I arrive in New York City at sunset. The sky looks like a creamsicle; muted ivory streaked with brilliant bolts of tangerine. Summer is coming to an end. You can always tell summer in the city is almost over by observing the teenagers. In early summer they’re feral; stinking up the subways with their briny stench, foaming at the mouth stalking Stanton street, clutching spiked seltzers with stubby fingers, asking strangers for drugs, dirty feet climbing over fences searching for a public pool to break into. By mid-summer, they’re slightly less rabid, they’ve procured their China Town fake IDs by now, so they’re cooly emulating the twenty-somethings they mock on TikTok but worship in real life, flirting with older men, licking the sugar rims off their lemon drop shots, surviving on slices of pizza, sleeping on the tattered up couches of losers too old to be hanging around high school clowns, confidently ordering cocktails—they almost look like grownups—except when it’s last call and the ugly fluorescent bar lights expose the crater-like pimples crisscrossing their chins—every city kid is cursed with acne come the month of July—months of sticky lip gloss kisses and toxic air conditioner drip drops and crushed up pills will ~wreak havoc~ on a young person’s complexion. By late August; they’re no longer wild dogs terrorizing alphabet city. They’re tired old dogs, sprawled limp limbs lounging over brownstone stoops, sleepy-eyes hazy and peaceful, lazily filing their nails and ashing into potted plants, bitching about the forthcoming winter but-oh-how they all secretly crave the stability of school. The sun glows vibrant orange and constricts smaller and smaller like the pupils of someone on too many opioids until it’s the size of a pin and then BAM it’s no longer with us. To the left is a hodge-podge of dilapidated warehouses marketed as luxurious lofts housing lucky tattooed twenty-somethings with parents wealthy enough to not only foot their six thousand dollars a month rent but also wealthy enough to serve as their dutiful guarantors (you have to make eighty times the annual rent to be a guarantor in New York—which means you need to prove that your yearly salary is well over half a million dollars per year).
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The cab drops me off on Kent Street in South Williamsburg. I’m staying with Violet, my best friend since sixteen. She lives in one of those *new* buildings, where everything is silver and shiny. I furiously pet the top of my dog's head on the long ride up the elevator, because I once read an article that said "petting a dog lowers your blood pressure" and mine feels so high there’s a dramatic pulsing sensation shooting through the center of my neck. It’s not that I’m nervous about seeing Violet—I love Violet. It’s just strange to be here, I guess. It’s strange to be in this wildly unfamiliar ultra-modern luxe building that smells of Windex and the kind of obscure expensive fragrance cool girls favor.
I feel like I imagine a cat would feel at the Macy’s Day Parade: "out of context." I think of our apartment in Cobble Hill. I think of Asa sitting on our charcoal blue sofa alone, the little paintings I’ve collected over the years hammered against the wall behind her. I think of the dark wood of the farmhouse door that leads to our bedroom. I think about the books we’ve collected. I think of the little porcelain cup in our tiny bathroom, that does a fine job storing our toothbrushes. DING. The elevator door jolts open, relieving me from the series of gut punches brought to me by the good life I left behind.
Why did I leave it behind again?
Before I enter Violet’s apartment, I pause. I reach into my handbag and pull out a tube of shimmery pink lipstick. I slather the glittery pink over my lips, thoughtlessly and without a mirror. I gulp back air like it’s a glass of sauvignon blanc. I physically slap the pain off of my body with my right hand. I lightly knock on her door: It swings open wide. Lana Del Rey croons “you’re so art deco” from inside and the sweet skunk of medicinal marijuana permeates the hall. “Hi,” Violet says wrapping her arms around me. She smells expensive, like Tom Ford “eau de parfum” and skincare infused with dead sea minerals.
