When Cat Marnell was serving as an assistant at Lucky magazine, she fought to project an image to match the rest of Condé Nast’s ranks of stylish, put-together editors-in-waiting. But beneath her Chanel-lacquered façade, Marnell was also fighting a few more sinister problems: a struggle with bulimia and a debilitating addiction to prescription drugs. In her new memoir, How to Murder Your Life, Marnell details her highest highs and her lowest lows. Here, an excerpt.
I was hounded by publicists wanting me to try their clients’ beauty services. Everything was free. Comped! I didn’t even pay my own tips — I put them in my expense reports! “Salon gratuity: $100.” I got my eyebrows tinted and waxed every month by Maral Balian — she’s incredible; she’ll change your face, and she also does the Diandra Douglas, ex-wife of Michael — at the Warren-Tricomi Salon, which was past the Eloise portrait and up the stairs in the Plaza Hotel. And I got my bikini area lasered gratis at Completely Bare. The Flatiron District spa had white leather sofas and bowls of lavender M&M’s and chatty young aestheticians who put goggles on you and then . . . shaved you, you know, before gooing up your nether regions with ice-cold jelly and zap- zap-zapping your hair off.
What else? I got highlights from Sharon Dorram — a big, big-deal colorist — at John Frieda uptown, where four people worked on me at once.
“Foil,” Sharon — who was hugely pregnant — said to her coven of assistants every minute or so. Otherwise, the salon was dead quiet. I felt like I was getting brain surgery! “Foil.”
But the biggest treat by far was getting to go to Dr. Frederic Brandt — Madonna’s dermatologist, and Jean Godfrey-June’s, too. His offices were in east midtown over by the river, and decorated with photos of nearly nude men. The first time I went, I saw a famous editor in chief with white numbing cream all over her face! She was teetering down the hallway looking lost and clutching a Birkin bag. Dr. Brandt was almost Warholian looking — kind of bizarro and awesome, with platinum-blond hair — and very kind. He was a Botox maestro who’d invented a special bent-needle technique, but he only ever gave me laser treatments. (Like everyone in my industry, I was shocked and saddened by the news that Dr. Brandt had hung himself in his Palm Beach home on April 5, 2015.)
I didn’t take advantage of these after-work perks nearly as much as I could have, though. I took a lot of Adderall throughout the day; by the time everyone else left for their evening workouts at Equinox or dinner at Café Cluny with their boyfriends, I was weird and speedy — flying high — and I wanted to stay put and f–k around. There was so much to do! I even became friendly with the crew who cleaned at night; I gave them perfume and colognes and body wash. I’d stay at the office until ten or eleven — and sometimes well past midnight — amped up, researching beauty products online, organizing Jean’s office. Oh, and scavenging through the trash. Lucky shared the sixth floor with Condé Nast International, so there was always a Dumpster over there full of treasure. I’d root through it for French Vogue — then edited by Carine Roitfeld, and full of killer Terry Richardson fashion shoots — and Vogue Italia, which regularly featured fifty or sixty pages of unbelievable photographs by Steven Meisel. I’d use the excellent Lucky color copiers to reproduce my favorite images for collaging.
I never wanted to go home. Whenever I wasn’t at Lucky, the badness came back. I would be très gloomy — Eeyore-esque — trudging to my building from the train. And I was probably the only twenty-four-year-old on the planet who dreaded weekends. I didn’t go to clubs anymore; I binge-ate and vomited pizza and muffins on Friday nights. Sometimes I took Adderall at two in the morning just to make my bulimia stop, but then I couldn’t sleep. I’d crash at two o’clock Saturday afternoon and then wake up around ten at night, go out and buy food, and do it all again. (Is reading this stuff getting repetitive? Welcome to addiction.)
I was always relieved when Monday came. Beep. I went through the gates in the Condé lobby in a Vera Wang slip and a fresh layer of Kiehl’s Sun-Free Self-Tanning Formula from head to toe.
Insomnia? Bulimia? Drug problem? Me? I hoped the look said. But I have such a healthy glow!
I was self-soothing with food on weekends because I was — can you guess? — lonely. I had my dream job, but I’d worked so hard to get there and had isolated myself on pills for so long that I still didn’t have any friends. Alex and I hadn’t spoken in months. No one from his world — my old one — called me. And I had no romantic or sex life at all. I day-dreamed about having a boyfriend like all the other Condé assistants, but that was a joke. How could I sleep next to a man every night when I couldn’t even sleep by myself?
Instead, my steady dates — and no matter how drained I was, I always kept them — were with psychiatrists. I was seeing a new guy named Dr. C. He had an office on Park Avenue in the 70s with arched French doors, beautiful crown moldings, and a waiting room full of Sotheby’s catalogs. I’d found him by cold-calling every uptown shrink in my new job’s health insurance directory. Dr. C. was first to call back. After a few appointments, I realized he was my favorite doctor I’d ever been to — which is different, mind you, than being the best doctor I’d ever been to. He was very liberal with his prescriptions. His handwriting was so shaky that pharmacists sometimes couldn’t even make it out — that’s how old he was — but he basically just jotted down what I told him to on his pad.
“Thirty milligrams of generic Adderall four times a day,” I’d say.
“Thirty . . . milligrams . . .” Dr. C. would repeat. “Adderall . . . ge- neric . . . four times . . .” I could barely even take all the speed I got from him! But somehow I managed.
From How to Murder Your Life by Cat Marnell. Copyright © 2017 by Cat Marnell. Reprinted by permission of Simon & Schuster, Inc.