Chapter One: Audrey CHAPTER ONE AUDREY
What doesn’t kill you makes you more interesting. At least, that’s always been my personal motto, and it was echoing through my mind as I tried to stave off a panic attack on a southbound train to Washington, DC. In this instance, though, it wasn’t helping—largely because I wasn’t sure that the logic held. What if this move actually made me less interesting?
I shuddered and once again considered petting the emotional support Chihuahua currently occupying a quarter of my seat. When I’d extended a hand to scratch behind his ears earlier, his owner—a ferocious woman with a French-tip manicure and wearing a lemon-yellow velour tracksuit—had practically screamed, “He’s working!” The little dog looked to me like he was snoozing, but I was in no hurry to set his owner off again.
Instead, I fished a Xanax from my purse and took another surreptitious photo of the dog. I added “Hour 2” in purple text and a GIF of a small, yapping dog before uploading it to my Instagram Story. Almost immediately, comments from my million-plus followers appeared:
That dog looks like he has it in for you!
Hang in there, Audrey!
The tension that had ratcheted my shoulders up by my ears began to melt, and I finally relaxed into my seat. Comments from my followers were hands down my favorite part of living my life on the internet. My former roommate (and former best friend) Izzy used to say that was because I was a narcissist, but Izzy was the one who couldn’t pass a reflective surface without checking herself out, so, you know, glass houses and all that. Anyway, it wasn’t a love of myself that kept me sharing my world with my followers—it was my love of connection. With a million friends at your fingertips, how could anyone ever feel truly alone?
I started responding to comments about my clothing, nail color, and music in my headphones, but not the one query that kept reappearing: Why are you leaving New York?
Good fucking question.
It was the question that was raising my cortisol levels, the one that had me chewing benzos. I mean, I loved New York. It was the most vibrant city in the world, the most exciting and unquestionably best place to live. For almost as long as I could remember, I’d dreamed about living there. I’d even collaged my childhood bedroom walls with images of the Empire State Building, Statue of Liberty, and dozens of other landmarks.
But now, seven years after I thought I’d found my home, I was speeding away from it on the Amtrak while my belongings simultaneously made their way south on a moving truck. I used to imagine that if I ever left New York, it would be for someplace almost as glamorous: Paris, London, Tokyo.
Washington, DC, had never made that list.
I fingered another Xanax and wondered whether I was making an enormous mistake.
You’re doing the right thing, I told myself. How could taking your dream job be anything other than the right move?
Because the truth was that I had aspired to work in a museum even longer than I had wanted to live in New York. I’d graduated from college with a degree in art history and planned to take a year to work in galleries in New York before applying to graduate school for a museum studies degree—but one year turned into two, and then I kept finding reasons not to apply. I put it off even as I watched the plum museum jobs I coveted all go to candidates with master’s degrees, and so I was stuck working part-time in a couple of privately owned art galleries and volunteering at museums like MoMA and the Whitney.
Last month, though, I had been browsing the job boards and spotted the advertisement for the Hirshhorn Museum’s Social Media Manager position. I could do that, I thought as I read the description. I could totally do that. I excelled at social media. Seriously, how else did a random midwestern transplant construct a minor cult of personality out of thin air? I submitted an application before I could second-guess myself.
When Ayala Martin-Nesbitt, Director of Public Engagement, called to offer me the job, I had momentary cold feet. I’d fallen in love with the world-class museum—part of the Smithsonian system—during my interview, but I’d been less taken with the location. How could I move away from New York? Ayala gave me a day to think it over, and I’d decided to celebrate the offer and talk it out with Izzy. Izzy had been my best friend since grade school and had talked me through decisions ranging from whether to cut bangs to how to confront a former boss who made inappropriate jokes. She’d always steered me straight; I knew she wouldn’t let me down.
But when I’d flung open the door of our East Village apartment, clutching a bottle of Prosecco and bursting with enthusiasm, I found Izzy sitting stiffly on the couch.
Frowning, I set down the bubbles and asked, “What’s up?”
Izzy lifted a few strands of her long, dark hair and examined them for split ends. To her hair, she said, “Russell’s lease is up at the end of the month.”
“Oh, bummer,” I said, hoping this meant that Izzy’s terrible boyfriend and his annoyingly trendy beard would be leaving the city.
“Yeah, well.” She dropped her hair and finally met my eyes. “He’s moving in.”
“What?” I gaped at her. “No way, Iz. You can’t just announce that your boyfriend and his collection of fake Gucci sneakers are moving in.”
Her hazel eyes darkened and she pursed her mouth. “Actually, I can. My name is the only one on the lease, because you were too busy working below-minimum-wage jobs and chasing Instagram fame to qualify as a renter. This is my apartment, and I decide who lives here.”
Her words hit me like a fist in the chest. Over the course of our decades-long friendship, Izzy and I had fought infrequently, and never about money. I had no idea she was harboring resentment for covering a few rent payments years ago. I’d long ago paid her back, and it wasn’t like I didn’t fork out my share these days. Besides, she never objected to accepting the sheet masks, adaptogens, and slow fashion items I got from brands courting me to promote them on Instagram.
“Whatever,” I sniffed, picking up the Prosecco. “I’m moving to DC anyway.”
Izzy blinked, surprised. “You got the job?”
“Yep,” I said, unwrapping the foil around the bottle’s top.
Not too long ago, Izzy would have demanded to know all the details, would not have relented until she’d heard my conversation with Ayala recounted in excruciating detail. She would have stayed up all night with me, discussing the pros and cons of taking the job, thoughtfully helping me reach the right decision. Now, she merely nodded.
“Oh. Well. I guess this will all work out then.”
“Yeah,” I snarled, popping the cork and taking a swig. “Everything’s going to be just fine.”
And it would be. Better things awaited me in DC. That much was finally clear.