“I wanted to give you a ‘soft landing’ when you arrived.” The puff of tawny brown hair framing her honey-gold face looks like a halo. “That’s why I put on Lana,” she says looking at me with big coffee cup eyes. She’s wearing summer-worn Birkenstocks and black spandex biker shorts cut to the mid-thigh and a fuzzy black fleece with no design albeit the ALO YOGA logo stitched across the front pocket. Violet is one of few millennials I’ve ever met who can authentically pull off the slouchy/chic Gen Z aesthetic. Many try but few succeed. Most end up looking like the kind of schlubby lesbian who has long given up on ever having a hot sex life again. She’s got that vitamin C serum skin; glowing and poreless and completely unweathered despite a lifetime of wine sulfates and other drugs. She’s the consummate cool girl; elfin ears expertly curated with dozens of tiny piercings, skinny fingers adorned with delicate tattoos, almond-shaped nails perfectly manicured in bizarre muted shades: eggplant brown, washed-out taupe, pebble. She spends a school teacher’s salary on monthly extractions performed by a no-nonsense Polish facialist, pops more beauty-enhancing supplements into her mouth per day than an over-prescribed manic depressive pops pharmaceuticals, has had her blood plasma injected into the top of her head for fuller hair, yet doesn’t fuss around with frilly shit like makeup or eyelash extensions. She used to roll her own cigarettes, but now like all Brooklyn girls of every age; vaping is religion. Every twenty minutes or so she sticks her hand into whatever fleecy jacket she’s chosen to wear that day, pulls out an ombre-colored vape, feverishly puffs on it several times before stuffing it back into her fleecy pocket, stares guiltily into the abyss and mutters: “I need to quit fucking vaping.”
She and I are extraordinarily different birds who somehow always manage to land on the same common ground. What I mean is: her mom is a devout Muslim; my dad is a manhattan Jew—we’re both godless and couldn’t pick Jesus out of a lineup if we tried. She’s strictly dickly; I’m strictly clitly—but not for a lack of trying on either end of our spectrums. Her hair lands just below her chin; mine always falls long past my collarbones—we both have wild dark manes that can’t be tamed no matter how much we subject them to smoothing treatments and the like. She produces big campaigns for the world’s largest social media company; I write viral articles about mental illness and lesbian sex—we both are workaholics chasing internet algorithms like TLC chased waterfalls in the ‘90s. She’s an organized boss bitch; I’m a disorganized creative—we both majored in Theatre. She’s type A, so naturally, she gravitates toward uppers, I’m a depressive so I like my downers—we both are terrified of fentanyl and say NO to (hard) drugs (mostly) these days.
She’s emotionally taut and hyper-focused; I’m hyper-creative and too ADHD to be taut about anything—we both see the same therapist weekly and text her frequently because none of us (shrink included) are very good with boundaries. She visits her family in Palestine; I’ve been on free trips to Israel with groups of gay Jews—we both call New York City home.
“Thank you so much for having me, Violet,” I say this like I mean it and I do. Without speaking we step inside her apartment. The door clicks and slams behind us, loudly, as if to say “end of scene.”
Her boyfriend Blaine stands in the center of the kitchenette holding a glass of wine. “Surprise,” he grins. His looks are what seventeen-year-old girl dreams are made of: he’s handsome like a Disney Prince, tall like someone who played basketball in high school, buff but not in a scary meathead way—in the way that makes you feel safe. He has the chiseled jawline of an American movie star.
I drop my pink fluffy suitcase onto the floor and catapult into his arms. My dog Luka spins in euphoric circles by our feet. Both Luka and I love Blaine almost as much as we love Violet.
“Daddy beats me ‘cause he loves me,” I croon into his armpit. Blaine and I are in a dysfunctional routine where we incessantly say sick shit to each other. I am deeply comforted by the presence of Blaine. I don’t care if it's unfeminist, sometimes a heartbroken dyke just needs to be in the presence of a real man.
Blaine hands me a wine glass and I take a hungry slug-like it’s my last drink before the war. In a few days when the dust has settled, I won’t drink so much. I pinky promise.
