Bottle Girl: My Former Life in the Manhattan Club Scene
From misogynistic managers to meeting Drake — the luxurious lifestyle came at a cost
At 8 a.m. on a Sunday morning I found myself running east on 33rd Street from Madison Avenue. I didn’t know how I’d gotten there or where exactly I was going. It was July and the New York air was dewy. I could feel the strings of my bikini — tied too tight — digging into the sides of my neck. Why I had a bikini on, I couldn’t be sure. Between the hours of midnight and 4am, I’d finished a gram of cocaine by myself. I worked as a bottle service waitress in Manhattan’s most elite hip hop nightclub, and lost hours and blurry memories had increasingly become the norm. But bursting into a moment of consciousness while mid-sprint fifty blocks away from my apartment was something new.
Two years earlier, I moved to New York to begin my MFA program. Writing and publishing a book had been my dream for as long as I could remember, from the moment I started creating my own version of The Brady Bunch on lined, yellow notepads in the second grade. A dream that finally felt within reach. But I started to live a separate life in the Manhattan club scene, working as a “Bottle Girl” to pay my grad school tuition.
I began my writing career at 22 with a coveted position as a red carpet and nightlife reporter for a weekly gossip column with enormous circulation — the kind of glossy magazine you’d see at the grocery store while waiting to pay. I spent several nights a week spying on celebrities inside Hollywood’s hottest clubs — reporting their movements and interactions in five-minute increments — or interviewing them on the red carpet. The following year, I met a charming, handsome MDMA dealer. Our love was infectious, consuming, and euphoric, just like the drug he pushed. I began to help him sell, and before long, I was using myself. I became addicted. Not to the MDMA, not in the chemical sense where needing the drug feels like needing air. I was addicted to the life. The risk, the pleasure, the love, the feeling that I had something everyone else wanted. And then it was over. And I was out.
After four years in LA, I had a story to tell.
I drafted a memoir proposal — a chronicle of my relationship with my drug dealer and my involvement in his business, juxtaposed with life on the red carpet — and it earned me a place in a prestigious MFA program in New York. The acceptance made me feel like the life I pictured was more than just a culmination of daydreams and desire, it was attainable. At 26, I left LA with newfound self-worth.
I imagined my next chapter like a Sex and the City episode: a studio apartment in the Upper East Side, lavish brunches with my girlfriends, cabbing home at sunrise after nights of martinis and dancing, spending my days writing on my laptop. But this lifestyle required money, and lots of it. I needed a job that, while maybe exhausting me physically, didn’t drain my creative energy and therefore allowed me to write. I’d worked as a Shot Girl, waitress, or bartender on and off through college, and I knew work in the service industry could deliver the balance I was looking for. Bottle Service. That was where the real the money was. As a reporter, my time in clubs was spent assessing my surroundings. I knew how Bottle Girls — sexy, table-side bartenders for the VIP section — operated. Not to mention, I’d done the calculations in my head a handful of times, checking myself in disbelief, and estimated that they were making more each night than I was. Bottle Service could make my life as a writer a reality. At least, that’s how it started.
The spring of my first year of graduate school, I got a job working at a rooftop nightclub on the corner of 5th avenue and 27th street. It was the first place that popped up on Google if you searched New York rooftop bars. At the interview, I wore a short skirt and a push-up bra. My platinum, belly-length hair lay parted down the middle and curled away from my heavily contoured face. The managers asked me three questions and hired me on the spot.
The rooftop bar charged $250 for a bottle of Absolut Vodka which cost seventeen bucks at a New York liquor store. Purchasing “bottle service” at a club ensured VIP seating away from the crowded dancefloor, typically a private booth with standing room wrapped around a small table. Unlimited carafes of soda and juice were included with the price of the bottle, as well as a bucket of ice, stacks of cups, limes, and your own personal bartender — me. What I understood about the transaction was that my clients wanted to feel wanted. They spent hundreds of dollars on cheap booze in order to feel important, especially in the eyes of pretty girls. The fact that I was catering to men made it easy. I had to do two simple things and they were smitten: believe in their dreams and laugh at their jokes. And their dream for the night was to be somebody. I started each sale the same way — physical touch: I put my arm around the credit card holder and said, “I’m here to hang out with you for the night.” The more money they spent, the more time I spent dancing and flirting with them, the liquor was merely a bonus.
