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The Locked Diary #18: Everything is Heavy

Also: my guardian angel smokes Virgina Slims.


I wake up and everything is heavy. My head. My heart. My appendages. My fingernails. My lips.

My bones. My pulse.

I’m overwhelmed by this guttural feeling that something terrible is about to happen.

But then again—I’m heartbroken and hungover. And we all know: this isn’t her first rodeo, babe. You’d be hard-pressed to find a single entity that understands the mental health repercussions of a hangover more than me. For I've learned the hard way that hangovers throw a grim film over reality as it is. Toss heartbreak into the mix—and you’re going to be seeing the whole wide world through the lens of SOMETHING TERRIBLE IS ABOUT TO HAPPEN.

I mean—how can you trust your intuition when you’re psyche is so utterly fragile?

So this morning as I pitter-patter around the apartment making coffee, cleansing my face, adhering globs of mascara to my eyelashes—I’m keenly aware that my Heartbreak & Hangover dual diagnosis has put me in an altered state. That my dark premonitions of PENDING DOOM are not to be trusted. Trusting my gut right now would be akin to trusting a drunk mid-bender as a reliable witness to a crime.

But even though I know all of this—intellectually, a voice inside my head keeps loudly shrilling: “SOMETHING HORRIBLE IS ABOUT TO HAPPEN.”

“Would you shut the fuck up?” I snap at the voice. “I have shit to do!”

And the truth is I do have shit to do. A lot of shit to do. I’m ghostwriting a book for a middle-aged businessman and I need to somehow spin a dull two-hour ZOOM interview into a cohesive, engaging memoir chapter, due in exactly four days.

I don’t like ghostwriting.

I find ghostwriting to be demoralizing on a cellular level and I’ve never quite mastered the art of not pouring myself into every sentence.

This means that regardless of how dumb the topic or person I'm ghostwriting for is—I still end up just as stressed and as tortured as I would over my ~own~ work. But unlike my ~own~ work, it doesn’t move the needle for my career in the slightest and some creative bro who fancies himself the second coming of Steve Jobs (who likely will never even crack the book open because he admittedly “doesn’t read”) will be praised as the prolific author.

I know I shouldn’t care about being credited so much. But at the same time—have you ever seen how bitter and twisted men get when they’re not lauded with a fucking Pulitzer Prize for every mediocre idea they’ve so little as mumbled at a meeting?

But this morning I have sweeping sensations of gratitude that I have this arduous, boring-yet-difficult task to accomplish.


Because this kind of work is as numbing as a Vicodin. And all I want is to not feel. Not think. Not be in my body. I need so badly to take the edge off my shattered heart and colossal hangover, the feverish SOMETHING BAD IS GOING TO HAPPEN wails of terror banging 'round my brain and the chaotic thrashing in my chest.

If I didn’t have this boring demoralizing ghostwriting shit to do—I’d probably pour myself a glass of wine and start drinking.

And there’s one thing I know for certain: once you start slogging down the sauvignon to anesthetize the psychological ramifications of last night’s sauvignon slog—things get real dark, real fast. I don’t want things to get darker than they already are. Maybe that’s what growing up is. Understanding consequence. Picking and choosing the specific hells you’re willing to tolerate and which ones just aren’t worth scorching your flesh for.

I curl up on the couch. My laptop radiates warmth through my lower belly, it feels cozy like a hot water bottle. My dogs, Luka and Bowie are cuddled into the sides of my thighs, and for a moment—

I feel *cocooned* in love. I feel *held.* For I'm surrounded by the only entities that have never given up on me: my pets and the device that’s stored all of my creative ideas for the last decade. I fall into the comfort of work for hours and hours and hours, writing in tandem with the soft symphony of my dogs snoring beside me.

A thought dashes across my brain fast and light, like a gazelle hopping over a New Jersey fence. Maybe I should just live a small quiet life and ghostwrite and release myself from the shackles of my own ambition, I think.

Before I have a chance to catch the thought and gaze into what it means—I’m flooded with an all too familiar smell. It’s a Virginia Slim cigarette. Fuck. It’s Sharon.

For those of you who don’t know—Sharon is my guardian angel.

She lives inside of me and never emerges unless it’s to tell me that she’s super proud of me or super disappointed in me. Sharon is awesome, but she’s a hard-ass. She’s had the same severe, no-nonsense bob since 1987 and the same “pull up your boots and get it together!” mid-western mentality for as long as I’ve known her.

Sharon wears Lane Bryant stretch pants and neat brown peacoats and douses her wrists and collarbones in "Clinique Happy" every morning. She paints intricate still lifes of vintage books and ceramic bowls of fruit in her free time, leads a woman’s-only weight watcher’s meeting in her basement twice a week, identifies as a “recovered codependent,” listens to public radio in her Honda Civic, and when it’s abortion day at her local Planned Parenthood (Friday) you can find her volunteering her time ushering patients through the scary sea of red-skinned anti-choice protestors, safely into the clinic.

Sharon is an inherently good person. She’s solid. She’s got what the podcast kids call a “growth mindset.” Her *only* vice is her beloved Virginia Slims.

Sometimes I throw her ciggie addiction in her face. I do this when I’m feeling defensive and resentful toward her sage advice because I want to keep on self-destructing. I don’t feel good about myself after I do that. It’s rude and manipulative to bring up an honorable woman’s *one* addiction just because you’re feeling shitty about your own addictions, you know? That’s not the kind of person I strive to be. I vow that no matter what, today, I will NOT mention Sharon’s inability to quit nicotine, no matter what kind of rage she ignites within me.

