“Worst comes to worst, we go stay at your mom’s house in Florida,” Meghan says to me. She’s behind the wheel of our rented jeep wrangler truck. A box of organic, sugar-free wine bounces around the bed of the truck.
It’s Halloween 2020.
My favorite Holiday in the worst political year I’ve ever known. Earlier today Meghan was outside on the Upper East Side, 95th and Lexington. She was being very dyke-y fixing something in the bed of the truck while I waited inside like Lindsay Lohan on her way to court, all ratty weave and disjointed feelings, with my forever-shaking, mentally-ill chihuahua and long-legged mini Australian Shepard crowding my lap.
Anyway, right as she was leaping off the back of the truck, she overheard a precocious little girl say to her parents: “That’s weird. A Girl has a truck.” Despite having made peace with her androgynous spirit years ago, Meghan is very triggered by what this bratty little six-year-old bitch has observed, and hasn’t stopped talking about it for the past two hours. We’re both on a no-sugar diet (hence the sugar-free “organic” wine we’ve purchased) and when you quit any drug, have it be Ambien or sugar or Adderall or cigarettes, your nerves feel like the frayed ends of a too-long pair of jeans. Haggard, loose strands of faded denim that have been stepped on one too many times.
“What did you say?” I ask because I’m distracted and didn’t really hear her. I’m too busy looking out the window staring at the Toys R’ Us on the side of the highway.
“I think my parents used to take us to that Toys R’ Us if we were ‘good.'” I say, not really to her, or to anyone, myself included.
“I said that if there’s another lockdown, which there probably will be, we can always go back to Florida and stay with your parents.” A speeding Honda almost swerves into us. Meghan slams on the horn and yells “WHAT THE FUCK!”
I’m terrified of car accidents, despite never having been in one but I’m oddly numb to this dramatic close-call. My heart pounds inside of my chest but my brain flatlines, and the disconnect between my racing heart and dead-end-brain jars me.
“On the contrary, the worst could be over in New York City, you know.” I sing-song lamely. As the words fly out of my mouth I instantly regret letting them loose into the static car air. I imagine reeling them back inside of my body with a fishing rod. I’m a Pollyanna always looking on the bright side of things, a toxic optimist, who happens to have clinical depression. Talk about a jarring disconnect. Though I think a lot of high-functioning depressives have a curiously positive outlook on the future. If we didn’t, how would we even get out of bed? There’s a sad hopefulness I see in a lot of mentally ill people. An “it will get better, it has to” energy looming around them. A tiny rope we clutch on to with all our might as we swing back and forth between darkness and the lightness. Laughing and crying. Feeling like a queen and like the scum of the fucking earth.
I don’t have to look at Meghan to know she’s pissed at me and my toxic positivity. She’s only asked me thirteen thousand times to stop doing this when she’s trying to plan ahead for the safety of our family. Once again, I’m going to be called out for having my head in the clouds.
We erupt into a screaming match. It scares the dogs. For a moment we’re both petulant children with folded arms and pouty lips. It only lasts a second. A very long second. A second with a fully realized story. A beginning and a middle and an end. A pregnant second.
“I’m sorry,” we both say at once. We spend the rest of the ride driving to the sounds of Taylor Swift. Look at how my tears ricochet she wails through the speakers. It’s a beautiful lyric. Haunting. I’m not sure what it means but I certainly think about it at least twice a day. I like to live inside the chasm that exists between pop and poetry.
Dayna lives on the North Fork of Long Island, these days. It’s a magical place, it makes perfect sense that it’s considered to be highly literary. As soon as I get to the North Fork my writer’s brain fires off and I’m full of ideas. Can you blame me? It’s all long winding roads framed by vast open fields peppered with little Farmer’s Markets. Signs shaped like life-sized lettuce heads that read: “Fresh Strawberries! Come try our famous, East End Hot Chocolate!”
There are wineries everywhere, too. Wineries that are so East Coast classy they don’t allow limos or ubers — you’re there to wax poetic about the nuanced notes and high grape quality of these culinary wines, not to get drunk. Dayna and Arielle and I get drunk at these wineries often, but we get “kept women” drunk, not sloppy sorority girl drunk. Just a soft slur of the words and a bold order at dinner afterward. An “I’ll order oysters and snails for the table” kind of rich bitch drunk. A delusional drunk that makes us feel like we were born into old money (we weren’t). Look: You can’t fall down drunk at a winery on Long Island. If you’ve been dieting and the sips of Chenin blanc or whatever have gone to your head and your whole body wants to fall to the ground, you must repress the urge and wait to fall down at home where it’s safe. I wonder if there’s a heaven where repressed falls go to when they die? Or do they just lay dormant and reappear in your next life? Or do they come back with a vengeance in this life (if they don’t go to heaven they have to go somewhere, right)?
