Essay #11 At Thanksgiving dinner, Chloe was the star. She was intriguing before she even opened her mouth and revealed her Aussie accent. Everyone back home had heard about my new friend, who had Brazilian, French, and American passports. With her credentials, she could have been in the CIA, or working for the U.N. The fact that she was giggling with me in my basement instead was thrilling. I felt more interesting by proximity to her. “This is Chloe’s first Thanksgiving!” I announced to the table, as if Sasquatch and the Pilgrims were coming to lay maize at her feet. She had been nervous about what to wear, dressing ultimately in a black satin top and jeans (the top I’m wearing as I write this). While carefully spooning items onto her plate, she fielded questions from all sides about her life story. Lila, ever the hard-hitting journalist, asked her what her plan was now that she was in NYC. Her tone was, okay, so your yoga gig fell through…now what??? “I guess I’m going to crash with Car for a while,” Chloe replied, “I’m trying to figure that out.” “Not everyone has it all figured out, Li,” I told her. She was a planner, and she couldn’t begin to fathom why we lived as we did. Chloe described her father, the strident Frenchman, a frequent topic of conversation between us. Her Papa wanted her to get some life direction and stop trying on different careers and countries. “It’s good to get away from him,” Chloe explained, “Now I don’t have to depend on anyone.” “Except Carson,” Lila interjected loudly. I gasped, shooting Chloe an apologetic look. How could Lila talk to my new friend like that, on her first Thanksgiving no less? I should explain that Lila and I have a very sisterly relationship. She and my brother had been best friends since high school, when she was a tomboy in cleats and he had a soft-spoken Michael Cera thing going on. He brought her around all the time, and she and I became friends. Then, in their mid 20s, they upgraded from BFF to BF/GF. Now they were engaged. Yes, their story carried a certain Dawson and Joey adorability to it. Next year, Lila would become my actual sister. It was very fitting, because she had always talked to me like a sister. With my friends, I was sweet and borderline cordial, but with Lila, we could bicker and make plans to go to Starbucks in the same breath. When I was hungry in Brooklyn, she sent me money without being asked. She’s the only friend I would feel comfortable accepting money from, because I felt like we were built to withstand eternity. Any debt or misdeed would bounce off us, a ping pong ball against steel. She loves very simply and bigly, and though she will find fault with your details, it never occurs to her to lessen her embrace. She is Lebanese, and I think she is very Lebanese in love and friendship. Picture the archetypal Arab grandmother, telling you you’re getting fat, with no intention of being mean, just trying to help you stay pretty and get married. Yash understands Lila perfectly. He thinks saccharine sweetness and the “cancel culture” when someone doesn’t live up to your expectations are bizarre American paradoxes. Ordinarily, I appreciate Lila’s tribal, protective nature. But now, as I watched Chloe’s stung expression, I felt protective over her. That was a major Yellowcard! I told Lila telepathically. After the meal, my brother and Lila went to her parent’s house to do a second dinner with them. Chloe and I retired to my living room to discuss Li’s rude comment. We were full of my Mom’s turkey and challah bread stuffing and mashed ruttabaga (it’s an Irish Pennsylvania delicacy) and. Aunt Mon’s apple pie. “I can’t believe she said that, babe,” I said, slugging my Jameson rocks. We had access to a never-ending rivulet of alcohol here. On the wine rack rested an octave of cabernets and noirs, waiting to be uncorked. Yesterday, we would have needed to forgo dinner to afford a bottle. Today, we drank like Marie Antoinette. I switched easily and immediately back into hedonism, but the paradox still floored me. It’s kind of like when you go home. in college, and your parents text you at 9 pm, asking why you weren’t home from the grocery store yet. Don’t they know that three days ago, you were out until 3 at a paint party, surrounded by a peninsula of molly, coke, and sex?? “I know,” Chloe said, looking bleary-eyed. “What did I do to her?” I rolled my eyes, “She’s probably jealous because you took away attention from her wedding.” (Lila won’t like it when she reads this, but I said it). Hours later, Lila blew up my phone, urging me to come over to play games with her family. This was a long-standing tradition. She has a big, fun family, all of them with jet-black hair, all quick to laughter, loving games and pranks and togetherness. However, I was too full and sleepy to make the trek over. “Should I go?” Chloe asked me, to my disbelief. I didn’t understand why she’d want to go visit with a house full of strangers, especially when one had blistered her. She went, and I went to bed, lobotomized by an ocean of drinks. I felt a weird prickle in the dusk before sleep, when the walls of reality sink into a dream quagmire: I could have drinks and go to bed, and be at peace. Chloe could not. She was always looking for something outside herself to caulk the big chasm within her. She had no off switch, and there was no end in sight. The next day, we did lunch at my mom’s restaurant. We ordered all the delicious food we had promised ourselves. My mom was there, zipping around and greeting her patrons, occasionally stopping at our table to offer some funny anecdote. There was a happy buzz in the air; a lot of people from high school were home for the holiday. Our server, Orion, didn’t have time to dote on us, (by that, I mean he forgot to refill our waters the whole meal). But when he came over, he proffered the smile that earned him 25% tip from all menopausal women. “Did you have fun at Li’s last night?” I asked her. “I guess,” she rolled her eyes. “But can we definitely go out tonight?” “Of course!” I toasted the idea with my glass of red. I knew I didn’t have a drinking problem, because I only drank whiskey after 5. “You know how I am, babe. I take one night off, and I’m powered to go the next night.” That evening, we went to the lounge that connects to my mother’s restaurant. It’s very Miami-esque, with white couches and turquoise walls. My best friend, Cody, was there, ever the man-about-town. He took an instant liking to Chloe, because I liked her, and because he loves all things that glitter. He’s an expert on sussing out the good kind of crazy. If Clo got his seal-of-approval, this boded well for her future on the whole. “Can I have some angel dust, babe?” she whispered in my ear, over the bumping house music from the DJ’s corner. “I’m sorry, Clo.” I explained to her that I was nearly out, so I wasn’t in a position to use it recreationally. She asked again, and again I said no. When I got up to go to the bathroom, I saw her dip her hand into my purse, grab my pill pottle, wet her finger, and dip it in the loose powder. My party mood soured, but I didn’t say anything to them. If I did, it would come out as a shout, and possibly rupture things between us forever. I felt violated, as though someone had just taken a piss in my flower beds. We went to another bar around the corner. It was usually a college bar, but since the kids were home, it had been taken back by townies. Many people from high school were out, especially kids a few grades below me. I had a series of great catch-ups with a few girls I hadn’t seen in years. I wanted to introduce Chloe, but she had disappeared into the crowd. At one point, when I went to pay my tab, I went looking for her. I found her in tight conference with a few kids I went to high school with, who graduated the year after me. I knew them by name, of course, because our town is incestuous, but we had never spoken before. “I know a guy I can call…” I heard one of them telling her. Chloe glanced at me, flashing her beautiful veneers. “There you are, babe! Are you having fun?” “What are you guys talking about?” I asked. They all looked shifty-eyed. Chloe sipped her drink and admitted, “We were going to see if we could get on our hands on some real angel dust, babe…” “What, coke?” I said incredulously. “Why would you want to do that?” I didn’t mean it in the D.A.R.E sense, I meant it in the sense that it was already 2 am. I was 29 and tired. I had seen all the night had to offer. I had truffle fries and Jameson in my belly. I was ready to go to bed, wake up at 9:30, and help my mom make brunch. I told them as much, not caring if it sounded lame. “I think I’ll stay out,” Chloe said. “Are you sure?” I asked, pulling her aside. I saw by the steely, untired look in her eyes that she was. On my Uber home, it occurred to me that Chloe didn’t know my address by heart. I had no idea how much money she had. How would she get home? Would she be okay? By noon the next day, she still wasn’t back. Nor by 2 pm. Nor by 5. Essay #12 Essay #12 Finally, at 5:30, Chloe answered one of my Facebook messages, “I’m fine, babe. I crashed at one of your old high school friend’s houses.” Thank God!! I responded. I didn’t bother to tell her that they weren’t my friends, I barely knew them; couldn’t even envision the house she was waking up in. I was worried, love. Chloe apologized. She had a French SIM card, so she could only message when connected to WiFi. She was only now getting around to waking up and asking the guy for his password. “Did you find Chloe?” my mother asked, glancing