4. Lauren’s friends chime in.

A book open on its spine with pages fluttering

Lauren jolted awake and immediately picked up her phone. It was a little after 10:00 AM. She had a couple dozen notifications, which meant her editor had published her piece and it had automatically posted to her Twitter account. She remembered she had blocked Fred and went to unblock him. He probably wouldn’t be awake yet. He usually slept until noon if he didn’t go to bed until after 3:00 AM. 

She felt a little anxiety about how he would react to the piece, if he read it. Chase probably would if nothing else. Maybe Rain would see it. Thinking about Rain made Lauren angry all over again. She started going through her notifications.

“OMG I can’t believe he’s cheating on you!” was her first text from Jenna. “What an asshole!”

Veronica hadn’t said anything. She was probably trying to keep herself from saying, “I told you so.” Tricia, Marcella, and Rachael had all chimed in on the group chat with similar statements to Jenna’s. Her neighbors Ahmed and George had sent her their condolences, too. Lauren’s editor had sent her a thumbs up with a screenshot of some initial reactions to the story. It was a hit. 

Her Twitter responses were similar — women (and some men) saying these were great tips and sharing their stories of being cheated on and how they found out. There were plenty of “men are trash” GIFs and a few hot takes, although it was mostly solidarity and sympathy. 

“Brunch?” Jenna texted. “If you’re up? 

Lauren’s stomach was still full of the dead moths. She didn’t think she could eat. But she wanted to get out of the house. 

“Where?” she texted back.

Jenna’s choice in restaurants tend to skewed vegan and “health conscious”, which Lauren wasn’t really much interested in.

“Green Life,” Jenna texted back. “A new place!”

Lauren hesitated. “Green Life” definitely sounded like a place that she’d get shamed for wanting real milk instead of oat milk. She looked them up on Google Maps. They appeared to have a bar, with actual alcohol. She shrugged.

“See you there at 11,” she texted Jenna back. “As long as I can wear sweatpants.”

“Deal,” Jenna responded.

Lauren pulled herself off the bed to go take a shower.

*******

Green Life was a hip spot with gorgeous, young servers, the trendiest decor, and kitschy themed cocktails. The theme appeared to be “green spaces”, including prairies, jungles, forests, etc. Jenna quickly gathered that the “green” in their name was more about sustainability and saving the earth than it was veganism, although most of their food offerings did appear to be of the vegetable variety. 

Lauren got there before Jenna and was glad she’d chosen her cashmere “joggers” (a gift from Tom) rather than the ratty sweats she’d actually felt like wearing. She almost fit in with the clientele, although she felt conspicuously not wealthy. It had turned into a beautiful, sunny spring day — the rare one in New York — and she gladly accepted a table on the small sidewalk patio. She ordered a drink from the cocktail menu — something like a Cloudforest Cocktail — that had plenty of gin mixed with a liquor she’d never heard of and was topped with bubbly. 

Jenna breezed up to the table just as the server left with Lauren’s cocktail order. She was wearing yoga pant leggings — as always — and a geometrically interesting top. She looked athletic and sporty, her natural blonde waves tossed haphazardly into a perfectly messy bun. Lauren wished she’d taken some time to curl her hair instead of throwing it under a hat. But at least the hat was cute, she thought. And she’d put on some make up, so she didn’t look entirely dull next to her gleaming, glowing goddess of a friend.

“Hellooooo!!” Jenna sang as she reached down to hug her smaller, less blonde friend. Lauren half stood out of her chair and the hug was entirely awkward. “Are you okay?”

Jenna fell gracefully into the chair across the table from Lauren and ceremoniously took her phone out from her purse and placed it on the table face down, as she always did. Then she put both hands on top of the table and looked at Lauren pointedly, ready to give her all of her attention.

“I’m … okay,” Lauren answered. The anxiety was back. But so was the anger. “Just kind of reeling, you know.”

“Of course, of course,” Jenna said. She reached across the table and patted Lauren’s hand. “What a shock!”

“I mean, I guess I suspected it the whole time,” Lauren responded. “In hindsight, it was pretty obvious he wasn’t all that into me.”

“Hmm,” Lauren said, picking up her phone. “Hang on a sec, I need to post an Instagram story about this place.”

She held the phone in front of her face and took a few selfies, frowning several times until she got the exact right angle with the right light on her face. She typed in a few things and hit send. The server returned with Lauren’s drink in a giant martini glass. “Oh, starting early,” she said, and although she was smiling, Lauren could feel a bit of judgment. Of course Jenna didn’t drink alcohol. Her body was a temple. 

“Can I have some water?” Jenna asked the server, squinting up at him and shielding her eyes from the sunlight behind him. “No ice, please, it hurts my teeth.” 

“Of course,” the server said. “Do you need a few more minutes to look through the menu?”

“Oh, no,” Jenna said, waving her hand at the untouched menus on the table in front of them. “I have your menu memorized, literally. I will have the quinoa bowl — the vegan version, please.”

“Absolutely,” the server replied. “And for you?”

“Liquid lunch,” Lauren said, gesturing toward the martini glass in front of her.

“No judgment from me,” the server laughed. “I’ll be back with the water and the quinoa bowl.”

“He’s cute,” Jenna said after he’d left. And of course he was; everyone within a 20 foot radius of this restaurant was a model or an actor. Except Lauren.

“Anyway,” Jenna said, “so how did you find out?”

“The girl posted a picture of them on Instagram,” Lauren said, practically shouting. 

“Oh, that one in the article?” Jenna said. “Oh my god. That’s so brazen. And he let her post it!”

Lauren felt hot tears rising from her hot cheeks. She took a sip of her martini. 

Jenna squinted a little. “You know, though,” she said, “I mean, if I was cheating on someone, I wouldn’t let my mistress post about it on Instagram.”

Lauren shrugged a little and turned away to look at the street. “No,” she said, “but Fred doesn’t even have Instagram. He probably didn’t even know she posted it.”

Jenna shrugged back. “I guess.” The server dropped off her water and Jenna drank half the glass in one swig. She drank so much water throughout the day. This was probably why her skin was always glowing, Lauren thought. “Who’s the girl, anyway?”

“This nurse he works with,” Lauren said. “Ugh, she’s the worst. She’s so fit. No offense.”

Jenna laughed. “None taken.”

“And he has always talked about how great she is. I found her on Facebook and then got her Instagram from there.”

“Yeah, I read the story,” Jenna said. “You’re quite the little stalker.”

“When I need to be, sure,” Lauren said. “I was just so mad. He strolled in last night at 3am. His shift had ended at midnight. And I was at his place waiting for him.”

“Oooh,” Jenna said. “Had he forgotten you were going to be there?”

“No,” Lauren said. “I mean, he knows I know where his spare key is and I can show up whenever I want. I was going to surprise him. I even got this new lingerie and this new bath bomb and all these candles. I just felt so ridiculous.”

“Okay,” Jenna said, leaning over the table. She put both of her hands in front of Lauren. “So, I am just going to play devil’s advocate a little bit, but do you think it’s possible he’s not cheating? Maybe they were seriously just coworkers out for a drink after work?”

Lauren recoiled somewhat. She felt attacked. “Of course I think he’s cheating on me,” she said. “He sexts with his ex in Paris.”

“Really?” Jenna said, eyebrows raised.

“I mean, I caught him responding to a Snapchat of her in lingerie,” Lauren said. 

Jenna curled up her lips into a skeptical smile. “Is that technically cheating?”

“I think it is, yes,” Lauren said, straightening up in her chair. She took her martini in both hands and drank from it. “He’s been hiding things from me. That’s cheating.”

Jenna held her hands up as if to say she’d given up. “Fair, fine,” she said. “I mean, you have to trust your gut.” She drank some more of her water. “How do you think he’s going to feel about this hit piece you have out on him, complete with photos of him caught in the act?”

Lauren drank again. “I don’t care how he feels about it,” she lied.

“K,” Jenna said. 

They sat in silence for a moment. Jenna picked her phone back up. “Oh, you won’t believe this,” she said. She scrolled through something and then held the phone out for Lauren to see. “I got pinged by an agent!”

