wanted to prove to everybody that I am a perfect professional, even in the worst of times?
But who is everybody? Is this “everybody” a demographic of people that don’t even exist beyond the nagging voices in my head?
Why did you go when you were choking down a nervous breakdown, Zara? Come to think of it, I’d been choking down a breakdown ever since I dropped my pink fluffy weekender bag on the hardwood floors of the apartment I shared with Asa—the apartment that was ours for so long but I am no longer able to claim as mine—an apartment that teems with my art—my clothes—my hairs still ripe in the brushes—my perfume forever cemented in the pill-shaped throw pillows I’d proudly bought from Jonathon Adler so many years ago. Despite this crushing realization that this space and these things are not mine—compounded by the fact that I’m missing Asa so badly—missing her like I’d miss my teeth or my eyelashes, something that is a part of me—like the longing is so intense that when I look into the mirror I don’t recognize myself—because I’m a part of my body isn’t there—I still freshened up my makeup, gritted my teeth so hard I felt it in my skull, twirled into a cab I could not afford and went to the event. Alone. Facing my community, my industry, without my partner for the first time in almost a decade.
At the party—I felt the most like a misfit above anything else. Come to think of it I’ve always felt like a misfit at parties like that. Even though I can show up and pose for the picture, hand-on-hip, glossy pouty-lips, making small talk, drinking and clinking, chatting and eyelash batting—the whole socializing aspect of events makes me want to rip my flesh off my body and run for the hills, skinless. Small talk and industry glad-handing has always felt out of alignment with who I *really* am. But I’ve always deemed it necessary for “work” and on top of it—I haven’t ever really had to do it alone. I had the band-aid of a very social romantic partner, or my very shimmery business partner, to anesthetize the agonizing discomfort of networking.
I didn’t have to feel what an unnatural environment that scene was for me—you never have to—when you have a human to hide behind. But tonight the band-aid was ripped off, the painkiller of a partner had expired, and I was feeling it all, r-a-w.
Why are you doing this to yourself? Why are you doing this to yourself? This event is awesome, but this isn’t who you are. Nothing about your life is WHO YOU ARE. This internal little voice kept whispering into my ear. This isn’t where you belong. Why are you always trying to put yourself in places where you don’t belong? What are you trying to prove? THESE AREN’T YOUR PEOPLE.
And when I ducked into the bathroom and hid and dry-heaved in the toilet, the Voices of YOU DON’T BELONG, screamed louder. I pinched my skin hoping my tears would not continue to screw me over again, spill out of my eyeballs, without my consent, like some sort of sexual predator. Talk about problematic: The tears did not ask me for permission to touch my precious sacred face, and honestly, I feel violated and am still angry with them. The champagne, the holding of breath, the obsessive reapplying of eyeliner and endless spritzing of YSL “Black Opium — none of it could drown out the pain and homesickness I felt.
People often say: “I was in a room full of people but had never felt so alone” right? I was in a room full of people in my industry, and I’d never felt so out of place. So out of context in my own life.
Has that ever happened to you? Where you feel like you’re in the wrong scene but it’s not a movie it’s your life and you directed yourself into this scene? You wrote yourself into a scene you don’t belong in, so you can’t even blame anyone else, because this is a product of your own doing? Anyway. I felt so shaky at this event. So unsteady. Tears are spilling out of my eyes and I can’t stop them and I am embarrassed that I can’t stop them and I’m angry that I’m not in control of my emotions like I usually am. I’m livid. And I don’t know who to even make small talk with. And I keep running off the bathroom and locking myself into a stall, even though I don’t need to go to the bathroom, but I just need to hide, I just need to cry. I ended up just darting out without saying goodbye. Which lead me here: A weeping mess on her way home.
The cab pulls up. By the time I get to the apartment, it’s probably about midnight, and I’ve drunk too much, which is not helping my all-consuming grief, as alcohol is no longer numbing to me, it only brings me *closer* to the pain. It occurs to me that I’ve never felt lonelier in my entire life. I’ve never felt so far away from home. And I’m in my own home. But wait, it’s not mine anymore. And it hits me like a fucking forcefield: I’ve been living a borrowed life. This is not my world. This is my partner’s world. Nightlife. Media. This is her New York. It’s not my New York. And it’s not my home.
I walk into the bedroom and stare at the bed, still adorned in the butterfly print sheets I picked out. How am I supposed to sleep in this bed? I wonder. I realize I can’t. So I pass out on the couch, both dogs curled into me, protectively, and I sob myself to sleep for what feels like the millionth time this year. I wake up at 4 AM and toss and turn until finally, I reach for the Ambien. I know you’re not supposed to mix Ambien with alcohol. I’m well-versed with drugs. I know this. But I don’t really give a fuck if I wake up or not. So why not play a good ole game of Russian Roulette with my life?
It’s never that high of stakes to play Russian Roulette with your life if you don’t value your life. Because it’s not just the separation of marriage in this moment, that’s haunting me. It’s like the veil has suddenly been lifted in every aspect. Like there is no veil of delusion to filter up the view, reality is revealing herself and she isn’t very pretty. Like this night, being in this apartment, it’s making me realize that my career is spinning in a direction, that without the distraction of other people charming me into believing otherwise, is the antithesis of who I am and what I really want and what I want to be known for. There was a moment there when someone referred to me as some kind of lesbian nightlife queen. It was disorienting. Like how did we get here, Z. You’re not even a club person. You hate clubs! You’ve never liked them! You thrive at the book club, not the nightclub. You like to talk about depressing shit, like suicide statistics and eating disorders in the industrial revolution, you don’t even DANCE. But you’ve bent yourself to fit into a mold, because, that’s what your job demanded of you, and that’s what people like from you, and we all want to make a living and this angle worked. But this isn’t an essay! This is my life! You can’t create a provocative angle for your life! You just got to be real. And this isn’t real.
I’m grateful as hell to have been given the opportunities I’ve been given in New York, and I’m grateful to media, and queer nightlife—but this is so not me. It hits me like a fist in my most fragile hour: I’m not a glitter girl. I’m not a glitter girl. I’m not a glitter girl. I never was.
I shiver as I come to the realization that I’ve been working and grinding and grinding and grinding away for years — only to realize I don’t like what I’ve worked myself to the bone to build. It’s like I’ve built myself a house, in the scalding hot sun, brick by brick, only to realize I don’t want to live in a house—wait I never wanted to live in a house —I’m a condo person—why did I almost kill myself to live in a house I never even wanted?
The warm blanket of Ambien falls softly over my body. I snuggle into it. Before I drift off to sleep, she gently whispers: "This is all great insight, Z. But what are *you* going to do, Z? Not only do people know you as this one thing, you know you as this one thing. Who are without this thing—this job, this career, this brand? And how —dear how—will you financially survive without it? You barely survive now."
I hear myself mutter: "But how will I survive if I continue to stay in it?"
Ambien coos, “You’re right. I guess you got to pick your hard.”