Photo by Reza Nader
July, three years ago. I came into the Lucky magazine beauty closet strung out after being up all night and ordered my intern—Silence of the Lambs director Jonathan Demme's then-teenage daughter, named Intern—to take care of me all day.
Intern worked in the beauty closet, a small studio-apartment-sized space on the sixth floor of the Condé Nast building, with a desk that faced out into Times Square.
She adored me. All of my interns always did—not unlike, I imagine, Jordy Chandler adored Michael Jackson.
I was 26 and an associate beauty editor, but I was very weak and lonely. At night, I was running around with sociopaths and addicts. Predators who took me to the projects to spend my money on crack and heroin and snap obscene Polaroids of me with my legs spread open when I fell asleep. Narcissist losers who fancied themselves the second comings of Dash Snow and Egon Schiele and would make Flip phone videos of themselves… flipping through their own sketchbooks.
You're sick, Amphetamine Logic said. These are your people. You fell off.
“MY HANKY PANKY IS FALLING OFF MY BODY,” I announced, gnashing my teeth, wearing a metallic Zac Posen (I know, but back then we still liked him) knit tube skirt folded into a mini, ripped black stockings, six friendship bracelets I'd bought for myself, a Pete Doherty FUCK FOREVER t-shirt with pink stains down the front, an army parka, one false eyelash, and some beautiful Prada pumps that I always kept under my desk to slip on. Hair extensions were falling out in clumps, but I couldn't worry about that.
I borrowed from the fashion closet on bad mornings like this. I had dresses: prissy, ruffled, on hangers. The one I wound up wearing was actually peach, with some sort of dust ruffle situation.
It was hardly racks of Gucci and Gaultier either: Lucky was all about the indie labels you'd never heard of. “Three Birds Nests?” I'd say, flipping through the "NOT TO SHOOT" racks, the only ones I was allowed to pull from. “What is that? Where do they sell it? Barneys? Are they expensive?” Then, “What does this tag with the Cy Twombly scribbly logo say? Is this French? What is JHU.LII?! Where is it sold? NET-A-PORTER? Is it expensive?”
“Your what?” Intern would say, grinning, always happy to see me. Like a dog: full of wag, as John Berryman would have put it, before he jumped off his little bridge like a coward.
“My THONG, dude!” Oh Lord. The beauty closet was bouncing like a ball. Guh—guh—guh—I knelt to the floor. “I am too emaciated for it. It feels like it's gonna slip down to my ankles.”
“Uh-oh,” Intern said, in complete earnest. An American girl.
“Uh-oh is right,” I said. “NOW. I’m going to teach you things you will never learn in other internships. I’ve been up all night shooting coke, and it is vile. I have never felt worse. I want to die! DIE!”
I actually felt like I was the ball inside a pinball machine, truth be told, which was not a good feeling but not a bad feeling.
“Omigod,” said Intern. “Like… with a needle?”
“I grew up in a house full of syringes, babe,” I said, waving my hand. “My mother's entire life is, like, causing this diabetes drama. Acting like she was going to faint and demanding, like, Lifesavers at, like, Saks.” I gagged back a dry heave, thinking of this. “I stole her stuff and shot myself up with water when I was a kid. Straight in the belly!”
“Oh… wow!” stuttered Intern.
“You look soooo pretty today,” I cooed. “I just want to be you. You look so baby blonde. You look like you did the Vreeland thing and just doused your head in champagne.” And I reached to try to brush her bangs from her forehead. “I mean, even your hair is nubile. God.”
“Um, the drugstore called—Walgreens, not Duane Reade, and said… ” Intern started sweetly. She was so good.
“The good news is… I’m not in here needing to puke in the trash!” I declared. ZOING. Pinball relaunch! I shot to my feet.
“What?” Intern said. “Huh?”
“And why don't I need to throw up this morning, Intern?” I said. I thumped my fist on the counter where we arranged products to be shot for future stories. “Because I didn’t do… what? Let’s test your D.A.R.E. knowledge. What class of drug is it that makes you throw up and die?”
“Uh,” Intern said. “Heroin? The heroin class?”