Lauren squinted at the phone. It was too bright outside to really see what Jenna was showing her, but she could make out an email. 

“An agent?” she asked. “Like, for your influencer stuff?”

“Yes, totally!” Jenna took the phone back and clicked it off excitedly. “That’s one of the reasons I’m here, actually, to show the kind of response I can get from my followers when I go to a restaurant. It’s, like, a portfolio piece.”

“Oh,” Lauren said. She felt dismayed and used. It wasn’t that her friend had wanted to do brunch; she just didn’t want to go to a work gig alone.

“And a great excuse to see you, too!” Jenna added quickly, although she could clearly see the damage had been done. 

“It’s okay,” Lauren said. “I needed to get out of the house. I’m glad you invited me.” She took another sip of the drink, which was sweet but not cloying. The bubbles felt luxurious. She wondered if they used real champagne or at least good sparkling wine instead of the cheap stuff with the fake cork; it was hard to tell in mixed drinks.

“I mean, I won’t lie, I was going to come anyway,” Jenna went on. “There is no way I could get in here on a weekend right now. But I’m glad you could come with me.”

“Me, too,” Lauren said, genuinely. She felt the alcohol now, going to her head a little bit. 

The server brought Jenna’s quinoa and Jenna clapped as he put it in front of her. She took a few photos of it and posted them to her story. 

“Oh, Lauren, please,” she said, offering Lauren her phone. “Can you take a boomerang of me taking the first bite?”

Lauren agreed. She wasn’t much of a photographer, and her posts never looked as good as Jenna’s (which was probably why she was a healthy lifestyle influencer and Lauren was a sometime writer), but she tried. They handed the phone back and forth a few times, Jenna giving tips on an angle and when to start the video, until Jenna was satisfied with the final product.

“Good enough!” she said, swiping through the filters. “This makes it look really delicious.”

“Is it really delicious?” Lauren asked.

Jenna chewed for a moment and thought about.

“I mean,” she said. “It’s ok. It’s kind of … bland.”

Lauren nodded and finished her drink. This was the sort of place you went to see and be seen, not the kind of place you really went for the food. It had filled up, too, and was bustling with beautiful people eating bland, beautiful food and posting it to Instagram.

Jenna posted a few more things to the story, and even got their cute server involved. Lauren hung in the background. She didn’t plan to feature in the stories at all, and was glad Jenna never invited her to. She ordered a glass of prosecco and Jenna raised an eyebrow into her second glass of water.

By 1pm, they were hugging each other goodbye and promising to catch up that evening. Lauren decided to walk home rather than taking the subway. She felt tipsy, but still anxious, and wanted to try and absorb some of the sunshine while she could. By the time she’d reached the East Village, Fred texted her. 

3. Lauren writes a piece.

A book open on its spine with pages fluttering

Laruen spent the Uber drive sullen in the backseat, getting herself angrier and angrier, ignoring the driver’s attempts at making conversation and looking up ideas on how to prove that Fred was cheating on her. When the driver left her in front of her apartment building in Manhattan, she took a screenshot of the payment amount (including a $3 tip) and texted it to Fred, with a short, “Help me with this, please.”

Continue reading “3. Lauren writes a piece.”

2. Lauren can’t sleep.

A book open on its spine with pages fluttering

Fred fell asleep and settled into a calm, soft snore in about three minutes. Lauren couldn’t sleep. Her anxiety was relentless, and she couldn’t stop thinking. She considered putting on a podcast but was afraid to wake Fred up. Even though he was a heavy sleeper, he was very firm about not being disturbed while he slept. His bedroom was a cave of complete darkness, with blackout curtains over the windows, a white noise machine, and a fan running to keep Fred asleep and disturbances from the rest of the world out. It was a perfect laboratory to encourage Lauren’s mind to wander in and out of doubt and overthinking.

Continue reading “2. Lauren can’t sleep.”

