By Courtney Camden
Today is my day off. I am sitting in a coffee shop pretending to read articles for the first college course I have taken in three years. In reality, I’m on Instagram. It has become so natural to regard this small grid of photographs as the sum total of my life’s achievements. They are highlights that show the world “I am just fine, thank you,” that neither gut-wrenching grief nor long-term depression are matches for me and my collection of flouncing skirts and colorful handbags.
I originally dove into my work as a retail muse at Kate Spade right after my beloved Nana died, maxing out credit cards and using a good chunk of my inheritance to acquire the leather bags and satin dresses that I would then turn around and sell to women who could actually afford them without having to skip dinner. In between these styling appointments I would glance nervously in the mirror, fluff the back of my hair, and twist to the side to examine the width of my waist. I’d give my reflection a mute nod and return to the dressing room to clean up the unwanted items.
I turn to my coffee, ice slowly melting through the specks of chai as I take a sip, and begin to block out the buzzing of men and women around me talking about their organic baby squash so that I might be able to focus on answering a few emails. It works, for a bit. The sound of ferocious typing from the college student on my right who looks about my age certainly helps my motivation.
It doesn’t take long, however, for my thoughts to drift back to Nana and my first week back at work, which was just a measly forty-eight hours after the time of death had been logged by a tired but unsurprised looking nurse.
I think of the cupcakes the girls all brought me during our late night shifts after they heard what had happened. I remember crying just once on the sales floor, in the months before the funeral (the ground doesn’t begin to thaw in Upstate New York until June, there was no way we could have it in March). Insisting I was fine as our store leader led me to her office and pushed me into the cushioned rolling chair, gently telling me to take a deep breath as I tried to apologize between muffled sobs. I remember buying three pairs of shoes the next day, one of which was the glittering black heel with a large red poppy on the toe that I wore to Nana’s funeral come August. It was a rush that gave me instant relief, punching my debit card into the slot and watching the numbers pop up, signing my name and smiling up at my colleagues. Though, as with most vices, the rush has slowly begun to fade over the past year.
I am looking at photographs of myself in these clothes I treasure so much, plotting my next post and its promotional hash tags, when my phone buzzes.
I’m so sorry, I just heard about Kate Spade.
It’s my cousin who works on the capitol; a woman constantly surrounded by national news and stock market reports. My first thought is that the company has gone under, that I’ll be back to being a hostess at restaurants in two weeks. My heart leaps into my throat and I click out of Instagram, type Kate Spade into my internet browser, and discover that my cousin was not referring to the brand, but the woman, who was found hanging from her doorknob by a red scarf early this morning.
That is how I found out that the quick, curious, playful, and strong woman who inspired a generation of young women just like myself had committed suicide.
My manager emails all of us, then texts me separately. I get up from my seat numbly, ask the man next to me if he will keep an eye on my laptop, and go back to the counter for another cup of coffee. I’ve drunk half of it by the time I work up the nerve to open the first email.
We are instructed not to say anything to any guest or member of the press who might call or come in the store. when the company gives an official statement, we will be notified as to what the company line is. All stores in the United States will be taking down the 25th Anniversary banners that currently hang in the front windows and replacing them with an official tribute to the founder of our brand.
I read the information over and over, but the detail I keep coming back to is that red scarf. The fact that some idle police officer thought to note the hue and later report it to the news outlets. The image is impossible to erase from my mind, and is there as I close my eyes and rub my temples.
I respond to the text message from my cousin dutifully but find I have to reread each reply before truly absorbing a word of the group emails from the company, because all I can think about is the day I almost drove off a bridge on purpose, and how perhaps these handbags haven’t made a dent in all the things the act of shopping once implied.
And so, instead of going on Instagram while pretending to read articles for my assignment, I hit refresh on the search bar of Google every five seconds, scour the web for the slightest development. Nothing sates my hunger.
The rest of the day I get in fights with trolls on the Internet who are calling my brand’s monarch weak and selfish. Has anyone on the Internet ever truly admitted they were wrong? No, not really, and so I know my efforts are just words lost in the wind. I can’t bring myself to care; I type them out with urgency regardless. Later that night, I find myself drafting my two-week notice. I am logging off of Instagram and deleting the app.
It’s funny, how interest in mental health suddenly spikes to record highs after these sorts of incidents. Everyone coming out of the woodwork, preaching acceptance and an end to the stigma so that no one will feel ashamed to ask for help. Give it a month or two; these statements will die down as they always do. The shame and guilt men and women around the world feel for their own mental health failings will come back, when no one is posting about it on Twitter any longer.
I have run out in front of speeding cars. I have gazed longingly at the bottle of pills on my bedside table and forced myself to roll over and go to sleep. What happened today is not something that I can forget with just a strong drink and a good night’s rest.
Tomorrow, I will hand in my notice. If they ask, I will tell them that yes, this has shaken me to my core. Tomorrow, I will stop hiding behind all of the pretty things I’ve collected and walk away.
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