What I understood about the transaction was that my clients wanted to feel wanted. They spent hundreds of dollars on cheap booze in order to feel important, especially in the eyes of pretty girls.
A six-foot railing covered in green ivy wrapped around the rooftop, yet every VIP table had an unobscured view of the empire state building. The club was so big that up to twelve Bottle Girls could work at once and each host six or eight tables. Our uniform was to “dress in black.” I wore a skintight mini dress with an open back, save one leather strap that ran down my spine and held the fabric in place just above my butt crack. A bottle in one hand and a cylinder strobe light in the other, I’d walk to the table, drawing the entire club’s attention as I rolled my shoulders to the thumping bass. Attention was the name of the game. More bottles equaled more flashing lights, and credit card holders got to feel like celebrities: big spenders with all eyes on them.
The rules for employees were strict. I wasn’t allowed to drink, and if I was caught looking at my cell phone, I’d be sent home for night. Other “misbehaviors” resulted in a more extreme threat from the managers: immediate termination. Warnings were pelted at us in sharp, stinging tones that made me feel infantile — like a high school student being sentenced to detention for texting in class.
At 4 a.m., when all the liquor bottles were empty, I waited in the line of Bottle Girls to count my cash tips and turn in the money I owed the house. On a good weekend night, I left with thirteen hundred dollars. On a bad one, I’d leave with four or five hundred.
I could see the sun beginning to rise as I walked to the elevator each morning, my money safely tucked away in secret places — stuffed into the padding of my bra, zipped into a boot. On occasion, I went with the other Bottle Girls to a local dive bar, which left its door unlocked just for us, and had a night cap “off the books,” tipping the bartender in cash as he did his own closing work. Then we’d hit the 24-hour French Bistro which made bleu cheeseburgers, croque monsieur, and escargot. I’d stumble up the steps to my E 81st St apartment around 8 a.m., toss my wads of cash in my underwear drawer, and fall asleep without taking off my makeup.
I loved waking up in the morning and seeing the crumpled green bills scattered between black and hot pink thongs. I loved shoving ten twenties in my wallet for a dinner with girlfriends. I loved tipping other waitresses and bartenders beyond their expectations because I could. Because I knew the patience the job required and the joy they’d feel from receiving a 35% tip. I loved walking to LF and buying $250 Daisey Dukes like it was nothing. This was the life I’d imagined.
I never broke the rules at work. The gorgeous view, the flowing cash, and the sheer glamour of it all wasn’t worth the risk of a little buzz. The mandatory flirting was a small aside. I was young and beautiful, which wouldn’t last forever, and I owned my ability to profit from my looks and social skills.
Staying sober at work was good for my writing. Most nights I declined after-work drinks, climbed into bed around five or six a.m. and woke up at nine feeling fresh and ready to work. I’d write for my designated two hours, which often trickled into more, or do edits on a manuscript before my grad school workshops. My life had purpose. My goals were clear. I wrote about selling and using MDMA, and when my classmates asked, “What place are you writing from?” and “Are you, as a narrator, older and wiser?” I thought I was.
On July 20th, everything changed. That day, one of the bartenders noticed the pretty brunette who entered the rooftop, made a quick right, set her purse down on the floor, and walked straight for the six-foot railing. She began to climb, hand over hand, pulling herself over the thick ivy. Later, the bartender explained that he ran out from behind the bar and nearly touched her arm, but she’d already let go.
She was ten tables away from where I stood, a bottle of Veuve Clicquot my in hand, popping champagne for a group of Japanese businessmen who looked at me with unabashed stares.