“Mmm,” I said. “Opiates of any kind, dude. LOSERS do opiates, okay? Not you. It's how the other half lives. At Bennington, people will try to give you OxyContin that the townies sell to them, believe me.”
“Oberlin,” whispered sweet Intern, her eyes as big as meth scabs.
“EVEN WORSE!” I said. “CANADA! Brimming with DOPE FIENDS, OK?”
The phone rang. We both stared at the caller ID: an 845 number.
“It's alright,” Intern said. “It's my mom.”
“Fantastic,” I said. “Um… You know, anyway, Intern, I need to change and clean up in here because this junkie MIKE ACID TIGER loaned me his jacket and it reeks.” I looked down at my chest. I hadn’t worn a bra to work in about three weeks. “And I drooled, I believe, Gatorade on my favorite shirt in the taxi. This was especially imported from London you know!”
“There’s something… a... a… false eyelash stuck in your hair,” Intern said. And she stood up and plucked it out.
“You are like a piece of spaghetti,” I told her. “You are beautiful and lanky and so cool and so young and I just worship you. I will be devastated when you're not my intern anymore. I love you. Take care of me all day. I ne-eeed special treatment.” And she beamed. She practically saluted.
An hour later I called her extension from my desk.
“Honneeeey,” I whispered. “NEED you!”
She came out. I grabbed her by the wrist and yanked her into my cube, which was always a gift bag swamp.
“Listen,” I growled. “Bring me ten concealers—the best concealers, especially any Dermablend—in Caucasian colors, don't bring me anything for… darker skin tones. Do you understand?”
Intern nodded—confused, fascinated, enchanted, as always.
“I trust you will make it snappy, pappy?” I said. “Thank you. I adore you so much. Goodbye.” And she sort of scuttled off sideways like a crab, then returned with a Tupperware five minutes later and slipped it on my desk. And scuttled away again. Then I swiveled my desk chair away from my bosses’ office and covered my tracks. I was bruised from missing veins over and over again. No one sucks at shooting up more than I do (thank God).
Most days, though, I was just on pills and full of holes.
Sometimes I'd bring her lists of Upper East Side psychiatrists I'd printed off the Internet.
“Intern,” I'd say. “Pretend you're my assistant so I seem wildly important, OK? And just beg them to take a new patient and as soon as possible s'il vous plait, possibly this evening because I have that Frederic Malle launch with Marie-Laure on the Barneys terrace at five and I can go before or after.”
And she'd score me an appointment and I'd email her “AGHHH you are the BEST!” and bring her gifts I'd stockpiled in my cubbies over the years: new boxes of Cartier stationary, Chanel sunglasses, a crinkly bone-white John Varvatos scarf.
I gave her Marni tank tops and Miu Miu wedges from my closet and made her call in creepy Buffalo Bill things like glamorous French fake blood from Make Up For Ever and $400 eyelashes made of real mink fur.
“You're going to be a star writer in this industry,” I told her. "You're so glamorous and you don't even get it yet.”
One game never got old, of course.
I’d ring her on my extension and tell her to hurry over at once.
“It puts the lotion on its skin,” I’d tell her, handing over a bottle of Nivea. “Or else it gets the hose again!”
“Aww, man!” Because she’d fallen for it again.
“I love you,” I'd tell her. “Now put the lotion in the fucking basket!” I kept a basket to go to the beauty closet in the corner.
Then a delivery guy would arrive with nine bags for me, full of new eye shadows and Chanel lipsticks, and I’d demand that Intern open them all right then and there on my cube floor, which is actually the most fun job. And I’d flip through a French Vogue and keep giving her things to do to keep her near me.
“You are my little sister,” I told this teenager over and over, meaning it. “You are my CHILD.” Desperate for it.
It’s years later and I don't get to work in offices anymore: I write from home, with a big “LOVE ME” print over my bed.
“They always get obsessed with you,” another beauty editor complained as we walked back from lunch, watching Intern fuss over my messy desk.
“Isn't that funny,” I said. We begin by coveting what we see every day. “Yes.”
Also by Cat Marnell: