A baby seal walked into a club. Just kidding! The baby seal was me. And fine, I didn’t walk into a club, per se — not on that night, anyway. It was the VIP tent of Cirque du Soleil — you know, the famous French Canadian circus show? They’d set up a big, white tent — it sort of looked like a peaky marshmallow — called the Grand Chapiteau on Randall’s Island, which was up on the East River just off Manhattan. Earlier that evening, I’d been picked up at the Condé Nast building in midtown and chauffeured there. For “work.”
It was the summer of 2009, and I was walking with a bit of a limp because I had broken glass in my foot from … well, I wasn’t sure what from, exactly. I think I broke a bottle of Kiehl’s Musk on my bathroom floor and then I stepped on it, I guess, and I never wound up getting the shards taken out.
“You need to go see a doctor,” my boss — legendary beauty director Jean Godfrey-June — said every day when I hobbled into her office in ballerina flats. “Today.”
“I will,” I’d promise. But then I’d just go home, pound Froot Loops in a dark trance, or get high with my friend Marco.
Yep! I was twenty-six years old and an associate beauty editor at Lucky, one of the top fashion magazines in America, and that’s all that most people knew about me. But beneath the surface, I was full of secrets: I was an addict, for one. A pillhead! I was also an alcoholic-in-training who drank warm Veuve Clicquot after work, alone in my boss’s office with the door closed; a conniving uptown doctor shopper who haunted twenty-four-hour pharmacies while my coworkers were at home watching True Blood in bed with their boyfriends; a salami-and- provolone-puking bulimic who spent a hundred dollars a day on binge foods when things got bad (and they got bad often); a weepy, wobbly hallucination-prone insomniac who jumped six feet in the air à la LeBron James and gobbled Valium every time a floorboard squeaked in her apartment; a tweaky self-mutilator who sat in front of The Tonight Show with Jay Leno, digging gory abscesses into her bikini line with Tweezerman Satin Edge Needle Nose Tweezers; a slutty and self-loathing downtown party girl fellatrix rushing to ruin; and — perhaps most of all — a lonely weirdo who felt like she was underwater all of the time. My brains were so scrambled you could’ve ordered them for brunch at Sarabeth’s; I let art-world guys choke me out during unprotected sex; I only had one friend, a Dash Snow–wannabe named Marco who tried to stick syringes in my neck and once slurped from my nostrils when I got a cocaine nosebleed; my roommate, Nev “Catfish” Schulman, wanted me out of our East Village two-bedroom; my parents weren’t talking to me ever since I’d stuck my dad with a thirty-thousand-dollar rehab bill. I took baths every morning because I was too weak to stand in the shower; I wrote rent checks in highlighter; I had three prescribing psychiatrists and zero ob-gyns or dentists; I kept such insane hours that I never knew whether to put on day cream or night cream; and I never, ever called my grandma.
I was also a liar. My boss — I was her assistant at the time — had been incredibly supportive and given me six weeks off to go to rehab. I’d been telling Jean that I was clean ever since I got back, even though I wasn’t. And then she promoted me.
So now I was a beauty editor. In some ways, I looked the part of Condé Nast hotshot — or at least I tried to. I wore fab Dior slap bracelets and yellow plastic Marni dresses, and I carried a three-thousand-dollar black patent leather Lanvin tote that Jean had plunked down on my desk one afternoon. (“This is … too shiny for me,” she’d explained.) My highlights were by Marie Robinson at Sally Hershberger Salon in the Meatpacking District; I had a chic lavender pedicure — Versace Heat Nail Lacquer V2008 — and I smelled obscure and expensive, like Susanne Lang Midnight Orchid and Colette Black Musk Oil.
But look closer. I was five-four and ninety-seven pounds. The aforementioned Lanvin tote was full of orange plastic bottles from Rite Aid; if you looked at my hands digging for them, you’d see that my fingernails were dirty, and that the knuckle on my right hand was split from scraping against my front teeth. My chin was broken out from the vomiting. My self-tanner was uneven because I always applied it when I was strung out and exhausted — to conceal the exhaustion, you see — and my skin underneath the faux-glow was full-on Corpse Bride. A stylist had snipped out golf-ball-size knots that had formed at the back of my neck when I was blotto on tranquilizers for months and stopped combing my hair. My under-eye bags were big enough to send down the runway at Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week: I hadn’t slept in days. I hadn’t slept for more than a few hours at a time in months. And I hadn’t slept without pills in years. So even though I wrote articles about how to take care of yourself — your hair, your skin, your nails — I was falling apart.
I’d never been in the VIP section of a circus tent before. There was an open bar and colossal flower arrangements, and waiters in black tie swishing around with trays of mini cheeseburgers and all that. Maybe little shotties of vichyssoise. You know how it is! Anyway, I was at the fucking Cirque du Soleil not by choice, but as the guest of a major “personal care” brand — one of Lucky’s biggest advertisers. As associate beauty editor, it was my job to represent the magazine at get-togethers like these: to rub elbows and be pleasant and professional. Seriously, it was the easiest gig in the world! And yet it wasn’t always so easy for me.
“I’ll take one of those.” I stopped a dude with a tray of champagne.
“Hi, Cat!” a beauty publicist with a clipboard said. “Thanks so much for coming!”
“Good to see you,” I lied. Thunder clapped outside.
“The gang’s over there,” she said.
The publicist was referring to the usual group of beauty editors — my colleagues. They were from every title you’ve ever heard of: Teen Vogue, Glamour, Elle, Vogue, W, Harper’s Bazaar, InStyle, O, Shape, Self. I attended events alongside them every day, and yet I never felt like I belonged. I’d spent years trying to get into their world: interning, studying mastheads, interviewing all over town. But now that I was one of them, I felt defective — self-conscious and out of place in the dreamy career I’d worked so hard for, and unable to connect with these chic women I’d idolized. I could barely make small talk with them! It probably didn’t help that I was always strung out on Adderall, an amphetamine pill prescribed for the treatment of attention deficit disorder. (How much Adderall was I always strung out on, you ask? Lots of Adderall. Enough Adderall to furnish four hundred Damien Hirst Pharmacy installations! Enough Adderall to suppress all the appetites of all the starving children in all the world! Enough — well, you get the idea.)
I set down my empty glass and approached “the gang” with the same vague dread I always felt. A few women nodded hello.
“How are things at Good Housekeeping?” I asked an editor with a Hitchcock-blond bob.
“Cosmo,” she corrected politely.
“Champagne?” It was the same waiter.
“No thanks,” Cosmo Editor said.
“Sure!” As I helped myself, a woman standing with her back to me turned around. It was the person I’d dreaded seeing all night: the Vice President of Marketing for this (major — major) beauty brand. Oh, no. Now my bosses at Lucky had essentially sent me here tonight to kiss up to this powerful, advertising-budget-controlling woman — the Vice President of Marketing, who not only detested me, but had recently seen me on drugs and in my underwear. It all went down on a weekend press trip to the Mayflower Spa in Connecticut, one of the most luxurious retreats on the East Coast. Other beauty editors and I were there for two nights as a guest of Vice President of Marketing and the beauty brand. The first night, there was a fancy dinner. I ate nothing. Then I wobbled back to my deluxe cottage, stripped off my clothes, popped a Xannie bar, boosted it with a strawberry-flavored clonazepam wafer I’d found stuck to a tobacco flake–covered Scooby-Doo fruit snack at the bottom of my grimy Balenciaga, and blacked out on top of the antique four-poster feather-top bed.
When I woke up, sunlight was streaming through the windows in my suite. There was a lipstick-smeared drool stain on the Frette linens. And someone was … shouting. Wait, what? I turned my heavy head.
The Vice President of Marketing was in my room — yelling at me!
“AHHHHH!” I was nearly naked! I fumbled for the duvet.