up from her iPad with a face of concern. Chloe was a guest in her home who had missed two meals now. “She’s still with a guy she met last night,” I admitted. My mother made a face, and I winced, hearing how that sounded. “It’s A, someone who graduated the year after me,” I said defensively. It seemed better than letting my mother think that Chloe cozied up with the first townie to buy her a $2 draft. She stayed there another night. According to her messages, she was too hungover to move. I had seen her like this before. One time, when 6 pm found her still in bed, I suggested we go to the hospital for alcohol poisoning. I just need to sleep it off, Chloe wrote. We had tickets back to NYC for 2 pm the next day. By noon, Chloe had returned. Her dollish cheekbones had a jaundiced look to them. She put on her nightshirt and tucked herself into my childhood bed. “Clo?” I knocked softly on the door. “I’m sorry you feel sick…but we’re supposed to leave in an hour.” “I think I’ll take a later bus,” she replied, “Is that okay, babe?” It would have to be. I briefed my mother on what was going on, in a calm voice, as if this were as normal as her cup of morning coffee. Her eyes widened, and I felt bad leaving this pretty pile at her feet. But what could I do? I packed up to leave alone. Chloe’s suitcase remained, belching clothes all over my bedroom floor. The bus was uncomfortable, all of us crammed together like groceries in a fridge on Sunday, some of us peaky leftovers, others fresh cartons of milk. I felt like two day old spaghetti. I hadn’t showered; I had traces of Saturday’s makeup on my face, and I planned on eating Burger King when the bus braked in Gouldsboro, which always made me feel lawless and jaded. A hangover had a way of weighing down my natural buoyancy, making me feel nihilistic in a way that wasn’t unwelcome. I was so accustomed to pointing out the silver lining to Chloe, or to anyone, like it was a bald eagle in the sky, that to throw my middle fingers up and say fuck it was a curious relief. This time, however, my hangover wasn’t alcohol-induced, but emotional. I stared out the window as I-81 whooshed past me, a treadmill of skeletal black trees and endless road. The sky would soon darken like a dirty paintbrush plunged in water. It was a mirror of my mood. What, like, happened this weekend? I wondered. I didn’t get why Chloe had stayed behind. I liked having a beginning, middle, and end to things. If I went to a party, I imagined going four 4–5 hours, then coming home. The contrast of being home and being out was what made both states of being so delicious. Being out was an alchemical production of human contact; the genesis for all stories and conversation. Being home allowed me to reflect on all that had happened, and write, and sojourn back to myself. Sometimes my favorite moment of the night was kicking off my party shoes and letting the quiet hum of my kitchen emolliate my buzzing ears. I would shut my eyes on my pillow, and my mind became an IMAX theatre for all the people I had seen that night. The replay was often better than the live show. But Chloe didn’t want it to end. She would outlaw last call if she could. She didn’t need a recharging station, as I did, she just kept on a continuum until someone else pushed the stop button. I wondered if it had something to do with her gypsy nature, her ability to set up camp wherever she landed. I wondered, also, if she was plagued with the same restlessness I was. Even when a moment was seemingly perfect, I could feel a squiggle of pain that made me want to purge my current reality. I could feel annoyed and distant from others around me, for the sheer fact that there was no vocabulary for my pain. Usually, that was my impetus for a drink or a bump of angel dust. Maybe Chloe purged her reality through an external agent (in this case, coke with strangers) rather than an internal one. I made it back to the city. Port Authority was bleak as ever, and all its commuters looked ugly against the faux brick walls. I squished into an A train and caught a J on Essex, which was blessedly more roomy. Everyone who’s ever lived in the city knows how depressing this trip is. At home, you’re a superstar, and everyone is earnestly curious about how you’re doing. The bus and the train are a slow descent back to reality. You’re an ant in an ant-farm once again, and the other ants don’t notice you unless you brush up against them. I thought of how it would be if Chloe were here. We would have laughed and recapped our trip until 40 minutes felt like five. The next day at 11, my mother texted me to tell me that Chloe was upstairs, still sleeping. When is she leaving?? she asked me. I don’t know!! I answered truthfully, flustered and embarrassed. I didn’t know the protocol for when my guest stayed behind without me. Through the phone, I could feel my mother’s good regard for Chloe ebbing. My mom is very kind and generous, but when she forms a bad opinion of someone, it’s next to impossible to remove the stigma. Later, my mom texted me to say that when she and my stepmother returned from work at 5 pm that night, Chloe was just waking up. She came downstairs and greeted them pleasantly, like she had been their tenant for years. The sink remained full of Thanksgiving dishes. My stepmother offered to drive her to the bus stop. Chloe agreed, buying herself a cheap ticket on Wanderu. Whatever camp she had set up for herself in my hometown was time to be broken down. I posted a few ads, went for a walk, got a coffee at Little Skips. I still wasn’t sure if Chloe was just enjoying a wild holiday weekend, or if this was a more permanent show of her character. I wasn’t ready, either, to call Tim up and bounce the story off him. To do so was to risk tarnishing his view of my new friend, who was still so precious to me. I got into bed, pulling the covers over my face, too uneasy to even read. An hour later, I heard a key in the door, the rolling of a suitcase over the floor. “Babe?” she called out, in her Bindi Irwin voice, “I’m home!” Are you sure about that? I thought. Essay #13 The next morning, I woke up early enough to hear Alina getting ready. I listened, with my eyes closed, to the sound of her spoon clanging against her cereal bowl, then her closing the front door. My phone informed me that it was 7:31. I felt a splinter of shame that the resident 21-year-old was up and working, while us gals pushing 30 were still in bed. Hours later, Chloe crawled upstairs in her gossamer nightshirt and greeted me with a wan smile. She looked adventured, like she always had the best story at the youth hostel, or in the bar, or in any room she walked into. Because she did. “Hi love,” she helped herself to a cup of my crummy Mickey D’s. “How are you?” “Bien, et toi?” I felt the constriction in my smile. She noticed it too. “Was that weird for you, this weekend?” she asked, joining me at the table. Goddamn her for being all communicative with her emotions. Couldn’t she just be Irish about it and come in with a self-depricating remark, or say nothing at all? “I dunno,” I said, glancing unseeingly out the window. “I guess I wish we came back together, you know?” “I know,” Chloe bowed her glossy, ponytailed head. “I think I was feeling weird…meeting your family all at once.” “No, I’m sorry,” I said, wincing with understanding. “That couldn’t have been easy for you.” It wasn’t fair of me to prop her up as my shiny new toy. She was a person with feelings. “I hope you don’t think I’m a mooch,” she said, raising her chocolate brown eyes to mine. They were dark chocolate, the 90% cacao kind. “I don’t,” I said firmly. “I just, I was so excited to have time with a real family,” she went on, looking sad. “I hope I didn’t mess it up. I love your Mum. I hope I didn’t ruin her opinion of me.” “Of course you didn’t!” I said, my heart swelling for her. She didn’t have her family here. She was a motherless girl who needed shelter and compassion. Anyone could see how much pressure she was under, meeting an entire community of people in one weekend. No wonder she wanted to crawl into bed and not come out! “I promise I’m going to start contributing to rent soon,” she whispered. Now it was her turn to look away. I touched her arm. “I’m not worried about that, doll.” I worried about money every minute of the day, but I was never concerned with her paying rent. As corny as it sounds, I felt her companionship was payment enough. I loved how she continually showed me there was life outside of myself. Without her, I would be Boo Radley of Brooklyn, a hermit and habitual voyeur of others. I wouldn’t, for instance, know Greg, this fabulous gay she had met, and had over twice for dance parties complete with props. I still have the video of us dancing: Chloe is opening and closing an umbrella to the beat of some unnamed tune. I’m wearing this ugly fur my boss had, which were two minks sewed together at their faces, their beady eyes staring at me sleeplessly…I wouldn’t have hung out as much with Alina, who was like our little sister. I was too reserved to knock on her door, but Chloe wasn’t. She wasn’t the life of the party, but she was the binding agent for the party, and she had a terrific knack for creating a community out of mere acquaintances. Chloe never made much headway finding a yoga studio in our hood. But her career took an exciting turn when my boss agreed to let her rent apartments. She began to shadow me on my appointments. We took the J or the Z together to Chauncey or Halsey every day. It was an above ground train, so we could look down below