Sunday morning quarantine

A picture of my patio on a sunny day with plants, my notebook, a cup of tea, and a yellow watering can

I woke up at 8:30 and couldn’t sleep anymore. I scrolled through Facebook thinking, I’ll just let this pass and then I’ll go back to sleep for a few more hours. We’d gone to bed at 2am the night before, not for any reason, just watching the last season of “Schitt’s Creek” aimlessly after having binged “The Tiger King” before. I’d drifted off around 3am or so. Five hours is more sleep than most Americans with day jobs get, I thought. But it felt like a tragedy, the inability to sleep in on a Sunday.

Continue reading “Sunday morning quarantine”

The Loneliest Easter

A woman sitting in a bed alone with a basket of Easter eggs

It sounded like overkill. They cancelled SXSW in Austin, even though there were no confirmed cases of the virus in the city. Even though the President of the United States and the VP were all saying that cases in the country would be going down soon enough. Tech companies in California that we relied on for social media services sent us emails about how they were asking their employees to work from home and what their business continuity plans were. 

Continue reading “The Loneliest Easter”

The 4 Trauma Languages

A white lion from South Africa growls menacingly

My father’s oldest brother died this past Sunday morning, suddenly and without much warning. He was 72. It was a shock. I spent the day unable to think, moving through the world like a sleepwalker. 

The death of a loved one is a trauma, regardless of how quick or drawn out it is. In talking with my mother about our reactions to trauma, and how differently my sisters react as compared to my parents, and how different their reactions are to each other, led me to think about the idea of “trauma languages”.

Continue reading “The 4 Trauma Languages”

I’m in visa hell

I am supposed to be in India right now. I was supposed to leave this past Sunday afternoon and spend about 36 hours flying to Goa to visit my husband’s father’s family. We were going to have a wedding reception so I could meet his father’s family who couldn’t come to our wedding this fall, and we were going to spread his father’s ashes. We were also thinking of taking a side trip to Hampi or Jaisalmer, because we’d have three and a half weeks in India to kick around. And we were looking forward to spending some Christmas holiday time at the beach.

But I haven’t even left Austin because I am in visa hell.

Continue reading “I’m in visa hell”

The sacrifice of your best art is your duty to the world as an artist

Young Girl Drawing by the Light of a Christmas Tree

It’s the holiday season, which means Christmas music is blaring from almost everywhere. Because I work from home and have been traveling a lot, I haven’t actually been overwhelmed by it this year, and I have been able to choose what songs I listen to. There are a couple that I genuinely like, but this year there’s one in particular that has struck me as meaningful to my life right now.

Continue reading “The sacrifice of your best art is your duty to the world as an artist”

The origin of my Halloween tradition: mash o’ nine

I love holidays, mostly because I enjoy marking seasons and changes in the earth that human beings have decided are important over our brief history. I am always on the lookout for a “tradition” that hearkens back to something deeper than the commercial holidays we celebrate in America without bothering to ask why. In 2008, I decided I wanted to do something really traditional for Halloween, other than carving a pumpkin or putting on a costume. I thought I’d try to find a tradition from my own cultural heritage, which in broad strokes means the British Isles — Scotland, England, Ireland. I wanted mark the holiday by making a traditional Halloween dinner. 

Continue reading “The origin of my Halloween tradition: mash o’ nine”

What it’s like to treat a mental illness

This morning I rolled over at 7:40am — just about my normal natural wake-up time these days — but with a strange feeling that there was no way I could get out of bed. I felt nailed down. I couldn’t open my eyes. My dreams had been extremely detailed and lucid, about infiltrating a coworking space in Corfu where they were extremely tight-fisted with the amenities as I wasn’t a member, but a guest, and my parents had to basically parachute in to save me. 

“Hm,” I wondered to myself. “I wonder what could have caused these strange dreams?”

Perhaps a glass of wine at the comedy show we went to? Perhaps the cold and allergy medicine I’ve been taking the past few days? 

I woke up an hour and a half later with the realization that I was dreaming so lucidly because I had forgotten to take my antidepressant medication the night before.

What tipped me off was that I woke up to an orgasm.

Continue reading “What it’s like to treat a mental illness”