“You missed breakfast!” The Vice President of Marketing was bugging. Behind her was a male hotel employee with a key card. “We’ve been calling and calling!”
“I overslept!” I cried. “Why are you in my room? Can you give me some fucking privacy? You can’t just bust in on people!” I knew I shouldn’t talk to one of Lucky’s biggest advertisers this way, but I was pissed. I may have been a drug addict, but I had my dignity! You know?
“Be at the spa in fifteen minutes!” the Vice President of Marketing shrieked. Then she stormed out. The hotel employee scurried after her. I sat there in my benzo-fog. Had that really happened?
The rest of the weekend was awkward, to say the goddamn least. The Vice President of Marketing glowered at me the whole time. I’d never been so happy to leave a spa.
It was the worst press trip ever! But, of course, I couldn’t tell my boss that.
“How was the Mayflower?” Jean had asked first thing on Monday.
“Fantastic,” I’d lied — too well, maybe. Because a month later, I was assigned another event with the beauty brand. And here I was — the Vice President of Marketing’s guest, again — representing Lucky beauty at the Cirque du Soleil.
“Nice to see you.” I grimaced. The Vice President of Marketing nodded stiffly, then turned away. My favorite waiter passed.
“I’ll take one more,” I said, taking two champagne flutes. Glug-glug-glug.
And then … showtime! Our group took up half of the first two rows. I was sandwiched between two other beauty editors.
Uuuuuurrrrrgghhhhhhhhhh, I thought as the house lights went down. I slid my Ray-Bans off the top of my head to cover my eyes.
You know what happened next. Clowns dressed like wiggers — am I allowed to say “wiggers”? — jumped out of a big box, wearing their wide pants! Or something like that.
Thirty minutes later, I was still sitting there chomping on Juicy Fruit and worrying that my self-tanner was making me smell like Ritz Crackers, when . . .
It was the loudest hiccup I’d ever hiccupped, and I am a loud hiccupper.
“Oof!” a clown grunted onstage as he pushed a ball around. Otherwise, it was quiet in the theater.
“HIC!” I had downed that champagne way too fast.
The editor next to me shifted in her seat.
Finally, I could take no more.
“Excuse me,” I whispered to the Cosmo editor. Wow, I was drunk.
“HIC!” I squished — “HIC!” — past the beauty editor from Harper’s Bazaar. “HIC!” I squished past Vogue. Everyone — “HIC!” — got a lap dance for free, like in the N.E.R.D. song. “HIC!”
Finally, I was in the aisle. I turned to head up the steps and—
“AUGGGH!” I cried. WHAM! I hit the ground hard.
The audience gasped.
Oh. My. God.
I scrambled out of the dark theater — into the VIP tent, where the waiters were prepping for intermission. I staggered up to the bar like I had a gunshot wound and ordered two glasses of champs. If there was ever a time for double fisting, it was now.
Unbelievable, right? You’ll never believe what happened next.
At intermission, the VIP tent filled with people. About five minutes later, my hiccups went away. I was preparing to return to my seat for the second act when a man in a suit approached me.
“Ma’am,” he said. He was speaking in a low voice. “I’m afraid I am going to have to ask you to leave.”
I didn’t think I’d heard him right.
“Excuse me?” I said.
“You’re going to have to leave,” he repeated.
“Who are you?” I said.
“I work for Cirque du Soleil.” The man took my elbow. I jerked it away. “I’m going to escort you to your car.”
“You’re kicking me out of the circus?” I said.
“Yes, ma’am,” he said. “I’ve been ordered to escort you out.”
“But … but why?” I stammered.
He wouldn’t answer.
“I’m here with [beauty brand]!” He had to be mistaken. “They’re corporate sponsors! They bought the entire first two rows!”
“Please, ma’am.” The guy looked embarrassed. “I have to escort you out.”
“Is this because I tripped?” I said. I was so confused. “I couldn’t see the stairs!”
“Ma’am.” He had me by the elbow again! So I jerked it away again. “Your car is out front.”