Are all the dumb falls we take, those unexpected twisting of the ankle, merely there to honor the ones we shamefully swept under the rug? Because they were too embarrassing and vulnerable and emotionally naked to do in a place free of wasted college girls and full of pearl-clutching East Enders with English degrees?
One time, in New Hope, PA Dayna fell twice in one day. She was wearing these seven-inch pink sparkly jelly shoes, shoes we both own. She was strangely devastated by the falls and kept proclaiming: “I’m not even that drunk.” I understood. I once fell four times fully sober at La Guardia airport because the floors were so slippery. But it’s okay to fall in the gentle, gay, hippy haven that is New Hope and a rough, mouthy, un-politically correct airport in Queens.
And falling is sort of fun sometimes. Even if your ego and knees bleed.
We are spending Halloween with Dayna and four other friends. We’re amid a global pandemic so we’ve all been tested and it’s a close-knit crew. A stark contrast from the giant lesbian Halloween party I usually go to. Which is in a venue that’s so large it devours half a city block somewhere in rural Brooklyn. And by rural Brooklyn I mean: Bushwick. I’m old, babe. Bushwick feels far and remote when you were born in Midtown East in the late 80s.
I’m very excited about my costume this year: Margot Tenenbaum from the Wes Anderson classic: The Royal Tenenbaums.
I know, I know. It’s been done a million times over. But I never did it. And I just rewatched the movie and fell in love all over again. And this year, more than ever, I just want to be a blonde WASP with the sexy, mysterious brand of depression I’ve never experienced. I just want to hold a pack of cigarettes with hands wrapped in pale pink gloves. I want to look chic in a brown fur coat (I never wear brown).
But most pressingly, I just want a blonde bob haircut.
Once upon a time, I had a blonde bob haircut. My girlfriend thought I was having an identity crisis. I thought I looked fabulous. And then my mother told me I looked washed out, and I listen to everything she says about beauty and fashion so I swiftly went back to brunette. And then one Sunday afternoon, I glanced at my reflection in the bathroom mirror and had a big life realization. I was in my 20s and I had a brown bob. What is more dismal than a young, vibrant, sexually-charged girl, sporting a bleak, brown bob? I spent twelve-hundred-dollars on a full head of hair extensions the very next day. I didn’t have the money, but it was an emergency. A frumpy emergency. The worst kind.
I guess I wanted to wear the blonde bob wig as a reparative experience. I wanted to feel golden, in that way only non-Jewish girls, who don’t have lots of body hair and weren’t ruthlessly teased for it in middle school, can be.
When I arrive at Dayna’s I burst through the doors of her bedroom and she’s waltzing around her room in white frilly underpants that resemble a chic, expensive diaper. Her skin is radiant and she’s exuding a princess-like energy. She’s happy and sparkly and wants me to do her white corset up for her. She’s dressed as Christina Aguilera the night she kissed Britney Spears on stage at the VMAs.
“Your so good at zipping up clothes.” She says, impressed with my ability to always zip a garment up regardless of how small it is.
“I know. I should’ve been a costumer,” I sigh, dreaming of another life in which I hoist women into dresses right before they burn brightly on a Broadway stage. This would never work because my problem is I want to be on the Broadway stage. I can’t handle standing in the wings of life, watching someone else shine. Zipping a girl into her shine while I mattify my own glimmer. It’s why I finally called it quits with my last full-time job. I don’t want to spend the rest of my life working to make someone else’s dreams come true. Nothing frightens me more than my own unfulfilled dreams.
Dayna is a vision in white tulle. Her breasts look like they’ve been sculpted into sharp, point cones.
“I love pointy tits,” I observe, filling up my plastic wine glass.
“Me too.” She says, gazing into her own reflection, with eyes so soft I want to curl up inside of them and take a nap. She looks happy with what she sees, as she should be. She’s gorgeous. And tonight she’s got movie-star vibes. She’s got a Paris Hilton like aura of glitter following her around. The kind of glitter that makes everyone want to a snap picture of her, in hopes to hoard some of that glitter for themselves. She moves like a fairy, light on her feet, airy, fragrant facial expressions. She moves like the Spring. Flowery and sunny, with a breeze. She feels like cardigan weather. It’s refreshing.
