It was early in the morning when I first ate toilet paper. My mother and my brother were still asleep. It tasted bad. I cried. I went for another bite. I needed the memory. I was 7 years old, and I knew I needed the memory.
I didn’t eat the toilet paper because I wanted to. I ate it because I thought I needed it for my childhood résumé — so that one day, when I was grown, I could tell people about it.
I’ve always had a terrible case of main character syndrome. I never asked, “Are we there yet?” on family road trips, because I never got bored looking at my reflection in the window. I imagined film credits rolling across my face.
Soon after the toilet paper incident, I saw a big display for “The Corrections” in the Barnes & Noble near my family’s apartment in Manhattan’s financial district. I remember overhearing my mother and father talking about how the author, Jonathan Franzen, had set out to write the Great American Novel, and how he had actually pulled it off.
I decided I would write the next Great American Novel. The idea stayed with me for a long time. Then I ended up in Los Angeles, and all I wrote were tweets. I kept saying I would move back to New York in a month or two. Ten years went by.
I had moved to Los Angeles for the usual reasons. I figured if it didn’t work out, I would delete my online accounts and move to Switzerland. I pictured myself working in a flower shop and writing in secret. At some point, I would leave my journals at a train station. Years after my death, somebody would discover them and I would have a moment of posthumous literary success.
Early in the pandemic, I went to an Erewhon supermarket in a hazmat suit. I chopped vegetables and did nothing with them. I put on makeup and rolled FaceTime calls. A director told me there was no longer a place for people like me in the movies. The future was looking like five blockbusters a year. I should find something else to do.
I went on Raya with my eyes crossed. I matched with has-been celebrities. I signed NDAs. I went by limo to Malibu and Bel Air. I drank mini Fireballs and yammered on about my dead dreams. A friend suggested I see a psychic, but I didn’t have the money for that kind of thing.
My birthday was coming up. It was tricky because half my friends thought I was turning 27 and the other half thought I was turning 28. I was turning 28.
I was staying in a house in the Hollywood Hills. I wasn’t house-sitting, exactly; I was just staying there. I woke up every morning and smoked pot and took a Dexedrine and wrote nonsense in my Notes app as “Milk” played on the big-screen TV.
Rebecca bought me a session with a psychic in Australia who uses WhatsApp and WhatsApp only. I went over to the house belonging to a man who had gone to high school with me. We didn’t talk back then — he was the high school quarterback — and now we were sharing a bong two hours before my psychic appointment. I thought two hours would be enough time to get high and then un-high. It wasn’t. I went to the quarterback’s Subaru Forester to take the session in private.
When I opened the chat, the psychic gasped. He said he was star-struck. He said he was meeting a household name. He said I was going to be like Agatha Christie. But instead of mysteries, I would change the self-help field forever. He said I was destined to write 11 self-help books that would make me famous.
I bragged to every Raya date about my future as a famous self-help writer. On Twitter, a random 20-something told me I should audition to play the lead in “My Year of Rest and Relaxation,” the Ottessa Moshfegh novel that was going to be made into a movie. I was offended, even though it was the only book I had read in two years.
I had no car, so I ate walking-distance Thai takeout. I shopped for sunglasses at gas stations. I started seeing an ex. It was better than being alone and ending up in a Target at 9 p.m.
I thought I had to stay in Los Angeles for my career but I had no career. I wished it were the 1950s so I could lie about my connections or get discovered in a malt shop. The ex-boyfriend bought me 8,000 Instagram followers so I would seem at least slightly famous. I tried not to check it too much. I knew the internet wasn’t a good place for people like me, people who don’t know what boundaries are.
I don’t remember what the last straw was — all of it was the last straw — or how I decided to move back to New York. I don’t remember much about the plane ride either, but there’s a picture on my phone showing me at LAX at 8 a.m. with a pilsner on my lap.
I took an Adderall and carried 14 boxes of books up four flights of stairs. I realized I had no romantic roster in New York, so I went to a party and met a skater. The next day he graffitied “Be Mine Forever” on my front door. I told friends he had begun to stalk me and that I had gone to the police. Really, I just told him to leave me alone and he went away.
I bought toilet paper every day for a week, just to have something to do. Pedestrians looked my way as I carried the rolls home without a bag. It was a funny kind of attention that lasted just the right amount of time.
I got sober in New York. People moved around me and sometimes they even smiled. I talked with them and sometimes I even liked what I said.
Episode is a weekly column exploring a moment in a writer’s life. Annie Hamilton is a writer and performer in New York.