A few customers — frozen and helpless — saw her fall, and soon a crowd gathered. My coworkers and I, catching a break between our needy tables, walked in that direction to find out what was going on. We expected an engagement, which was a common occurrence because of the beautiful city skyline backdrop. The news spread in whispers between the staff — some of whom had worked at the club for over 6 years and had never witnessed a suicide. I remember feeling as though the anticipation of the night evaporated from my being as though by force.
“Get back to your sections!” A manager snapped, his bushy, wrinkled eyebrows wet with sweat. The bite in his voice jolted me back to action. I turned quickly, the echo of months of “or you’ll be fired” threats reverberating in my head, and walked away from the railing and what had happened there.
My hand shook as I poured another round of Veuve. I could feel the eager eyes from my clients who were paying for my acknowledgement. But I couldn’t look at them. The muscles of my face were flaccid. I couldn’t smile. I couldn’t engage.
I returned to the Service Station, a fenced-in alcove that housed our computers and supplies. The other girls all stood there, immobilized in varying degrees. A tall, stunningly gorgeous Brazilian Bottle Girl had ribbons of tears streaming down her cheeks and couldn’t seem to catch her breath. I forgot what my table had requested.
“Why are you all back here?” The manager shrieked, annoyance singeing his voice. “Get back to work.”
“We’re staying open?” The Bazilian girl asked.
Despite her tears, he looked at her with disdain, as though he was a college professor and she was asking, genuinely, if Santa Claus was real. “Why would we not?” he said. And that was all he said.
The Brazilian girl tried to calm her sobs. A bartender handed her a black napkin, but the dark ink from the cheap paper stained her face. I turned to look at the computer. I tried to remember what my table had asked for.
While the managers roped off the side of the roof from which the girl had jumped, we were supposed to act like nothing happened. When the police came and huddled around the railing, we were told to ignore it. If a customer asked what was going on, we had to play naïve.
They held the line at the club’s entrance, and the ignorant customers, finished with their liquor, left one by one. Most of the rooftop emptied, but my table still had a bottle of champagne to drink. So while the other waitresses huddled in the Service Station, tears spreading from one to another as if in rounds, I had to continue to flirt, make mimosas, dance. I didn’t have time to feel whatever it was that I was feeling, something I couldn’t quite grasp. I had men to serve. Money to make.
Within two hours the managers opened the front doors again, and the night continued as though the suicide had never happened. As though it were no different from any other night.
I woke up early the next morning and pulled out my laptop. I started googling and sifting through news coverage to see what I could find. Once I found the girl’s name I researched her — LinkedIn, Facebook, whatever info I could find. She was about my age. I tried to piece together her story. She was pretty, young, fresh-faced. Who was supposed to care about her? I clicked through her photos, burrowing backwards into her life. Days back. Years back. Who was supposed to be there?
Then my focus changed. I needed to know what the press was saying about the club that kept its doors open. Kept its doors open despite the fact that a young woman had died there. Or had chosen to take her last breaths there. There had to be backlash, and I wanted the backlash to be damaging enough that customers would stop showing up, even if that hurt my own finances. I wanted it deeply, furiously, in a way that made my fingers fly over my keyboard, my eyes speed through sentences.
There were reports condemning the club’s approach, but they were published soon after the event. And in general, there wasn’t much coverage of what, to me, was a dramatic and monumental New York story. But I had been the press, I had been a reporter. I knew what must have happened. In order for the club to be first on the list of rooftops that appeared on Google, they had to be paying a PR team who knew how to execute strong Search Engine Optimization practices. If they could do that, they could bury a story, save the club’s reputation. They could disappear a young woman.
A few weeks later, on a night off, I went to a different rooftop bar with a group of friends. In the elevator, there was a large promotional poster. On it, a man stood on the ledge of the roof, facing out toward the skyline with his arms raised on each side.
“This is a completely inappropriate advertisement!” I yelled at the elevator attendant who shrunk his head into his neck in alarm. “You should take this down. Now. Take it down now.”