at the grafittied boxes of stores and tiny people. Our queendom whooshed past us, a commonwealth of 99 cent stores, Family Dollars, squalid boedgas, bougie bodegas (where you can buy organic cheese), Boost Mobiles, Popeyes, and Dunkin Donuts (which never, ever have bathrooms or outlets, FYI). The J and Z trains are subjects of great felicity for me. They ruined me for any other train. Not only do you always get your own seat, but so does your bag. They’re great trains for making friends. One time on the J, I committed the faux pas of looking at a couple for too long (five seconds instead of zero seconds). The woman stared at me and demanded, “Do you like my man?” Not trying to get stomped to death, I diplomatically fibbed, “Actually, I’m gay.” She paused and then asked, “So? Do you like me?” I told her she was pretty, and she seemed pacified. We met so many of Brooklyn’s blessed and dammed on our showings. There was Jonathan, the adorkable Asian, who worked as an honest-to-God hand model. I would have held hands with him and never let go if he let me. They were so supple, and he kept his nails sleekly polished. As a chronic cuticle-biter, I was particularly wowed. I always bit harder when I was stressed or writing. That fall, my fingers were so bloody that you would think I fished for pariahs with my bare hands. There was the Russian guy who lived in the basement of a four bedroom I was trying to rent. I had to pass through his dungeon to show the washer and dryer, and I always announced my presence loudly at the top of his stairs, as though fearing he might be lifting weights naked. He told me in his thick accent that his fiancé had left him that spring, and now he was throwing himself into stufying for the MCATS. His life seemed monastic and Quasimodo-esque, living in seclusion with a broken heart. I told Chloe that his life was bleaker than Stalingrad after the October Revolution. She requoted this often. I was worried about money. I hate to keep talking about it, but it was the noxious plume over my head. I couldn’t take a breath without it being tainted by anxiety. I thought about it probably as often as a 15-year-old boy thinks about sex. I didn’t understand the Law of Attraction back then, so I had no clue that I was doing it to myself: for every negative thought I had, the universe yielded me exactly what I expected. I wish I could at least say that my worries were of the global scale, about racial inequality and the future of the democracy. But they were niggling, narcissistic, quotidian fears about food and money. I hadn’t made a commission in a while, and feared I would be late with December rent. How awful for my boss, who was already giving me the best rent in at least four burrows. At Thanksgiving, my mom had generously given me some money, as had my godmother, who had also helped pay my security deposit in Brooklyn. It was ever so nice having a billfold for a few days. Of course, it disappeared like angel dust during Finals Week, but oh God, what a treat it was to buy a $12 panini. It might as well have been a steak at Smith & Wollenski. After the cash ran dry, I was back to lassoing together my paltry foodstuffs at the bodega. I had a new one on the corner of Troutman and Evergreen. When I walked in, I was transported instantly to Santa Domingo. Spanish music twanged relentlessly from a radio, without a chorus or climax. The cramped aisles were stacked with Latin products, their bubbly, colorful labels far more attention-grabbing than their American counterparts. The whole area smelled pungently of Fabuloso, a violet floor cleaner whose label should read, “Now scented with great-Auntie’s perfume!” Every time I came in, the female cashier, a cute 4’11, tried to teach me new Spanish words, usually the numbers for my total and change. The Jefe, a portly man whose name I never knew, took to calling me Manzanita for my red hair and height. “It means apple tree,” he explained to me kindly. I loved it. I decided to lend the nickname to one of my red-haired characters, Kennedy Foley. Just another example of how there’s really no such thing as fiction. My bodega essentials were a quarter pound of turkey, a quarter pound of cheese, and a quart of milk for my coffee. I bought only for today, and half of tomorrow. When I think back on it, I wish I had found a part-time job. Then I wouldn’t remember this era of my life as so decrepit fabulous. I think I feared that, if I found a side job, it would eat into my writing time. I was trying to crank out the Great American Novel in my basement, with Chloe watching Gilmore Girls six feet away. I figured I had to choose: be broke and honor my life’s purpose, or have money to eat Pho, but evict my soul from my body. My desire to write was visceral and instinctual. Even if I knew that not one other person would ever read it, I would have to continue. Nothing could demagnetize the force that called me to my keyboard. So I chose to live on bodega turkey. I had a lot of friends in the city, but I had barely seen anyone. I wasn’t really in a position to go to bars and restaurants. I made up a lot of excuses that fall (and sometimes told the truth, cringing all the way). Finally, my friend Charlie rallied me to join her and all our friends for a dinner: Tim would be in town, so it would be extra festive. (Tim and Charlie were roommates for a year, before he left NYC for Boston). Of course, I asked Chloe to come along. A few of my friends had made inquiries about her, the French-Brazilian chick living in my basement. Our selfies were all over my social media, and Chloe quotes frequently made it to my Facebook statuses, and vice versa. They wanted to meet her, and I wanted her to meet them. “Don’t worry, Clo,” I said, as we bought a flask of Jameson to share. We were going to pregame with it on the subway, so we could get out of ordering overpriced cocktails. “My friends are going to love you…” As it turned out, they would love her about as much as my family had. Essay #14 Essay #14 Friendship has always been the most blessed area of my life. In any classroom or office I’ve been in, I’ve found a soulmate to snicker with in the corner (except for summer school 2005, when I was in for too many skipped gym classes). In the acknowledgment page of my first novel, I listed my friends as the loves of my life. When it’s republished, I may flesh out the list to be as long as it deserves to be. This essay collection is not purely a memoir about addiction, it’s an ode to friendship. All the songs on the radio lionize romantic love to a numbing, dumbing degree — I always wondered where the hell the songs about friendship were? (not talking to you, James Taylor). I still consider Chloe a friend, even though it’s been 2 1/2 years since I last saw her face. I don’t know if she’s reading these essays, or how she feels about them. I hope that if she is, she still considers me a friend. But maybe that’s too much to ask for. So. Let us return to 2017, and the events surrounding my and Chloe’s last month together. My dear friend Tim was coming to town, and Charlie was organizing one of her famous dinners. Oh, Charlie. I’ve spent the last two days meditating on Charlie, and pan-sifting through details that will best convey her character. For one, she is half-Jewish and half-Irish, a blessed combination which automatically denotes her as a gifted comedienne. She even speaks with the cadence of Amy Schumer, telling measured stories meant to engross and entertain. I think the Jewish side makes her protective, reverent of life and all of its passages, audacious over injustice, an impressive orator for the myriad emotions that an Irish heart brews. If she got the memo about only discussing feelings when drunk, she crumpled it up and threw it away. I see her abundant Irishness, for one, in her face. Her skin is as pale as mine, and her glassy blue eyes are reminiscent of a china doll’s. She has a slightly crafty, mercenary mantle (well-suited to her profession as a luxury salesperson) but it conceals a deeply sentimental interior. Like me, her mother is her favorite person on earth (I think this is an Irish thing). We both say that when we’re older, we’re going to move home and become Grey Gardens with our moms. It means a lot coming from her, because she hates Florida. She is so purely NYC. To meet her, you would think she grew up on the Upper East Side, and was schooled at Dalton, and summered in Nantucket. It’s not just because she wears clothes as black as her hair. She exudes privilege; experience; anthropological wisdom. Her clients double her age defer to her advice on their multi-million dollar purchases. She can shoulder this responsibility like a sleek Longchamp bag. Charlie and I are both intrigued with the seedy side of life. The last time I lived in the city, in 2015, when she was in between girlfriends, we used to go to New York Dolls in Tribeca together. I still had money, so we would both pay for lap dances from ladies with lustrous hair, and run up a $200 drink tab (not hard to do when they charge $4 an ice cube). Charlie would tease me, because I would try to make conversation with the girl while she gyrated on my lap. I tried to feel something, because I find it so dull being a 1.5 on the Kinsey Scale. Charlie has a way of plumbing the Hades of the human soul. In conversation, she doesn’t ask banal questions about work. She inspires introspection with inquiries like, “What’s the meanest thing you’ve ever done?” and, “when do you think you’ll have sex again?” She is the Howard Stern of our friend circle — she knows