It was 2008 and Gossip Girl was airing and I went to stay with a friend in Manhattan for New Year’s Eve. It was my first time in New York and my first time buying a plane ticket for my own leisure. My friends and I were all one year into being working girls and I was enchanted by all that entailed. Everything felt like it was supposed to feel, like what the high school version of me thought being an adult was.
I remember having a conversation with a friend before I left about how “Karen does coke now” and whether I would try it. We’d all been together four years earlier in the back of someone’s Escalade where we’d seen weed for the first time. Something we had in common was that we were kind of late bloomers and hadn’t been exposed to very much of the world yet. My friend told me she’d considered it but decided she’d never try it because of the health risks. I felt actual fear as I considered doing “a real drug” for the first time, but the kind of fear that made you want to do something even more. There’s like a curtained-off area that separates people who have used drugs from people who haven’t and I didn’t so much want to be high on cocaine as much as I wanted to know all the people on the other side of that curtain and be counted as one of them. I told her I probably wouldn’t try it, but if it felt right, yolo?
I flew to Newark and got in a taxi and found my friend’s apartment on the Lower East Side which felt like a huge ordeal (this was before I could afford an iPhone and Uber wasn’t a thing yet). The friend I was visiting was a publicist who was going to comedy school at night. We met Bobby Moynihan while smoking outside of The Upright Citizens Brigade and he told us he was cast on SNL but hadn’t started yet because of the writer’s strike. We got drinks with her other comedy friends. Everyone smoked. As the night went on people started asking about coke in the very worldly way some adults I knew ordered a coffee after a particularly nice dinner.
The next night was New Year’s Eve and we were going to a closed bar with all of my friend’s comedy friends. We dressed in the fanciest clothes we could think of (I was wearing an Old Navy blouse) and found a taxi to what looked to be a fire station/bar combo and paid $40 to be let in. We got drinks and I almost immediately allowed myself to be led into the bar’s basement bathrooms. I crowded into a stall with three other girls who taught me how to do coke from a little vial with a stick and rub it into my gums afterward. The all looked at me like I was their mascot for the evening, an adorable coke virgin they got to dress up and play pretend with. It is to this day one of the most glamorous things that has ever happened to me.
A few hours later the bar was closing and there were about seven of us left. I don’t know if the friend I was visiting knew these people or if we were just random friends of friends left at the bar but we decided to go to one of the guy’s apartments on the upper east side because he promised us it was really cool and because he had more coke. It was actually this guy’s childhood home where his parents and their servant lived and the guy kept telling us to keep our voices down because the three of them were sleeping. We gave him some money because he was complaining about “everyone doing his coke” and then we did some of his coke and listened to him and his friends make fun of people they knew in common.
If you were a midwestern girl in the winter of 2008 the most chic look you could possess was a gold party dress worn with black tights and the black Tory Burch flats with the gold baubles on the tops. A girl at the party was wearing this exact outfit and she had just gotten her first job in fashion as an assistant buyer for a department store so fancy we didn’t even have it back home. At random moments throughout the last 11 years I’ve thought about that girl and how impossibly cool she was and what her career in fashion is and what the parties she attends now are like.
After everyone was done doing coke we went up to the rooftop to watch the sun rise. I talked to one of them men about how I didn’t feel high (while being aggressively awake at sunrise after a night of heavy drinking). There was a nice breeze. My friend and I decided to walk home to save money and it took us an hour and a half. We got home at 8am and two of our friends were passed out in the living room. We went to my friend’s size full bed and took an ativan each and slept until 8pm when we realized our friends went to our dinner reservation without us. I honestly think we started drinking. Later, we went to see I Am Legend in iMax at the Times Square theater.
Everything about this trip including seeing I Am Legend in iMax at the Times Square theater was so much more glamorous than anything I had experienced yet in life. I felt like a passenger on an amusement park ride of someone else’s life. I had fully immersed myself in a very special episode of Gossip Girl and whatever else happened for the rest of my life I knew for that one weekend everything had gone right and I had really lived life the way I thought you were supposed to live it. I had pulled back the curtain and stepped across and felt like I could belong there, if I chose to.
I know now that what life is doing to me presently, it had already started to do then.
But isn’t it so lovely to look back and remember a time when you thought life was something that was going to crescendo forever?