My friends looked at me with wide eyes and gaping mouths. I wasn’t a person who yelled. I wasn’t a person who spoke sharply to others. I swallowed hard and clenched my teeth as we rode the rest of the fourteen stories in silence.
To my friends, to the elevator attendant who had absolutely nothing to do with the creation or placement of the poster, this was an ad that spoke about joy and freedom. The beauty of the city skyline and the pockets of opportunity within each of the glowing windows. But to me, it advertised that fragile line between life and death. It showed a person standing alone with a choice. Who was supposed to care about him?
The elevator doors opened, and I exhaled. I walked to the bar, my heeled shoes tapping on the linoleum floor, ordered a Ketel One, and placed my credit card on the sticky countertop.
“Wanna close out?” the bartender asked me, as he handed me a highball filled with clear, bubbling liquid.
“No,” I said. “Leave it open.”
“YOU NEED TO BE ON THE FLOOR IN THREE MINUTES.” The elevator doors parted and I had yet to take a single step onto the 20th floor when I was met by the unnecessary outrage of my least favorite manager and his thick, wrinkled brows. I had three minutes until the start of my shift, and it took less than one to pin on my name tag and set my purse in the locker room. I would be early.
I nodded and walked past him. I could feel my hands starting to shake. I was angry. I was fucking pissed off. He had yelled at me not because he had reason, but because he wanted to.
I stood at the service station, arm extended, finger frozen an inch away from the touch screen monitor. I didn’t want to be groped by strange men whose dreams I didn’t believe in, whose jokes weren’t funny. Who slid their sweaty palms against the small of my back. Who leaned in too close when they whispered so that their lips grazed my ear. Who didn’t care about me for any reason besides what I could give them. I couldn’t do it. Not that night. At least, not while I could feel it all.
I logged in. I created a Spill Tab — an open check for drinks that got tipped over; the mangers voided these at end of each shift. I ordered a vodka water, highball, no ice. The bartender grabbed my ticket, poured the drink, set it on the bar mat, and turned his back. I moved the glass to the left of the computer, next to the bottles of Evian and Smart Water. I drank.
One evening in early August I arrived for my shift and learned that we’d all be taking extra tables that night because one of the girls had a panic attack and was forced to quit on the spot.
“One second she was trying to clock in, and the next she was lying on the floor in the office and she couldn’t catch her breath,” one of my coworkers told me. “Her boyfriend had to drive into the city and take her home. She’s not coming back. Not ever.”
I didn’t ask any follow up questions. I understood. I felt like it could have been any one of us, at any time. We were all one misogynistic comment or unsolicited touch away from total panic. And so I drank.
Summer would come to an end, anyhow. When it got cold enough, the rooftop bar would shut its doors for the season. I figured I didn’t have much to lose.
I never got caught.
In September, a new club on 31st Street and Park Avenue was preparing to open, and I got a job as their sole Bottle Girl. Noble New York was a small nightclub in the back room of an old, divey sports bar. The owner had turned what was once a storage space into an ornately decorated club and hired a Director with a long list of VIP contacts. The booths were made of pale blue fabric with an elegant sheen. The walls were painted navy, and glass sconces held dim lights. The wood on the bar was deep brown, and three golden lion heads were mounted on the wall.
The grand opening was on a Monday night during football season. Guests needed a password to get in the door. There was no paying your way inside. By midnight, the tiny club was packed wall to wall with guests: NFL players, rappers, girls who had acquired their own fame on social media. The DJ played hip hop, and I ran through the crowd in high-heeled boots.
Whenever I stopped to enter orders in the computer, the manager walked over and yelled “Shots!” and the bartender poured a round. The manager was a good-looking guy with a bushy, brown beard and contagious energy. He gave his employees the benefit of the doubt, letting us drink and keep our cell phones with us, trusting in our own desire to make money. His trust was freeing. I felt some semblance of control. At the very least, I wasn’t being treated like I was in grade school.