things about me that my future husband probably won’t know. (By the way, remember New York Dolls. We’re going to come back to it.) Kristen would be at the dinner, too. She was Tim’s friend from high school, who became my friend in college, and Charlie’s friend through Tim. Kristen looked like a wonkish version of Amanda Seyfriend. In birthday cards and Instagram captions, I called her the Queen of Neptune, because she’s a Pisces with a very Piscean nature. She had worked with the homeless for years, and was now getting her Masters in Social Work. We all deeply admired her for it, frequently referencing her career path as a checkpoint for our narcism and vanity. (I.e., “Kristen’s out helping the homeless on her Saturday, and I’m too hungover to get out of bed.”) In my mind, I have a default image of all my friends, sort of how you can add a picture to someone’s contact in your phone. I always pictured Kristen in this fabulous, ethereal blue dress that she wore to my mother’s wedding in 2011. I asked her to be my date, which was a commitment she took seriously, as she did all her commitments. She was promised to another friend that Saturday — in Boston, no less — but she motored the five hours home in time for the reception, emerging from the party periphery in her impeccable blue frock, like a mermaid washed ashore. The word for Kristen is devoted. She’s an evolved, socially-conscious Brooklynite, but she has a durability about her that almost seems like someone from the GI Generation: the ones who saved up and survived the war and mated for life. I often became embarrassed whenever I told her stories about getting bored of boys or even ghosting them, because I knew she couldn’t relate: she would never dispose of anyone. She is the friend who has visited me in all of my homes: coming to Paris when I lived in southern France; and Louisville when I lived in Kentucky. Each trip, I felt an unspoken vow reaffirmed between us. She was born understanding things that most people accept only through experience, or social conditioning. In college, I didn’t understand transsexualism. I made borderline transphobic statements like, “why can’t a butch woman just choose to be butch? Why does she need to have a dick?” Kristen would patiently explain it to me, like it was an algebraic problem I couldn’t solve for X. It was only when I moved to Bushwick and saw actual trans people that I understood there that there was nothing to be fathomed intellectually; trans people are just trying to live their lives and go home to their dogs and their shows, like anyone else. Chloe and I arrived late to the dinner, by carriage of an Uber. Everyone was already there, Charlie, Kristen, Tim, and a healthy handful of our other friends. With the exception of Charlie and her girlfriend, we all hailed from New York. Erin was from Buffalo, but the rest of us were from Binghamton. We all took the Greyhound home every Christmas Eve Eve (though some of us were maturing to the stage of renting cars). We were a walking sociology principle, stating that people from the same hometown who wind up in the same big city will often band together. Yes, we were a bit incestuous: new blood rarely circulated, except in the intriguing event of one of us dating someone new (in which case, opinions and reviews were exchanged, with the rigorous standards of the American Kennel Club). I thought Chloe would be a wonderful infusion of new blood in our circle. I don’t remember the dinner well, as it only became important to me in retrospect. I sat next to Kristen and her fiancé, and we talked about normal things; cats and class; emotions and events. I recall Tim being his fabulous self all over Chloe. Even though he’d all but quit smoking, he agreed to go out with her for cigarette after cigarette. Wielding politeness was Tim’s fatal flaw; legal drugs were Chloe’s. I know because they were mine, too. When they went outside, I went to the bathroom, taking nips out of the green glass bottle. I waited for Clo to ask for some Jameson, but she didn’t. I noticed that she ordered a few cocktails. They winked pinkly at me across the table, as captivating as koi fish. I wondered how she was going to afford them. Her finances were hazed in mystique. Just when I thought she was all tapped out, she would order us a pizza. Sometimes I wondered if her Papa was sending her money from France. The bill came. As usual, Charlie put the whole amount on her card, split up the total, and had us Venmo her. I hadn’t ordered alcohol, so she let me give her a lesser amount in cash. I hoped everyone realized that I wasn’t cheap, just broke. Charlie said with PT Barnum bravado that she would announce the most creative Venmo Emoji. She read them off, “Tim — taco? Not too creative.” (We were in an upscale tacoria). I wouldn’t know until weeks later that Chloe didn’t pay, that Charlie was forced to quietly absorb the cost of her meal. I think Clo hoped that in the confusion, it wouldn’t be traced back to her. But this was a group who broke bread together monthly, and if anything, overpaid their shares of the bill. I think my friends may have conferred over Chloe’s behavior in private texts. Who’s this random mooch that Carson brought along?? I wouldn’t realize until Kristen bravely told me that Chloe left a whiff of scammer in everyone’s nose. Even Charlie, who loved herself a lithe brunette, had not been charmed by her. “She doesn’t remind you of Jessa?” I asked, referencing Girls, our favorite show, which we used to watch together on Sunday nights. When I watched with Chloe, I told her she was absolutely a Jessa; nomadic and unique, a flower child resurrected. “No,” Charlie said sternly. “She’s something else.” But this would come later. That night, we Uber’d home, and I admitted to Chloe that I was worried about money. December rent was due…Charlie wanted me to attend her 30th birthday in Southampton in two weeks…Christmas was coming…I couldn’t guarantee that my bank account wouldn’t be overdrawn after this Uber… “Babe, I think I know a way I could earn us some money,” Chloe whispered confidentally. We still used “we” and “us” when making our wretched plans, like 18th century British sisters trying to marry off before our manor collapsed and Papa died of gout. “What?” I asked doubtfully, picturing myself having to move home and sleep in my childhood bedroom. Or like Hugo, Bart Simpson’s feral twin, living in the basement on fish heads. I might get so drunk, depressed, and desperate that I actually texted Sam some night…I pictured him heaving on me with his full, lumberjack heft. No, no! Change the channel, change the channel! “I know I told you I was a yoga instructor, but that’s not all I am…” I looked at her in stupid wonder. “Are you a spy?” “No,” Chloe said, “I’m a stripper.” Essay #14 Chloe asked, giggling dubiously, if I happened to know of any reputable strip clubs. I said, “Funny you should ask…” Next thing I knew, she was sitting in her New York Dolls interview, telling them where she saw herself in five years. I’m making this last bit up. I don’t truthfully know what kinds of questions one gets asked at their stripping interview. (“Show me your best trap?” “Do you know all the lyrics to Pour Some Sugar on Me?” “What do you do if the groom ejacs his pants?”) In any event, she was hired on the spot. A yoga body combined with an Aussie accent is a green light for a lot of things. Chloe set about easing me into her new lifestyle. She showed me clips of this funny, bawdy stripper/stand up comedienne that she adored. The chick talked about using baby powder as a poor girl’s dry shampoo when she was in between shifts (thanks for the tip! I thought). She said that, while money may control the world, guess what controls money? “Pussy!!” (I never know quite what to do with girls who use the P word. It’s almost like a single guy who is a Cat Dad). Alina, ever the Gen Z-er, was on board with Chloe’s vocational change. She seemed to view it as a neo-wave feminist statement, wherein woman can be empowered by cashing in on her sexuality. She even put her 5-ft-nothing self in an Uber to Dolls to see Chloe perform, live Tweeting the experience the whole way. Her “rah rah”-ness started to deflate when she got to the club and saw how skeezy it really was: a crowd of sad-sack guys, who still had on their khakis from their IT jobs, catcalling to women on stage, each his own tragic isle in the audience. She came home and said she wasn’t sure how great of an experience it actually was. I felt more protective over my sweet blonde gosling than ever. She was socially aware and smart, but she was 20 years old and still forming her worldview. I had the same feeling a babysitter probably has when she sneaks cigarettes on the back porch. What was I exposing her to? My brother texted me to ask me about Chloe. When is she leaving?? I don’t know, I responded exasperatedly. I’ve mentioned my brother earlier in this series, but he deserves an amplification. Farrell is my little brother, 18 months my junior. Our slim age difference meant that we always hung in the same friend circle growing up. It was almost like having a twin, albeit a more focused, rule-abiding one (he never skipped class in high school, and wound up at Cornell). In our 20s, people in bars always guessed that he was the older one. He was far more decorous and plan-oriented by nature, although we always laughed at the same moment in movies, and in real life. He was a mercenary child, pouring over money magazines at B&N, and telling grown-ups that he wanted to be a philanthropic capitalist. He carried it with him into adulthood. There are shades of him in most of my male characters, especially Pat Walsh (but Seamus Walsh is all me! 