"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 (by which I mean, "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.
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.
“Gramercy?” Blake scoffs. “I’m sorry but we’re talking about BEVERLY HILLS. It’s not like your doctor is on Central Park South.” Blake is suddenly the son of Murdoch. Rich and tasteless.
“Beverly Hills is full of people who pretend to have money. We all know real California money is in Montecito, honey.” I suddenly have a third home next to Oprah Winfrey and had a secret lesbian affair with Danielle Steele in the 70s. (I’ve always imagined the upper echelon of California to be glamorous and full of sapphic undertones).
And that’s when it hits me. This is why we’re monsters. We’re arguing over whose psychiatrist lives in a more expensive location. And neither of us is remotely rich. We both rent apartments the size of shoe boxes and have a habit of asking the other for small loans right before payday graces us with her ever-fleeting presence. We’re staying at my parent’s house, not at the Ritz Fucking Carlton beach resort. Yet, just like true depressives, we take great pride in our ability to maintain a bougie psychiatrist. One that doesn’t take insurance and has a chic office with a prime view. We care more about that than we do about designer clothing or nice cars or good wine.
Give me a sought-after shrink or give me death.
And then it hits me again. I love being a monster. And there’s no one in the world I love being a monster with more, than my older brother. What is the point of having a sibling if you can’t unleash your inner wonder-brat and let her run wild? I let out a laugh that sounds more like a cackle. I’m sweating bullets in faux silk. I twist my hair into a high bun. It shoots out of the top of my head and stays in place without a hair elastic because it’s so damaged from the bleach and the flat irons and the hair extensions.
“Yo, Z do you want anything from Dunkin?” Blake asks, his pupils so big and lit up he looks like he’s rolling, but he’s just obsessed with bacon, egg, and cheese sandwiches from Dunkin Donuts.
“Yes,” I answer. It feels good to say yes to food I’d normally deprive myself of because I’ve been a life-long pawn in the toxic diet culture scheme. But the one good thing about quarantine is this: I let myself eat what the fuck I want.
Praise for GIRL, STOP PASSING OUT IN YOUR MAKEUP
“Zara has the rare talent of marching into the deepest, darkest moments of life—the mascara-teared and alcohol-soaked—scooping them up, and thrusting them into the light with amazing clarity, forgiveness, and compassion. As her editor at Elite Daily, I had the honor of watching Zara blossom into the emotionally raw and poetic writer she is now. Her gripping first-person narratives help every woman (including me) come to terms with her own demons or insecurities in a refreshingly comfortable way. There’s a reason she’s built up an army of ‘babes’ who are empowered by the words of their dear big sister, Z: Her candid honesty and no bullshit advice are simply addicting.”
– Faye Brennan, Sex & Relationships Director, Cosmopolitan
“Reading Zara is like reading your own thoughts—only sexier and much more brilliantly written.”
– Kaitlyn Cawley, former Editor-At-Large, Bustle Media Group and former Editor-in-Chief, Elite Daily
“Reading Zara’s writing will make you feel like you’re at your cool-as-hell big sister’s sleepover party. You will be transfixed by her unflinching honesty and words of wisdom, and she’ll successfully convince you to not only ditch the shame you feel about the raw and messy parts of yourself, but to dare to see them as beautiful.”
– Alexia LaFata, Editor, New York Magazine
“If Cat Marnell and F. Scott Fitzgerald had a literary baby it would be Zara Barrie. She’s got Marnell’s casual, dark, downright hilarious tone of an irreverent party girl. But then she also has Fitzgerald’s talent for making words literally feel like they sparkle on the page. You instantly feel more glamorous after reading a page of Zara’s writing, even when the page is talking about getting into a screaming match with her girlfriend outside of a bar on a Sarasota street corner while high on benzos. I’ve always been a fan of Zara’s writing, but Girl, Stop Passing Out in Your Makeup takes it to the next level. With shimmery words that make her dark stories sparkle, she seamlessly manages to inspire even the most coked-out girl at the party to get her shit together.”
– Candice Jalili, Senior Sex & Dating Writer, Elite Daily
“Self-help meets memoir. Party girl meets wise sage. Beauty meets reality. Zara Barrie is the cool older sister you wish you had. The one that lets you borrow her designer dresses and ripped-up fishnets, buys you champagne (she loves you too much to let you drink beer), and colors your lips with bright pink lipstick. She’ll take you to the coolest parties, and will stick by your side and she guides you through the glitter, pain, danger, laughter, and what it means to be a f*cked up girl in this f*cked up world (both of which are beautiful despite the darkness). Girl, Stop Passing Out in Your Makeup is for the girls that are too much of a beautiful contradiction to be contained. Zara is a gifted writer—one second she’ll have you laughing over rich girls agonizing over which Birkin bag to buy, the next second she’ll shatter your heart in one sentence about losing one’s innocence. Zara is the nuanced girl she writes for—light, irreverent, snarky, bitchy, funny; and aching, perceptive, deep, flawed, wise, poised, honest—all at once. Perhaps the only thing that can match Zara’s unparalleled wit and big sister advice is her candid humor and undeniable talent for the written word. Zara is one of the most prolific and entertaining honest voices on the internet—and her talent is only multiplied in book form. Girl, Stop Passing Out in Your Makeup is for the bad girls, honey.”
– Danya Troisi, Executive Editor, GO Magazine