Opening night was all Noble needed to gain momentum. It became the go-to spot for celebrities who knew they could escape the paparazzi, and I was there to serve them. Kevin Hart, Michael B. Jordan, and Neyo all bought tables from me. The bottles were twice the price of the rooftop’s, and 20% gratuity was included with each check, with an option to add an additional tip. Celebrities were always generous.
One night, I arrived for my shift at 10 p.m. wearing a short skater skirt that showed off my muscular legs, but hid the curve of my ass. My hair was pulled into a half back ponytail, the kind Ariana Grande liked to wear for music videos and performances. The manager called the staff together. We stood in the middle of the eerily empty dancefloor, soaking in the silence.
“Drake is buying out the club for the night.” He said.
My jaw dropped. Fuck, why I didn’t I wear something sexier.
“His table has a seven grand minimum, and he wants to DJ.” He said.
Drake was my favorite musician by a landslide. I played his albums while I worked out, while I got dressed for girls’ night, while I wrote, before I fell asleep, and for a thousand other occasions in between. One of my girlfriends gifted me a pillowcase with his face on it for my birthday. I shoved my most ergonomic pillow into it and slept on his photo every night. I lusted for his beard, his rounded shoulders, his pink lips.
I went to the bathroom and pulled my hair out of the ponytail. Yesterday’s curls sprang back to life with a few twists of my fingers. I used the hairband to tie my already cropped t-shirt into a knot directly below my breasts, showing more of my stomach. I hiked my skirt up. In the mirror I practiced bending in different directions, analyzing which angles looked sexiest. Thank god I had on a black, lace thong. With my knees locked and my torso leaning over, you could see the fold of my butt cheek.
When he arrived with his entourage, I approached the table and placed my hand on his shoulder. I felt his warmth, I wasn’t sure how I managed to talk.
The night was a parade of 1942, Grey Goose, Dom Perignon bottles. When I poured Drake a glass of champagne, he leaned into my ear.
“Is this for me?” He said. His voice was different than on his records, his Canadian accent unrestrained.
“Yeah, it’s Dom Rose.”
“Thank you,” he said, earnestly, as if I wasn’t just doing my job. “That’s so nice of you. I really appreciate it.” He placed his hand on my elbow.
I couldn’t believe this was my life.
A month in, the manager grabbed my hand in the middle of the dance floor yelling, “You need to come with me right now!” His eyebrows pulled together. I wondered what I had done wrong.
He dragged me down the hallway and into the employee locker room — a small space barely big enough for two people. I stood there trying to look apologetic. Then, his face relaxed and he pulled out a tiny zip lock bag filled with cocaine.
“Welcome to the family,” he said as he dipped the edge of a key into the white powder and held it to my nose. I inhaled without hesitation.
I sold more bottles that night than ever before. I talked quickly to customers and leaned in close.
That week, I learned that one of the bartenders, a South American man with shoulder muscles bigger than his head, was selling grams of blow from behind the bar. A bar-back sold MDMA and eighths of marijuana, and one of our regular customers sold weed edibles that were indistinguishable from store-bought candy bars, until you ate one.
For months I never bought the drugs myself. I’d follow the manager into the locker room and we’d snort bumps together — an average of four trips a night, convinced it was for energy, to keep us clear-headed. We were always drinking.
I’m not sure exactly when I transitioned to buying bags for myself, but it was easy. If I didn’t have the cash on me, I could pay the bartender at the end of the night when I did my closing work, or during our next shift if I forgot. He didn’t keep track of what I owed him, but I did, and I made sure to always pay.
The drugs, the liquor, the famous clients with their heavy credit cards. It made me forget what it was that I was really selling.