😍) Like our mother, he would surely own his own business someday. Farrell asked if Chloe was paying any rent (“no,” I told him) then he asked, “is she really a stripper?” That was what I got for confiding in my mother: she told the first ten people on her call log. You have a stripper/squatter living in your house, he summarized. How are you going to get her out? I’ll admit, the term “stripper-squatter” held a certain degree of horror for me. I was a nice Irish girl. I had been an English major. I always talked sweetly to children and old people. How do I wind up with a stripper-squatter in my basement?? Defensively, I told my brother he sounded like a conservative old man. Now that she’s back on the pole, she’ll be able to afford her own place, I told him confidently. Weren’t strippers and sex workers always laughing their way to the bank, boasting in Cosmo exposés about how they made quadruple what their friends made as dental hygienists and teachers? They bought themselves Juviderm, Beamers, bags, Maltese dogs, red bottoms, loft apartments, vacations to Miami, and new souls. I believed that Chloe was charming enough to join this smug militia of swindling Circes. She just needed a little more time. I understood that. I felt myself unborn with a half-told story, my thoughts and emotions pollinating a welling inner world. Just wait! I wanted to say. I’m not just standing here. I have things to say. They’re coming! But I noticed I no longer felt comfortable when she said We. “We” is for people who are in at least 60% agreement. I saw us now as birds skittishly diverging from some loud pop of threat. Meanwhile, Charlie’s 30th Birthday party was coming up. She had rented a stunning house in Southampton for the weekend. We drooled over the pictures, telling her it reminded is of Diane Keaton’s house in Something’s Gotta Give. (“That was the inspiration,” she said proudly). Chloe wasn’t invited. I left her alone in Bushwick for the weekend, only half-listening to her plans to have Greg over for drinks and mischief. As I boarded the LIRR, I noticed how relieved I felt to be alone. It was almost as though I had shirked an itchy, scratchy turtleneck. I checked into the LIRR on Facebook, posting some status about getting ready to fête Charlie. My uncle Jerry, ever the churlish Irishman, commented, “another family member goes to Long Island without stopping to see Jenny.” Good grief, I thought, not without amusement. My uncle sets the the tone for Irish sentimentality, keeping a concise ledger of who shows up and who doesn’t. If you attended his father’s funeral in 1980, his mother’s funeral in ‘95, or his daughters’ weddings in ‘08 or 2010, respectively, then you forever hold a place in his heart. But we all know better than to check-in anywhere in the state of Pennsylvania. If I posted a picture of me at the Liberty Bell, he would write to me from his home in Allentown, three hours away, “You couldn’t stop to see Uncle Jerry on the way?” My brother is the same way. If someone doesn’t show up to his party, his mouth becomes a flat line of teasing ignominy, saying, “Guess he had more important places to be…” This is the anatomy of an Irish heart, we who never forget a kindness or a hurt. My angelic Kristen attended my uncle Tom’s funeral in 2012. Even if she somehow managed to murder someone in cold blood, I would be in the courtroom testifying on her behalf, “sure, but she attended my uncle’s funeral in 2012, visited me in France in 2013, came up from Brooklyn for my book party in 2019, and visited me in Louisville that same year!! Plus, she devotes her life to helping the homeless. The bastard she killed must’ve had it coming…” Actually, I would probably be on trial with her, because I would help get rid of the body. After docking at the train station, I crunched a quarter mile down a cold road to the storybook house. Everyone was already there: Charlie and her girlfriend, Nanette; Erin; Poppy and her boyfriend Tom; Kristen and her fiancé George; Jared, our beautiful, gentile friend from Tennessee, with the soft voice and Dolly Parton morals to prove it; and of course, my beloved Tim, smiling and fluffing his dirty-blond hair to keep it attractively unkempt, his size zero Rag & Bone pants clinging to his skinny legs. I couldn’t say for certain that Tim wasn’t actually Mary Kate Olsen. The festive mood had been well fertilized by various libations. I took the magnum of Jameson out of my suitcase to catch up. George had been dispatched to the liquor store to buy about 100 mini liquor bottles for some game we were going to play later. Leave it to Charlie to come up with fun games, and to rent such a gorgeous house. I loved her imagination, her luxuriant entertaining style. I sat wistfully on a private ambition to own a house like this one day, to have all my friends over. I imagined it on Cayuga lake, us huddled around a bonfire together. This group had countless nights together in its rear view mirror. Certain scripts would inevitably play out. Charlie and her girlfriend always fought, as the hour crept closer to midnight and the wine dwindled. We bore it like WASP-y children, looking in separate corners and willing Mommy and Mommy to stop fighting. Tim and his boyfriend Cory used to fight, but Tim was single now, and Cory was quietly excommunicated from the group. Sometimes Poppy and her boyfriend Tom fought. When conversation ran dry, we speculated on when they would get engaged, as people do with a couple who’s been together for 3+ years. I found Poppy ferocious, a technicolor tempest of fire and water. She was my opposite: an Aries sun with a Cancer moon (I’m a Cancer with an Aries moon), which automatically meant that her creativity was off the charts. She was a talented fashion designer; I saw her sketchbook once, and it left me breathless. So many ornate figures in such sumptuous clothes! I had potent Aries fire in me too, but it burned behind walls of Irish reserve. I admired that Poppy’s was out there on display for the world to see. I never fought with anyone, which I hardly felt was to my credit. One time, Tim tried to fight with me about being work friends with an Italian girl from New Jersey, who made ignorant comments about blacks and gay people. My instinct was to de-escalate and self-deprecate. If I ever got angry, it was in the private courtroom of my mind, and I rendered stout, crusty verdicts to myself. See if they’re invited to my house on Cayuga Lake… Tonight, we went wilder, going off script. We played the game of fishing mini bottles out of a baggie and downing them in a gulp (It has a name that I’ve since forgotten). At one point, Tim and I stripped totally naked (at the behest of nobody) and ran circles around the house. I hadn’t shaved my Myrtle in a minute, but I still loved how I looked naked. I was skinnier than ever, thanks to my diet of $2 tuna and Addy. If I lost ten more pounds, I would look like Marpessa Hennink in the ‘Slave to Love’ video, all slinky and angular in both body and face. Even if the devil materialized, offering me a 7 figure book deal in exchange for an inch off my height, I would tell him to fuck off, go find Faust instead. I loved, loved, loved my height, and the wild tempest it encased. Essay #16 That Friday night exists in my mind like a piece of flotsam sunk with a ship, warped by the ocean (or in my case — Jameson). I know that at one point, Tim and I (I never bothered asking him if he wanted his name changed) took off our clothes and ran naked around the house. We also played drinking games. I think we played Truth or Dare, in which we were all unimpressed to learn each other’s fave sex positions. At some point there was fighting. That’s what happens when you put a bunch of sensitive people in a house and douse them in alcohol. Our sensitivities and neuroses were likely what made us such perfect soulmates — for each other and alcohol. I think Charlie and her girlfriend fought, which was our gang’s version of “last call” back then. The night ended abruptly, with the slamming of at least three doors. As my head hit the pillow, I thought that we could benefit from group therapy. The next morning, I was chagrined to see Kristen leave. She had to return to the city for work. She’s a social worker, and I guess the homeless people of Brooklyn needed her more than we did. Predictably, we all woke up hungover. I chased down my usual 1,000 milligrams of Acetaminophen with a swig from the Jameson bottle beside my bed. This wasn’t my first rodeo. In an hour, I’d take 600 millies of ibuprofen. They cost $8.99 for a tube, and on any given day, that could be a quarter of my net worth. But I needed them. It was a “necessary expense,” along with Ivory 10 foundation, Jameson, and that $2 tuna from Indonesia that I bought at the Food Bazaar Market on Myrtle. I stumbled into the kitchen, beaming shyly at my friends, laughing off the fact that I merry-go-rounded naked in front of them. You know how when your shoulders hunch, and you wish you could fold into something much smaller and less noticeable? It was one of those. I think this why I drank: without this steeling amber mainframe, I would cringe myself into non-being. I searched in the fridge for something perfunctory to eat. All pill poppers know that you can’t take drugs on an empty stomach (read on, Mormons, this point doesn’t concern you). Besides, I always ate within 10 minutes of waking up. The food helped me to