This Is Why We're Monsters

"A story about siblings."


It’s the thick of quarantine and I’m in the thickest place to ever exist: Florida, Honey.


I’m not saying Florida is thick as in “thick-brained” due to the astronomically high percentages of sunstroke and methamphetamine abuse. When I say Florida is thick, what I mean is the humidity. The air is pregnant here. Pregnant with hot sewer water that will never experience the relief of birth.


Florida is perpetually “expecting,” which is why she’s such an emotional rollercoaster of a state. She’s hot. She’s swollen. She’s Walt Disney happy. She’s gas station line pissed off. She’s doing her damn best.


Did I mention it’s June? If Florida is pregnant, June is the third trimester and I’m the unqualified doula trying to make everything go as smoothly as possible, despite not knowing what the hell I’m doing. I try to get comfortable in her unbearable, ready-to-burst humidity, but all my clothes have long sleeves and I currently have seventeen pounds of 24-inch hair extensions sewn into my scalp which feels like I’m wearing one of those Russian fur hats that I can’t take off. I’m living at my parent’s house for the month because it’s a global pandemic and my home in the North East is full of toxic black mold and I haven’t spent a summer with my family since the eleventh grade.


But mainly, I’m here because I’ve really missed my brother (Blake) and due to the withering state of global affairs and whatnot, he’s taking a break from his one-bedroom in West Hollywood and shacking it up in his teenage bedroom at my parent’s house in picturesque Sarasota.


THE MONSTER SIBLINGS: ZARA AND BLAKE Photographed by Barbara Banks


Sarasota is beautiful. She’s so beautiful that if she were to be captured on a postcard her unreal beauty could easily read as tacky or “fake.” You know those girls with the glossy vinyl-looking hair and the perfectly round boobs who are always deemed “plastic” by the saggy-titted masses because no one wants to accept that these shiny specimens flew out of the womb looking so societally “perfect?” That girl is Sarasota. She’s all Barbie pink sunsets streaked by Tropicana orange bursts of light splashed against a cobalt sky. She’s all snow-white sand the texture of talcum powder and turquoise blue waters the temperature of bathwater. She’s all hard-bodied girls with golden hair and golden skin who wear golden bikinis and golden jewelry and smell like Australian Gold suntan oil. Sometimes I see dolphins leap out of her waters and the whole scene reminds me of the Lisa Frank stationary I hoarded in my tenure at an all-girls sleep-away camp in the early aughts.


My brother Blake and I both deal with harrowing depression and anxiety and I’m on this whole we need natural light first thing in the morning kick. I’ve been reading a lot of books Instagram posts about treating depression holistically and they all preach the importance of exposing your sad skin to sunshine the very second you wake up. I figure the combination of holistic influencer dribble and antidepressant chemical power will cause a party of serotonin to flash-dance through my system and everything will be beautiful and nothing will hurt.


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This morning, like every morning, Blake and I meet in the kitchen around 6:30 AM. I’m wearing the faux-silk robe I bought off Amazon in the “salad days” of quarantine and my hair is a strange macaroni blonde (covid identity crisis 101: demand an unflattering hair color). I’ve put on about five pounds and it’s gone straight to my face. Everyone keeps telling me it’s in my head but I know what I saw in the bathroom mirror. And I can feel my double chin sway in the wind when I walk. My brother is wearing the same swim shorts he wore yesterday and the day before, but who am I to judge? My cheeks are so puffy I look like a chipmunk storing nuts in her plump mouth, and my hair the color of Velveeta cheese. “Do you want some brain octane oil in your coffee?” I ask Blake because my paralyzing depression comes with a lovely side of brain fog that I’ve been trying to clear since the Ides of March.


“Yes,” Blake says. “Will this make me shit my pants?”


“Yes,” I answer honestly.


“Then definitely.”


Who doesn’t love shitting their pants?


And just like that, we’re sitting in my parent's backyard, clutching our oily coffees, waiting for the caffeine to kick in.