We were making more money than any of us ever had before. I asked the credit card holders for their cell phone numbers. I kept in touch. I texted them to come see me tonight. They returned, they spent more money, I flirted more, they tipped extra. A portion of my tips were allocated to the bartenders and the barbacks, and we all drank hard every night. We gave away $2 champagne as a bonus bottle for big spenders. I placed my thumb over the opening and shook it up and down. The liquid shot out in every direction, raining over the cheering clubgoers, landing on designer shirts and fake tits. The bartenders — glassy eyed and slurring — filled their mouths with high proof liquor, held lit lighters with their arms outstretched, and sprayed their incendiary spit across the flame, sending a flickering fireball over the bar.
My work life was fun — something I hadn’t had much time for with the pressures of graduate school. The drugs, the liquor, the famous clients with their heavy credit cards. It made me forget what it was that I was really selling.
Cocaine made the enchantment linger. It made me not feel the hands that still slid down my back or stroked my hair. It suppressed my shifting sense morality, the memories of the brunette girl, the voices of old managers who got off on insulting young women. All the moments that made me want to curl into a ball and cry just faded away into one cloudy blur that I imprisoned somewhere inside me and refused to let out.
One night, a group of men in tight fitting jeans came in for bottle service. When I asked for their credit cards and IDs, they gave me international passports. I returned with their bottles, and one of them asked if I knew where they could find some blow. I watched the muscle above the corner of his jaw flex and relax as he ground his back teeth together. I’d been around enough high people, been high enough myself, to recognize the subtle movement in his face as a clear sign: he was already geeked. Yes, the passports could have been fake, a cover for a drug bust by the police. But this minor facial twitch, this was real. I told them I would get them the drugs. I ran between them and the bar, exchanging cash for grams of cocaine.
And just like that I was a dealer again. Just like I’d been in the memoir I was writing, about a life I thought I had outgrown.
In May, nine months after joining Noble New York and despite the drinking and drugs, I graduated and earned my master’s degree. I left the program with straight A’s. I gave myself the summer off before submitting my proposal to agents and looking for a job in corporate America.
I had people who cared about me. Family back in California and friends, good friends, in the city. They came to my thesis reading and applauded. That’s how they saw me. That’s what I let them see.
September 1st, I told myself. That’s when I’d get serious again. It felt like a thoughtful plan, but it was the first time in a long time I truly didn’t know what was next for me. I didn’t know what my future held.
I fell in love with New York that summer. I spent days on a friend’s yacht off New Rochelle, or dancing in the sand at the marina on Dykman. I went to sports games with tickets given to me by clients I’d met working at Noble. At parties, strangers would shout at me, recognizing me as the Bottle Girl of Manhattan’s new hot spot.
But that was all they recognized me for: free liquor, expensive flirtation. And I never once stopped to question if I recognized myself.
It was surprisingly easy not to write that summer. I didn’t have a single creative urge.
In July, a full year after the suicide, a friend hosted his birthday party at Noble. I bought a gram of cocaine for the occasion thinking I would share.
Throughout the night, without really noticing, I finished the blow on my own. When 4 a.m. rolled around, I wanted to keep the party going. Abandoned by the club crowd, I decided to call my best friend who had spent the night at home. She lived in an apartment complex with a pool in New Jersey, and I woke her to ask if I could come lay out and tan. She agreed, probably thinking that I wouldn’t make it anyhow.
Back at my apartment, I changed into my bikini, threw on denim shorts and a tank top, slid into metallic platform sandals. I took the bus downtown, transferred to a subway, got off in midtown, walked West towards Penn Station. The sun was out. I checked the train schedule. The clock on my iPhone read 8:15. I’d lost the last four hours. There was an 8:30 train.
I ran. My duffle bag — stuffed with sunscreen and a beach towel — flopped against my back. My platforms pounded the subway stairs. Once inside, Penn Station looked like a carnival, brightly colored T-shirts and dozens of rolling suitcases, the mass of people moving in the morning rhythm like dancers in a parade. I sprinted through the crowd. The smell from food vendors permeating the air — frying dough from Dunkin Doughnuts, greasy hash browns from McDonalds, nacho cheese from Taco Bell.
Still, I missed the 8:30 train. After buying the next available ticket, I texted my friend to tell her I’d be on the 9:15 instead.