metabolize my Adderall, and oh how the roosters crowed for me then… In the fridge, I was greeted by a row of expensive bottles of rosé. Sancerre, the only wine that mattered in 2017, stood upright like a soldier ready to parachute. Under the wine were shelves of bougie groceries, all from bougie boucheries: the Citadella in the Village. The Whole Foods in Tribeca. Ain’t no groceries here came from a bodega where a Yemeni clerk yelled at his nephew to stock the shelves… Surreptitiously, I peeled back the corner of a wax packet of prosciutto. Concealed by the refrigerator door, I pretended to be blithely appraising my choices, while I shoved the paper-thin ham into my mouth. Salty, savory, and delicious. I didn’t want to be seen eating it, because I hadn’t paid for it. Maybe everyone had Venmo’d Charlie for groceries, but I couldn’t contribute now, and there’s nothing tackier than a guest who depletes supplies without paying her share. Every circle of friends has that person who everyone gossips about, and I was trying my damnedest not to become everyone’s boredom hobby. I was also mentally calculating all the money I had in my account. I wasn’t sure if I had enough for the wine tastings today; plus lunch at a restaurant; and the eventual Jitney back to Manhattan. I think there was an 8 as the first in my two-digit balance when I checked on the train, with one eye squinted. It hadn’t always been this way, I thought miserably. I didn’t use to hide behind doors to shove ham in my mouth. When I moved to the city for the first time in 2015, my bank account had five digits — (with a five in the most advantageous place). I was fresh off my reign as “frat queen,” the real estate agent who leased frat houses for a living. Each one tendered a commission that made even Charlie nod in seeming approval. I could have stayed in Binghamton, clomping around my city streets, eating lunch at one of three places, and never allowing my roots to grow long enough to show that I wasn’t a natural blonde…but I wanted more. Up until now, you may have felt judgment, pity, disgust, compassion, or indifference to my story. Maybe you’re thinking, why can’t this chick get a full-time job and stop complaining about being broke? I work full time, why can’t she sack up and join reality? Maybe you even do next level stuff, like pay your electric bill when it’s due, or go skiing out of state, or never default on your student loans (think you’re fuckin fancy, huh??). But you’re not being nearly as judgmental as you ought to be. Because, I had a nice wad of money that I had blown through LONG AGO by this point. I came into some $$$$ after my beloved grandmother died. She was an angel, and the money was meant to be a reparation of sorts, to make up for the fact that my Dad never paid child support. I should’ve written a check to my angel mother, who paid for Cost Cutters and Sketchers and Toys R Us and laser tag for two kids, all on her own. Or at least treated her to a spa week. I wasn’t in league with a Hearst or Hilton heiress, but it was a nice chunk of change for a 25-year-old. When I went out for Indian food four times a week, I added paneer to my Tikka Masala and didn’t even ask about the up-charge. My little brother was also enjoying a Gatsby lifestyle. He was 23, and the city’s newest and wildest émigré. If you saw a gorgeous 6’3 man with tawny eyes downing Stellas at the Jane in 2013, it was probably him, and you probably danced to Klinglande. But I quickly burned through the money when I joined my brother in the city in 2015. I moved there to work in real estate, fully expecting to be appearing on Million Dollar Listing in about three months (by the way, if any Bravo executives are reading this, you need to cast my Charlie). Obviously, I had a very cruel awakening once I got there. Real estate is a commission-only business, which is a rough racket in Manhattan. Unlike in my hometown, no one knew me here. You'll read the details of my Icaran fall in a few chapters, when we do a DeLorean back to 2015. After I ran through my family money, I wasn't able to find my footing again in the world. Then, in summer 2016, I made a decision to commit to writing the novel that had been beating against my chest for a long time. And thus began my identity as a starving artist. I was Baudelaire, minus the syphilis. You poor brat! You ran through your inheritance! I imagine you thinking. Oh but you should hear the duet my inner voice and yours could form together: so what if I burned through it? Daddy never paid child support! In high school, I shoplifted from Express when I wanted cute clothes!! But truly, this voice could shift from blame to self-scorn in 2.3 seconds. Now, in 2021, I am far enough from the airspace of demon shrieks to not hear them anymore. Here in 2021, three years sober, 12 hours from my last meditation, I can explain why I didn’t get a full-time job. I’ll quote the words I typed to my literary agent just this afternoon (yes — I have an agent now!!) “I’ve made worthwhile concessions in pursuit of my dream. I watched my friends choo-choo up the incline of career mobility while I worked part-time jobs. A full-time job would have deprived me of the time and mental energy to write my story. That’s probably why I made the Foleys so luxuriant…so I could be wealthy through them!” Oh, but in 2017, I felt as far away from an agent as I did from my local AA chapter. My dream was in a Word document, in a laptop with the space bar and letter Q not working, on a twin sized bed, in rumpled sheets, in a basement in Bushwick, and I was two months behind on rent. You know that Less than Jake song, the ‘Science of Selling Yourself Short’? That’s what I felt like: 'so I sit and wait and wonder…does anyone else feel like me? Someone so tired of their routines, and disappearing self-esteem.' I wished someone would take my hand and tell me I was doing fine. I felt like I was driving a car whose GPS was constantly rerouting, then showing a map of a different city altogether. The friends around me were planning trips to Africa, for fuck’s sake. AFRICA? When did we start going to Africa? When did we start buying second houses? And renting cars to go home rather than taking a Greyhound? There was one person standing who knew how I felt. Another girl who had a net worth of $200, six tampons, and some half-spent Brazilian shampoo to her name. Chloe ❤️ I texted her from Southampton asking what she was doing. She was stripping and making money. Hallelujah! Maybe she would treat me to Indian or a greasy pizza when I came back. The thought made me feel rich. Essay #17 Essay #17 We always went wine-touring for birthdays. That’s just what New York staters do. I suppose straighties probably tailgate or whatever, but my gang was too gay and over everything for such displays. The closest Tim and I ever got to a jersey was when we went down the shore for 4th of July. The wineries around Southampton were, predictably, bougie as hell. Everything was white and airy and serene. If they had Asian Zen radio playing instead of James Taylor, they could’ve doubled as spas. The Saturday crowd was largely comprised of boomers who had nothing to do but repaint walls in their houses and wait for grandchildren. I watched as their lips touched bubble-shaped glasses, giving every appearance of listening to the sermons on fermentation. You had to be careful not to look too turnt at these places. Maybe in the 516 that was okay. 516 was the area code that spawned 90% of my frat boys and sorority girls. It was pure flash and trash. I imagined the bar and bat mitzvahs of my clients as featuring ice sculptures and performances by T-Pain and the Maccabeats. But we were in the 631, which was the tamer and more decorous side of Long Island. The house dog was a golden retriever, not a Yorkie with a pink manicure. The family aesthetic was Seventh Heaven, not Gotti. Last year, when entering a winery in the 631, Tim slipped on his Sperry. It was enough to convince the guy manning the door that we were all drunk. He gave us the boot, as though we were the brothers of SAE here to hogtie him and slurp Jager out of his bellybutton. So basically, I behaved at the winery like Paul Giamatti in Sideways. Before he dumps the spit bucket over his head, that is. As I poured the crisp, pink wine down my gullet, I felt clouds curdling in my head. Charlie was entrenched in her girlfriend. They were doing their usual do-si-do that comes around Act II (you know, “why are you being weird??”). I wished I could have Charlie all to myself. There were many people who I felt responsible for in conversation (asking them questions, teasing out what was special about them). Then there were the people who I felt it was my job to entertain in conversation. Then there was Charlie, the Venus to my Serena in verbal volleying. She was romantic and mythological and deserving of about three Netflix specials. But why is it that these most special people are often the sparsest? Probably because they’re always in demand. You have to share them. Meanwhile, people who tell long-winded stories about their dogs or work or health without noticing your eyes glaze over, always had openings. With every passing year, I felt my patience eroding for people who let me ask all the questions in conversation. Curiosity, I sometimes wanted to shout, Cultivate it! If I could leave my mark on humanity, it would be a question mark. Back at the house, Tim and I cozied up in the kitchen for a tête-a-tête. He was living in Binghamton for a spell, after having left the city earlier this year. His