I look up from the laptop and there she is in all of her staunch Nebraskan glory: cancer stick pressed between fingertips, mauve lipstick fresh as a spring day, stacked bob shiny like the Aegean Sea.

“Hey, kiddo,” she velvets. Her voice is soft and luxe. A dramatic shift from her usual throaty squawk.

“Hi.” I clank away on the keyboard. I respect Sharon, but I’m working on a tight deadline, honey.

“What are you ghostwriting for?”


“What happened to your focusing on your own shit?”

“What shit are you talking about?” I glower from behind the static glow of the screen.

“Oh, I don’t know. Girls On Jane that pretty stellar fiction series you almost killed yourself creating. Your book: GIRL, STOP PASSING OUT IN YOUR MAKEUP. Never see you promoting that project you worked so hard on, anymore. Oh, and maybe the five thousand essays you’ve published on the internet—?”

“Three thousand.”

Sharon grins and playfully socks me in the arm. "There she is.”

A pause as heavy as a pregnant teen uncomfortably lingers in the air. It teems with regret for yesterday’s mistakes and aches with longing for all the dreams that have slipped out of reach.

“Kiddo,” Sharon croaks, her voice back to its usual rasp. She arranges herself on the couch next to me. The dogs wag their tails violently and bounce around in her lap, licking her face with little pink tongues. The dogs love when Sharon pays us a visit. “You’ve lost your voice as a writer,” she says, dropping her finished cigarette into the glass ashtray sitting pretty on the coffee table. “You’ve lost your voice as a person.”

I roll my eyes. I feel very young when I roll my eyes. Not in a good way. In an agitated way. “What does that even mean?” I bitchily purr, folding my arms, twisting my nails into my raw skin. I’m being petulant. Defensive. Adolescent. I’m on that unsteady seventeen-year-old seesaw where you teeter between sarcasm and a nervous breakdown.

“I mean, you’ve become a shadow person, Zara.”

“Cut it with the millennial jargon, Sharon. It doesn’t suit you.”

“Cut it with the bullshit.”

“What bullshit?” I snap my laptop closed and stare at her with cold dead eyes.

Sharon digs into her pocket and unearths her signature yellow Bic lighter. She flicks it a few times. A small blue flame emerges from the top, like a punk rock mohawk. She pulls her cigarette out from behind her ear and inhales deeply. “The bullshit you’re telling yourself. That somehow this—” she gestures to a stack of magazines neatly folded underneath the coffee table “—this is what you want. Media. Small talk. Clicks. Clout. Chasing fucking algorithms like TLC chased fucking waterfalls in the 90s.”

I can’t help but gasp and clutch my proverbial pearls. Sharon rarely swears and never have I ever I heard her reference pop culture. I had to tell her who Lana Del Rey is.

Sharon notices my shock and her lips stretch into a small precocious smile for a second and then quickly flip to a frown. “Z,” she barrels, “none of this is who you are. None of this. Ghostwriting? You’re so goddamn creative, you have more ideas in your pinky finger than most people will ever have in their entire lives—yet here you are. Playing small. Hiding behind someone else’s identity. Getting paid to make other people’s dreams come true. What about your dreams? What the hell happened?”

“I’m just trying to survive,” I murmur wishing I had gone ahead and poured myself a glass of morning wine.

“That’s the biggest load of bullshit I’ve ever heard. You know how to make it work. You’ve been making it work your whole life. You’ve survived way worse than New York City media bitches and heartbreak, remember?”

My jaw clenches. Oh, I remember.

“You used to have such a clear sense of purpose. You used to be so ambitious. So excited about life. This might sound harsh but let’s get real here for a moment, OK?” Sharon’s speech is breathless and urgent like she’s chasing a lover on the run. “You lost the plot, girl. You’ve written yourself into the wrong scene, the wrong life. This isn’t where you’re meant to be. Walk away. From all of it.”


“Start over. Burn it down. Get the hell out of here!” Sharon inhales and exhales deeply like she’s in a yoga class. “You know I’m a cautious woman, right?”

I nod. She is.

“Look me in the eyes.”

I don’t want to but I do. Her eyes are as baby blue as a gender reveal party.

“But right now I’m officially advising you to be reckless. As your guardian angel, I’m warning you that you can’t, can’t, CAN’T keep squashing down your sparkle ‘cause you’re trying to play it safe. It’s not what you’re built for. You’re meant to live big. And because of my angel status, I happen to know what kind of stellar cosmic shit is in the stars for you. But if you go against the stars—” Sharon’s eyes are suddenly misty. Her face falls. She sighs like it’s the last sigh of her life. Her entire demeanor can only be described in one Gothic word: forlorn. “I don’t know if you’ll make it.”

My heart pitter-patters. I’m suddenly awake. More awake than I’ve been in the last six months. Year. Two years maybe. My whole life maybe. “What do you mean?”

“I mean you’ll die.”

“For real? Or like in a metaphor-ish way?”

Sharon doesn’t answer me. She stands up and silently lopes toward the door. She twists the gold knob and turns to face me. “Your intuition is always right. Even when you're heartbroken and hungover. Trust it. Trusting your gut is going to be your way out of this mess.” Tears fall down her face. I’m aghast. I’ve never seen her cry before.

“Sharon, what do you MEAN?”

“Check your phone,” she says before twisting on her sensible Nordstrom Rack block heels and slamming the door closed.

“WAIT!” I scream. But it’s too late. When Sharon’s gone, Sharon’s gone.

I stare at my phone. It gleams at me with its prissy butterfly print case from the coffee table. I grab for it. I open up my text messages. I read the first one and my heart flies up through my chest out of my mouth onto the ground splattering blood everywhere.



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