“How do you know that?” I said. How did he know that? He took me by both elbows and led me through the crowd. People were staring. “Who told you to make me leave?” I looked around wildly. That’s when I caught the Vice President of Marketing’s eye: she was glaring at me. Aha.
Finally, we reached the door. “Will you get off me?” I wriggled out of the guy’s grasp. I clomped out of the Grand Chapiteau. It was pouring rain. Sure enough, there it was: the same car the beauty brand had sent to pick me up at Condé Nast earlier that evening. My name was still in the window and everything. (How very thoughtful of the Vice President of Marketing to call it for me.) I ran twenty yards in heels on a muddy gravel path through the downpour. What did I care if I fell again?
“Where to?” my driver said as I slipped into the backseat.
“East Sixth Street,” I said. “Between Avenues B and C.”
We pulled away, and I took another Adderall to sober up. I looked out the window at the rain. The pill was caught in my throat; I kept swallowing and swallowing, but I couldn’t get it down.
At my door, I took off my heels to climb the five flights of stairs to the apartment I shared with Ol’ “Catfish” Nev. I unlocked the door, crept through the living room full of Nev’s beautiful midcentury modern furniture, and went into my bedroom. My own decor was “midcentury meth lab,” let’s put it that way. The walls were papered practically to the ceiling with fashion magazine tear sheets — “collaging” was my favorite thing to do when I was geeked up — and makeup (so, so much makeup) was everywhere. The ceramic box on my desk was full of glass stems, Q-tips, my glassine dope baggie collection; my bed was covered in Sharpies and nude Clarins lip liners and wafts of blond clip-in hair, plus books — Norman Mailer’s Marilyn Monroe biography and Ooga-Booga by Frederick Seidel — and feather coats and Tsubi jeans. I hardly ever slept there. When I did, I just pushed everything over.
Tonight I thought I’d rest. I lit a candle for ambience, then I took stuff from the mattress and threw it to the floor until I found them: two pill bottles, tucked under a pillow. My Xanax, and my Ambien. I took one of each. Then I went to the window to light a Parliament. The rain had stopped, and Alphabet City looked pretty, shiny and wet. I tried to feel at peace, but it was impossible. I kept flashing back to the Cirque du Soleil tent — the falling down, the beauty editors turning to look at me, the angry and pointed stare of the Vice President of Marketing, the grip of the man pushing me through the crowd to the car. What was I going to tell Jean? What were other beauty editors going to tell Jean? She knew them all.
Suddenly, I needed to lie down very badly.
I stubbed out my cigarette into a seashell, closed the window, and got in bed. I rubbed some Pure Fiji coconut lotion onto my stomach, closed my smoky eyes, and waited for the curtain to fall. I hated this part. I tried to focus on my breath, just like I’d learned in rehab: inhale, exhale.
But I couldn’t quiet my mind. Goddammit, Cat. What was wrong with me, anyway? I had more issues than Vogue. And things weren’t getting better as I grew older. They just kept getting worse.
Fuck this. I sat up and took half a Roxicet I had on the bedside table.
Then I closed my eyes again. Time for some visualization exercises.
I imagined a white tiger leading me through a black jungle to a black river that would carry me away from my problems — away from the Grand Chapiteau, away from the Vice President of Marketing, away from the beauty editor gang. The black river carried me through the black jungle to the end of the island, then it dumped me out into a vast black ocean. But there were no sharks under the surface; it was just me. I was floating on my back and looking up at the black sky.
When the heaviness finally came it felt so nice — like the lead X-ray smock they drape over you at the dentist. I forgot all about the Red Flower candle burning on the dresser. Black waves were crashing on my bed. I slipped beneath the turbulent surface of the water. It felt so good that I wanted to sink forever. Mmm. My eyes rolled back, my body relaxed, and I passed out to the Britney Spears Blackout album always looping in my head.
Excerpted from How to Murder Your Life, by Cat Marnell. To be published January 31 by Simon & Schuster. Copyright 2017 by Cat Marnell.