“You’ve told me that about a hundred times,” she wrote back.
Everything around me started to slow down. I noticed a mother holding tight to her toddler’s hand, her curly ringlets bouncing as she waddled on chubby thighs. A group of girls about my age stared down at a single iPhone, giggling as they walked. They wore heels and A-line skirts in pastel colors. They’d come into the city for breakfast, I was sure. Their day was only starting. A tall, handsome man with a brown leather brief case tapped his foot in the ticket line impatiently. His hair looked like it had once been gelled straight back, but now clumpy pieces fell over the side of his face. He probably hadn’t planned on spending the night in the city.
I checked my phone and saw that between purchasing my ticket and sending the text, I’d called my friend a few times as well. It had only happened a couple seconds earlier, but I didn’t remember it at all.
Just then, I realized that the tops of my feet were burning. Blood oozed from where the metallic straps crisscrossed on the tops of my arches. I slide my right foot backwards and found a ribbon of raw skin, blood, and pus. Seeing it only made the pain worse. A few steps away was a tourist shop, and I bought a pair of hot pink, plastic thong sandals with “I Love New York” written across the soles in lime green writing. I limped to a bench where I sat and watched the second hand of an oversized clock tick and tick.
I made it to Jersey, carrying my bloody shoes. I fell asleep — for the first time in over 36 hours — around noon on a lounge chair by the pool.
The day after my cocaine bender, I looked at the scabs on my feet and thought about my life since graduation. On one hand, it had been a dream: parties and drinking and drugs. But since May, I hadn’t given one thought to my actual dreams: my writing career, teaching, publishing.
I thought about the narrator of my memoir and the person I was now — constantly at nightclubs, using and selling drugs. How different were they really? And how could I tell my story if I hadn’t learned anything from it?
I decided to take a hiatus from cocaine.
Quitting was easier than I’d expected. My addictions had never been chemical. I declined offers for free blow and didn’t buy bags myself, but working at the club was my income and my means of living. And what I didn’t want to admit, was that it had become my identity as well. In fact, it’d been nearly three years since I’d held a corporate job.
At work I continued to drink. Within minutes of arriving for a shift I’d start to feel melancholy and foggy. I can’t do this, not tonight the thoughts began to creep in. I’d ask the bartender for a shot, and then another, and then another. Three shots deep, I felt normal — my usual outgoing, flirtatious self — but not at all drunk. Throughout the night, I’d try to get drunk on purpose. But without the cocaine — the upper combining with the downer to keep me some version of aware — I blacked out, slurred my words. Frequently, I woke up wondering how my shift had ended, if I’d turned in my cash correctly, and how I’d gotten home. I nursed the hangovers with order-in food and Netflix binges. I wasn’t writing.
Then one morning in early October, I woke up with a particularly bad hangover. My head throbbed and my eyes felt heavy and weak. I called my manager, pretending to ask about upcoming reservations, while secretly checking to see if I was in some sort of trouble from the night before.
“Last night got wild,” he said. “Everything’s good though, the work got done. But hey,” he paused, long enough for me to know that what came next didn’t just refer to the previous night, “Are you okay?”
To my surprise, I started to cry. I held the phone away from my mouth, so that he couldn’t hear me sobbing. With the back of my free hand, I wiped the tears from my cheeks. I hadn’t realized how long I’d been waiting to be asked that question.
I wasn’t okay. I wasn’t a writer or a teacher. I wasn’t shopping my memoir or applying to jobs. I was a Bottle Girl. I had to admit.
“No,” I said, holding my breath as I spoke. I quit my job. I quit bottle service.
I got out of bed and walked to my kitchen. I took four Advil, chugged a full glass of water and then another.
My head pounded as though my brain were digging a tunnel through the front of my skull. I pressed my thumbs against my temples. The hangover wouldn’t last, but for a couple minutes I concentrated on the pain, making sure I would remember this feeling. Then, I sat down and opened my laptop.