next metropolis would be Boston, which he had deemed cleaner, cuter, and quainter. He was seeing a lot of my family, especially my mom. They are very similar, both being people-pleasers, and possessed of a distinguished taste in decor. Tim revealed that the talk back home was that Chloe, my beautiful stripper/yogi friend who had been squatting in my basement, was taking advantage of me. I was stunned to see the same question in Tim’s eyes. I thought he adored Chloe at the dinner last month. Tim and I were both hugely in favor of a smudged mascara, tipsy approach to life. We both had Tara Reid on our coat-of-arms, under the Courtney Love lyric: “When I wake up, in my makeup, it’s too early for that dress…” If Tim didn’t think having a stripper squatter was a fun look, then it was a bad sign. “Yeah no, I’ve been wondering, too. She’s been there like three months now?” he asked. He named about five people who had inquired about her. I was in awe that I was the gossip. I didn’t. think I made for a good scoop. You needed a qualifier, like a stormy relationship with fights waged in public, or strong opinions that went against the millennial ethos, or habitually ditching plans at the last minute. I was too neurotic to ever stray too far off the path without reading the room and fixing my hair. “Is Chloe coming home with you for Christmas?” he asked. He had been there for Thanksgiving, when she went AWOL, then decided not to come back to Brooklyn with me in order to stay and party. “Yeah, she’s excited about it.” I reminded him that Chloe didn’t have her mother, and it wasn’t easy for her to go home. After all, her family was divided between Brazil and France. The night went. We organized ourselves around the dining room table, where Jared, our glass of sweet Tennessee tea, was doing tarot readings. He has irresistible brown eyes like molten brownies. They’re almost always framed with posh, neon specs from Warby Parker. The one time he visited my overgrown backyard in Bushwick, he got excited about what was growing there. Like a rabbit, he took a handful of something, nibbled, and mused that it might be Artemesia. Jared’s voice is soft like summer rain (yes, that‘s a Dolly lyric). He gives me strong Dolly vibes, and not just because he’s from Tennessee. It was very soothing to listen to him read us our fortunes. Well, it would have been soothing, if Tim wasn’t making snarky comments to Erin for dating a Trump voter. It came up when she asked her question about the relationship. Tim will offer a catty, funny commentary about everything homely in the room, but he cannot abide those politics. This was 2017, and the face of Republicanism was no longer a kindly Mormon and a rogue, dignified POW from Arizona. Tim felt it was incumbent upon him to air his views, even if it came at the request of no one. Ever the southerner, Jared pretended not to notice the tension. Eventually, Erin stormed upstairs. Poppy followed her, and Tim retreated to call his Mom or something. When I looked into Jared’s eyes, my tension lifted. He always had this effect on me. One night in the not-so-distant-future, I would whisper into his ear that I was having my first sober night out. In true southern fashion, he wouldn’t ask me what prompted such a seismic shift, or wax philosophical about who I was without alcohol (as I feared people would). He walked to the bar to get me a seltzer, and that was that. “What’s your question, honey?” he asked. “What’s going to happen with my book?” I answered promptly. Because I knew that’s what I incarnated for. I was here to siphon energy from magical people like my friends and transmute it into writing. Finding love and getting married were secondary accessories. (Actually, marriage was a pair of lacy, opera length gloves that I couldn’t decide was retro femme or rash-inducing). I drew a card, can’t remember which one. Jared diligently flipped to the back of his booklet and read me the description. The cosmos had a message for me but, like so many other things, it was drowned in transit in the whiskey crick in my brain. Essay #18 Essay #18 It was 94 minutes and $25 back to the city on the Jitney, a hunter-green coach that would drop us off in Midtown. The Jitney had made itself known to me on Sex and the City (the one where Charlotte gets crabs). This would be my maiden voyage. I was calm in the Uber but frenzied inside, trying to discretely log into the Citi Bank app. With my phone clenched to my side-thigh like I was texting my side-piece on family vaca, I typed my username as CorneliaMc instead of CorneliaMcZ (CorneliaMc is for Insta, duh). Then I typed the password as Kentucky88 but was denied. Fake-laughing along w the backseat chatter, I tried Kentucky123 (or did that go w CorneliaMcZ??). Then an error message popped up, letting me know I was locked out. Cute. As the group funneled into the bus station, I was frantically trying to calculate my balance. Subtract $16 for lunch yesterday, and the tasting at Pellegrini, plus $6 for that brick of artisnal cheese. My tailbone went icy at the thought that my account could’ve been hit with that $29 monthly charge from Blink fitness. (I had tried to escape, but their membership is the snakiest scam in all of Brooklyn: look into it). Maybe I was overdrawn. I had instructed CitiBank to not authorize new transactions after I was overdrawn. This was PTSD from the overdraft fees that gobbled up my puny paychecks when I was 21. Fuuuuuck! What should I do? Ask my brother to Venmo me? Ugh, he’d take too long to respond, then his response would be, Why? He’s 25 but identifies as 55. I couldn’t ask Tim, because Tim stayed behind with Charlie. I wasn’t good enough friends with anyone here to ask them to spot me, (though we’d just shared a house). They were all appropriately 30, and probably hadn’t been in a situation like this since sophomore year. Erin had a job that had attending the Oscars this year, for fuck’s sake. I typed my card # into the Jitney website, praying with all my cells that it would go through. Poppy, Tom, and Erin were standing outside with their bags, looking as though they were encumbered only by normal worries, like climate change. I pressed submit and the screen went white. After a few seconds, a message popped up telling me I could present this to the driver as my eTicket. Long Island looked ever so beautiful out the Jitney window. I felt like Anne of Green Gables. — — — - There was another $30 charge which hit my account every month: the doctor’s office in Queens. Now, Adderall is what our pharmacist friends refer to as a “Schedule 2 drug.” It’s the same class of drug as the scaaaaary pills, Oxy and Fentanyl. Though I like to have as many scripts as the Bennett girls have suitors, I don’t mess with opioids. I think there’s no part of the country that hasn’t been touched by opiate addiction over the last 15 years. Meth addiction, on the other hand, is totally fine. Just as long as it’s under the supervision of a doctor. When I first got prescribed Ritalin in 2005, it was a different world. Bush was President, Kate Moss was cancelled (never by me <3), and Ritalin ran as abundantly as soda refills at Applebee’s. Eventually, they got wise to the fact that people were abusing their prescriptions (I guess the word “Meth” on the label wasn’t enough of a hint). By the time Bush had retired to Texas with his paintbrush, the rules had become stricter: now when I wanted a refill, I had to call my doctor, who phoned it in to the pharmacy. It was deeply annoying, having to shimmy through this ropes course every month. I was supposed to call when I was about three days from running out. Lol. I was also supposed to do my taxes by April 15th, floss, and take a B12 vitamin every day. Whoever the hell made this three day rule obviously didn’t understand the pathology of an ADHD mind. Our thoughts follow the trajectory of a pinball, often forgetting about the boring duties. (Do you know how many places my mind has migrated since starting this paragraph? I’ve paused to call my Mom; watched a few scenes of ‘A Perfect Murder;” made up a back story about how 1998 Michael Douglas got 1998 Gwyneth; contemplated moving to a new city, and went on Craig’s List in said new city). Usually, I wound up calling when I was down to my last three grains of angel dust, shrieking. that I was worried I might have a seizure without it (“okay. I’ll let the doctor know,” the receptionist would say). Of course, the doctor never called back, it was always the nurse. From maybe 2007–2013, it was Oksana. Oh, Oksana <3. She’s the Judy Greer of my life, and she doesn’t even know it. She would always introduce herself as “Oksana from UHS,” as though I might confuse her with Oksana from the Ukranian Orthodox Church. She would gently tell me that, only 24 days had passed, and the script couldn’t be called in yet. Obviously, this was because I took extra little bumps to choo-choo my way through long nights out — or to atone for a “fat day.” “I knowwwww,” I simpered. Then I would recite Kate Moss’s apology from the time she was caught doing coke: “I take full responsibility for my actions. I also accept that there are various personal issues I need to address.” Oksana would tell me she’d have the doctor send it in on Day 27 (the earliest they can do it). Whatta doll. ❤️🙂 But I was in the city now, so I needed a city doctor. I found one who accepted my insurance (Medicaid) in Queens, which was only a few stops off the M train away. Every 28 days, I made the reluctant trip in pursuit of my true love. Being a Cancer and ruled by the moon, I