Blaine and Violet gave me a soft landing indeed. But soft landings make for rough mornings and I wake up on Violet's couch feeling not emotionally gut-punched, but actually punched. My eyes feel like bleach has been poured directly into their sockets, my body feels like it’s been exposed to cyanide, my limbs feel like they’ve been haphazardly tossed down a flight of stairs, my liver feels like it got into a fistfight and lost which, I suppose, it did. Normally, brunch the saving grace of International Hangovers would do just the trick. But I can’t go to brunch. Why? Because I have a fucking reading to do. A reading at some sort of sobriety anti-drug conference of sorts. Why was I asked to read my writing aloud at a sobriety anti-drug conference of sorts, especially when a meek eight hours earlier I was guzzling my body weight in booze, tripping on mushroom chocolates and breezily puffing on joints like I was at Woodstock (the sixties one, not the dark nineties reboot where everyone burned shit down)? I’m not quite sure, babe. But when Veronica Katz asks me to do something, I always end up doing it.
Veronica Katz is a literary icon, famous for her novels about depraved party girls living in the fast lane who finally get to live a life "beyond their wildest dreams" after finding solace and peace in 12-step sobriety. I love her books and back in the day, I’d listen to her podcast every single morning on my four-mile walk from the Upper East Side to my media job in Chelsea. I loved her razor-sharp insights into the elusive publishing world I longed to be a part of, I took her writing advice as bible and was both inspired and amused by her dark party girl past. Because we’re both Jewish women notorious for writing long-form essays about sex and drugs and mental illness, I was able to meet her in Los Angeles last spring. She very generously mentored me, and we even collaborated on a few creative projects. But it’s a tricky thing to befriend an idol. The balance is always off. And no matter how hard you try not to fan girl, you will always fan girl. Because of my fan girl-ness I can’t say no to any of her requests of me. She once asked me to ghostwrite a book for a friend of hers. I hate ghost-writing almost as much as I hate Mitt Romney (that limp dicked woman-hating lecherous rat)—but because Veronica Katz asked me to do it, you better believe I did it with a goddamn smile on my face. I didn’t even need the money, at the time. Another time she asked me to ghostwrite a different book, this one was about—I kid you not—float tanks—for some "float-tank entrepreneur" friend of hers—and even though I’d rather take a bath in gasoline than write about fucking float tanks—I took the meeting (thank god that project fell through). I spent half of my summer vacation in Greece cutting video clips for her, most of which she didn’t like, which I enthusiastically redid whilst poolside in Mykonos. So when she asked me if I’d like to do a reading for some sober-non-profit in New Jersey with her, my first day back in the city that broke me—you better believe I said yes. Even though the reading is unpaid, way out in Bumblefuck New Jersey, will do absolutely nothing to advance my career, is for sober people which I VERY clearly am not, not to mention I’ve just had my heart ripped out of my chest, am freshly separated from my wife who I fiercely pine for like a junkie, am hanging on by a thread that’s wearing thinner and thinner by the day, and am at current both emotionally and physically sick from both inconsolable hurt and last night's substance abuse—there’s no way I won’t show up glittery and grin-y for this godforsaken reading.
Even though the cab ride alone will cost me $250 that I’ve been explicitly informed I will not be reimbursed for.
And on top of it, there won’t even be any alcohol.
“Why again, are you putting yourself through this?” Violet groans as I curse and smear greasy opaque concealer over the bruise-like half-moons resting beneath my eyes.
I whip my head around and clip, “because Veronica asked me to.”
“But Veronica knows you are in a breakup and fragile, right? Surely she’d understan—”
“I’m a PROFESSIONAL!” My voice sounds shrill, hysterical.
“But Z,” Blaine says calmly, “YOU said yourself it’s not going to elevate your career, right?”
I take a deep dramatic breath, turn to face them, and clasp my hands in prayer. “Guys,” I say softly, closing my eyes shut. “I JUST need to do this for my self-esteem. I don’t know who the hell I am anymore. I feel like a shell of myself, have lost my confidence entirely, and am falling apart at the seams here, OKAY?” I open my eyes and emphasize the word “okay.” “The one thing I am super confident that I’ll always slay no matter how dark life gets? Being on stage.” I hear my voice start to shake. “I need to get a sliver of my confidence back. And nothing reminds me of my power like performing my work for an audience. Please understand how badly I need this.”
“If you say so,” Violet says, eyes cast downward, gazing critically into her manicure.
“K, Z.” Blaine smiles bemusedly.
I can tell that they both think I’m completely full of shit.