I look in the mirror. I’m wearing a striped dress with a collar, just like Margot Tanenbaum. I’ve got loafers strapped to my feet. The kind of narrow loafers a woman who’s always been effortlessly pretty can only pull off.
I’m not pulling the loafers off. My prettiness has always taken substantial effort. I need to be groomed like a thoroughbred horse. I look my best when glamorous and glamour takes time. My prettiness is thick-lashed and big browed and brunette and ghostly pale and red-lipped. Margot’s prettiness is blue-eyed and naturally blonde and gamine. We are the antithesis of each other.
I take a sip of wine and gasp at how horrendous I look in a blonde bob. I finally see what my mother meant. I’m washed out when blonde. Inside and out. Faded. My features blur together. My thoughts feel blurred together too.
I’m Not Myself These Days.
I go outside in my fur coat and stare at the blue moon for a moment, alone. It’s vibrant and perfectly round and there hasn’t been a blue moon on Halloween night since 1946. The air smells like a campfire. I can hear the muffled laughter of my closest friends milling around Dayna’s house. It’s a diverse, queer crowd. I think about all of them as my eyes fixate on the moon.
The moonlight burns my eyes, but I like it. Purr.
I think about the pending election. Anxiety slithers around my waist, like a snake. I think of drinking it away, but I don’t. I let it sit there. It’s uncomfortable but something tells me I must feel the feeling. I look through the glass doors at all of my magnetic friends having fun inside, as I feel uncomfortable feelings, outside. It reminds me of the cafeteria in the seventh grade.
Little Michelle is dressed as Sia and she’s never looked more electric. Meghan is dressed like Richie Tenenbaum and she’s never looked sexier. In the movie, The Royal Tenenbaums, Margot is Richie’s adopted sister and they’re secretly, madly in love. (Secret love is the most glamorous kind of love).
Through the windexed glass everyone looks gender-bendy and hot and even though they’re in costumes, their real selves seem to vibrate on an even higher plane than usual.
It’s Halloween night in 2020. My favorite holiday in the worst political year I’ve ever known.
But holyfuck what is life without these people? These drunken little New Yorkers, opinionated and loud, sad and euphoric, medicated and beautiful, as nuanced as the notes in the red wine at the chicest winery on the North Fork. It’s been a hard year for us all. Personally and politically. There have been big collapses in mental health. There’s been new prescriptions and new jobs and unemployment and fear of the future and paralyzing sadness. We’ve been locked up inside of our apartments and locked up inside of the prisons of our ever-vibrating brains. We’re all terrified about the election, we all have something to lose if Trump wins. Something big.
But yet, even as the world bursts into flames, we are somehow able to walk through the fire of cultural and physical sickness and put together a dumb costume and laugh. The kind of deep-rooted laughter that erupts from your solar-plexes. We’re able, just for tonight maybe, to hop around Dayna and Vanessa’s charming cottage in the regal, under-stated north fork. In all of our over-stated glory.
This is what life is about. I think, flicking my prop cigarette, even though it’s not lit. No one can snatch this away from us.
I’m not a good Margot Tanenbaum. I’m a raven-haired Courtney Love in an old-monied drag. I vow to never dress like an Uptown Icon again. I’m a Downtown Girl and I must always honor that about myself. Even when I lived in Connecticut in high school, I had downtown energy. I look better downtown. And you know what? Margot Tanenbaum might not look so mysterious and elfin downtown. She might look plain and out of context like me, right now, basking in the Greenport moonlight, shivering violently in brown faux fur, wishing the faux fur was lavender or bright red, smoking an unlit cigarette with a lit-up brain.
The dopamine rush of gratitude floods my brain. I decide to rejoin the party. Dayna greets me inside, where it’s warm. There’s a Christmas vibe. But maybe that’s just the SSRIs kicking in.
“Want to grab a glass of wine?” She purrs.
“Of course.” I purr back.
It’s Halloween in the year of the rat, and we skitter like rodents into the kitchen and start gossiping about our mutual love of the antidepressant Wellbutrin and for a moment, even in my off blonde wig and off striped dress, I feel the most myself I’ve felt in months.
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Praises for GIRL, STOP PASSING OUT IN YOUR MAKEUP
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“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.”
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