have a fondness for anything that comes monthly. I guess I could appreciate how my Addy ran out as the moon waxed crescent and the receptionist and I began ovulating. “Do I have to come every month?” I asked her each time. “Yes, sorry,” she replied, switching back to Spanish for the patient on the phone. After the tiny nurse weighed me and told me about her house and Mom (both in Kew Gardens), I was sent in to see the good doctor. He sat behind his desk the entire time, looking like a stuffed armadillo in a lab coat. He was incredibly over it and didn’t ask questions. I loved him. By the time I hoped off the J at Myrtle-Broadway, my script was ready. I could go into MG Pharmacy and pick it up. Oh, how lovely those capsules looked! They gleamed, orange and plentiful, promising to never, EVER run out. I would skip the rest of the way home, my high bolstered by the smell of fresh fruit gusting out of Mr. Kiwi. If it were a commission day, I stopped at Bentley’s for a $20 flask of Jameson (that’s five shots). Then I retreated to my dungeon with my spread of uppers and downers. And I opened my computer to return to the world of the Foleys and the Walshes. If Blaise were here, I thought, she’d buy my Addy for $20 a tab, pour my Jameson down the sink, put a 15-year bourbon in my hand, and insist on whisking me away to Kentucky for the week. Then again, Blaise Foley would never step foot in a Bushwick basement. Essay #19 Essay #19 It always felt sparse to say that I lived in Brooklyn. The verb “living” conjured up to me a blank-faced person walking to work or checking her mail, with no thoughts or feelings on how she got there. The reality was, I experienced Brooklyn. Brooklyn permeated me. When I walked down Broadway, (not Pippin’s Broadway, but Paperboy Prince’s Broadway) I became unified with the multi-sensory chaos. The salons advertising Jerry Curl perms; the Santera shop selling Evil Eyes and dream-catchers; the windows full of cheap acrylic furniture; the homeless people whose yellow irises always latched onto me in the crowd, yelping their plea for spare change. All of it strained through my thin membranes, becoming a strong tea for me to soak in on the train. I could never be indifferent or separate from anything I saw. How could I also take pride in such putridness? Bushwick also felt like my soulmate, the place that most closely mirrored my inner world. He was cocky in his knowledge that he would never bore me, and this made him my life’s great seducer; my Bel-Ami, my Comte Valmont. No other noun had been able to indemnify me against boredom, the worst malaise in my compendium of hypochondria. As much as I feared throwing up from uncooked chicken at the Halal Food place, or say — having an allergic reaction to shrimp, and my throat closing up in a crowded restaurant, I feared boredom above death. I got to know my streets well. On most days, an Uber would have been a luxury akin to a facial. I walked to my real estate appointments and took the J home. A $2.75 afternoon. The people I loved most, I never learned their names. There was Punch, the Romanian widow who sat outside a building on Evergreen, around the corner from my apartment. Whether I was headed to Family Dollar or Lil Skips or to show a limey bedroom on Cooper Ave, Punch was always there. She would be bundled up in a Hefty bag of a coat, a bright hat on her grey head. I would call out, “Punch!!” and she would pretend to look surprised. When I went over, she would hold out her two gloved hands, making me pick one. There would always be a pillowy mint candy in one, the kind you find in a bowl by the cash register in Italian restaurants. If I picked the wrong hand, she would still give me the mint, along with a fake punch on the arm. Then she would say, “No cry, no cry you, no cry!” The only time she looked anything other than impish and adorable was when I asked where her family was. Do they live nearby? I asked, doing charades so she could understand. Punch shook her head. She pointed to her ring finger. “Your husband? Is he nearby?” “Muerta,” she murmured, waving her hand towards the sky. Her other hand covered her mouth in a sacred little way. “Muerta, muerta, muerta…” Then there was Habibi, my bodega guy. So frequently was this pet name uttered that Habibi became a synecdoche for the bodega itself. If Chloe was stepping out to get food, I’d ask her, “Are you going to Habibbi?” “Habibbi!” I called, kicking open the door of his bodega. “Habbibi!” called back my guy. He stood tall, his brown eyes focused and uninhibited. “What you want, Habbibi? Your usual?” “Yes!” I said as he toasted the bun for my turkey-mayo-tomato-lettuce sammie. “Dealer’s choice on the cheese. Whatever you put yesterday was amazing.” He smiled luridly as if I was praising his ability to bring me to multiple orgasms. “Anything for you, Habibbi.” “Aw, Habibi,” I crooned back. I don’t know why my voice turned to cartoonish syrup in the presence of bodega boys. All I knew was that I enjoyed these exchanges, in which something far richer than a $5 sandwich was transacted. To be called “Habibbi” by a face I saw every day, several times a day, was a brand of quirky intimacy that helped to organize and harmonize all the Bushwick chaos. I guess it’s an unexpected version of the honey hokum you get in Pleasantville-type towns, where the Bob-the-butcher and Bill-the-baker greet all their customers by name. People like Punch and Habibi gave me a buoying sense of community. They were my Bushwick family. Them and Chloe, the yogi in my basement. Then there was Trini and his Madame. One morning, I ventured out to show a listing deep in Bushwick. When I got off at Broadway Junction, Google Maps informed me that I was in Brownsville. I didn’t know anything about Brownsville, except that Heroin John lived here. I told Kristen where I was, and she urged me not to be on foot after dark. The bodega game was weak: at an outside glance, they were the types that smelled either of cheap, ashy cleaner or unventilated cooking smells. But even the most modest bodega can make my sandwich. I walked into one that was the unventilated kind and placed my order. There was a woman standing by the cashier with eyes that didn’t blink as they absorbed me. Her three little girls were parked in the corner, the two toddlers in a stroller. “Miss, I like your style!” She called out. I had on my Penny Lane coat, which tends to draw attention. “What do you do?” I thanked her, giving my usual spiel about being a writer and working in real estate. As if this brought it all together, she said, “Ohhh, so you party all night and sleep all day?” This was one of the sexier sentences that had ever been ascribed to me, and I wasn’t in a rush to dispel it. I laughed and shrugged in demurral. She introduced me to her kids, asking briskly, “Miss, are you 40 yet?” What do I look like, Lorde? I thought. People usually put me at about 24, which was great on a 30-year-old ego. “Not yet.” “So you probably don’t remember DeGrassi, where Drake was in a wheelchair.” I told her that sure I did; I actually believed Drake overcame polio until around 2010. “Okay, so I named by kids for DeGrassi. Check it, this is Hope, Faith, and Grace.” She pointed out a kid for every virtue. “And this is Trini.” She pointed to the tall, skinny man beside her, who was sipping coffee in a Styrofoam cup. “He’s looking for someone!!” she exclaimed, as Trini laughed shyly. “I’m serious! He needs someone. All he does is smoke and work, miss. You ain’t got to worry about nothing.” I glanced at the Virtue girls, but none of them looked remotely scandalized. The woman continued, “Trini needs a woman! And Jamaican men love white women. It’s perfect!” Trini objected, “I’m not Jamaican. I am from Trinidad.” “Whatever,” the woman said. “Why do you think they call me Trini??” he pressed her hotly. I laughed and said I had only come here for coffee and a sandwich. She told me I had to get the coffee here, it was Dominican and great. Her coffee salesmanship was just as impassioned as her Trini salesmanship. “Mario, pour her a coffee too,” she commanded. “You take cream and sugar miss — ?” “Not usually — ” “You need to do cream and sugar with Dominican coffee,” she nodded expertly at Mario, who filled me up. “Where you from?” Trini asked me in his thick Islander accent. “Kentucky,” I lied. Because with entering a new bodega came the thrill of self-reinvention. “I grew up on a bourbon distillery.” “You drink bourbon, miss?” the woman asked, sounding intrigued. “You smoke weed? That’s what Trini like to do. He’ll smoke you up. He’ll cook you rice and beans every night.” “Sounds nice,” I demurred, though none of these were in my diet. “Trini doesn’t look like he eats, though.” “He ain’t malnourished, that’s just his body type,” she assured me. Mario traded me the sandwich and coffee for my debit card. “What about you and Trini?” I asked her, putting my sandwich across my face, so as to create a partition for Girl Talk. “Oh, I ain’t tryna fuck him,” she brayed, not joining me behind the partition. “He looks after my kids sometimes. I have my kids sometimes, sometimes I don’t.” I looked again at the kids. Again, their faces registered no surprise. “I’ll think about it,” I assured everyone who was interested. “Thinking about it’s better than a No,” the woman reasoned to Trini. I walked briskly into the December abyss, as I always did when I felt a scene was over. I heard Trini and Co. spill out of the bodega, and the woman’s cackling voice from even 50 yards away, “Damn Trini — she’s running from you!!” Brooklyn.