“GAH!” I scream flicking a mosquito so big it looks like it’s been injected with steroids off my skin. I’m suddenly itching in places I didn’t know I had.


“THESE FUCKING BUGS!” My brother shouts into the humid air. The climate is so dense the scream has nowhere to travel and lingers in the air like a cloud of smoke for a moment. My brother is scratching his legs with such ferocity, he looks like an addict in one of those HBO documentaries about the meth epidemic in Appalachia that you watch at 3 AM when you’re in a dark place.


I can hear the ZING ZING ZING of a family-sized fly circling around my frizzy head.


“I can’t deal with this climate!” I yelp.


“It’s so hot, it’s UNHEALTHY!” My brother bellows. I imagine him pounding his fists against his chest like an ape.


“LET’S GO BACK INSIDE.”


“LET ME FINISH MY CIGARETTE.”


“FINE,” I say, even though I feel like a cracked egg frying on the pavement.


This is our morning routine.


“It’s like Vietnam out there.” My brother says.


“It’s like Nam,” I agree.


I’ve never been and neither has he, but we both cite “Platoon” as one of our favorite films of all time.


We trot into the kitchen, sunburned and sweaty ready to toss back some eggs and bitch about politics. I’m pretty sure we’re both allergic to Florida in June. We’re desert Jews. Desert Jews are as out of context in the tropics as Mitch McConnell is at a gay pride parade.


I remember that it’s time to take my ~Wellbutrin~ X ~Prozac~ morning cocktail. I grab the electric orange bottles out of the wicker basket my mother has discreetly tucked them away in, and I begin to shake them in the air above my head like they’re two wooden maracas. The small white pills make a nice rattle as they slam up against their plastic bottle homes.


I have no rhythm but I got for it and furiously shake them to the “beat” with the confidence of a person who does have rhythm. My brother finds this hysterical. The whole scene is morosely funny: sad white girl with mustard yellow hair and jet black roots and mosquito bites the size of gun wounds uses her psychotropic pill bottles as musical instruments, whilst wearing a bubble gum pink faux silk robe bought for $21.99 off Amazon Prime. Unshaved white male clad in yesterday’s swim trunks cackles along. Both are living with their parents. Both are in their thirties. Both enjoy the occasional benzodiazepine. Neither can keep their cars clean for long periods of time.


Blake picks up his bottle of Zoloft and starts shaking it and for a moment we’re a family band! We’re the Osmonds! A darker, not-Mormon, far more maudlin version! We’re…The Barries.


“How often do you see your psychiatrist?” I ask because nothing is more interesting to me than getting the dirt on how mentally ill people keep their heads above water.


“About every other month. She’s really expensive.” Blake says in a way that lets me know that he wants me to ask him how much his brain doctor costs so he can gloat about the fact that he lives in glamorous Hollywood.


What he’s neglecting to remember is that I live in the only place in the entire world that’s more glamorous than Hollywood: Manhattan, bitch. “Not as expensive as mine. Nothing is like New York.” I purr, taking a drag of a proverbial Virginia Slim.


“My psychiatrist is in Beverly Hills, Z.” He says this curtly as if to shut down the conversation.


But I don’t let any man win, not even my blood brother.


“That’s cute. But I don’t think Beverly Hills is nearly as expensive as Manhattan. My psychiatrist is in Gramercy.” I sneer, suddenly feeling like the woman I’ve always secretly wanted to be. A Madison Avenue sociopath, heiress to a mass-market tampon fortune. The kind of creature who owns more than one Birkin bag and hasn’t blown out her own hair in a decade and has a second home in the Republican sector of Palm Beach. Who has silent lunches with Melania twice a year. The kind of woman I know I’ll never be because I’m a soft-hearted queer who thinks real fur is abhorrent and Chanel Number 5 smells like a dead grandmother. But a girl can dream.


And you know what’s better than dreaming? Acting. I dive into character. At that moment I’m not wearing a cheap robe. I’m in floor-length baby mink and I smell like nicotine and La Prairie beauty products and wouldn’t be caught dead below 51st street.