Ruin Me

By: Jamie Brenner

“Art attracts us only by what it reveals of our most secret self.” ~Jean-Luc Godard

“Think outside the box, collapse the box, and take a fucking sharp knife to it.” ~Banksy

Chapter One

There’s a thing that happens at these art gallery parties filled with the beautiful people. Everyone orbits the room pretending not to look at the one person they all want to notice them. They pretend that her glance isn’t the ultimate prize.

I’ve been playing this game my entire life.

The owner of New York’s most prestigious art gallery, she is a pale-skinned, willowy brunette, wears dark-red matte lipstick, and is dressed in all white. There are several ropes of pearls around her neck and a cigarette in her hand—even now, when no one smokes in public anymore. She’s like a living photo from the past, Coco Chanel or Dovima. She is timeless but perfectly of this moment. Elegant, powerful, elusive.

She’s my mother.

“You should stand closer to him so you get in some of the photos,” she says to me so quickly and quietly no one else would have heard.

I immediately cross the room. I’m a junior at NYU, an art major, and girlfriend of one of the hottest up-and-coming painters in New York. But around my mother, I’m still the six-year-old who ignored her warning never to use the scissors without her permission, only to cut my own bangs and ruin my hair for a year.

Hoping to satisfy her, I stand closer to my boyfriend, Brandt. It’s not even his night, but he looks like the star. And in three months, he will be: It will be his paintings on the walls, his sound bites the journalists and bloggers want. But for now, New York magazine just wants a photo of us together for their party section.

“I’m going to get some fresh air,” I whisper to him, uncomfortable with the attention. It’s late, close to midnight by now. He looks at me, his blue eyes shiny, his cheeks flushed from excitement and wine. He is talking to the showing artist, Dustin McBride, whom my mother just poached from Vito Schnabel’s gallery.

A few months ago, Dustin wouldn’t have given Brandt the time of day. But now Brandt is part of the club. Not just an “emerging” artist but one about to have his first one-man show with Anna Sterling.

“I’ll go with you,” Brandt says, but I know he doesn’t mean it. He’s high from all the attention, buzzing with it. Hovering close by is Inez Elliot, my mother’s trusted gallery director and probably the coolest girl I know. She has pale coco skin and bleached blond hair offset by dark eyebrows—Rita Ora on steroids. I smile at her; she looks away.

Other women are circling—the art groupies, the hipster writer from The Times, and even the new “it” girl model with her heart-shaped lips, pink-edged blond hair, and stud in her nostril. Brandt drinks it all in. He was made for this.

“I’ll be right back,” I tell him.

Outside, I gasp with relief when I feel the humid June air. The streets of SoHo feel like they are running on different oxygen than the freezing gallery. For the first time in hours, my goose bumps disappear.

This wasn’t how my summer was supposed to go, I thought while crossing Greene Street. I’d wanted to be spending this week packing for a trip to Spain with my roommate, Niffer. We’d spent months planning our trip and even knew where we would eat dinner our first night—Els Pescadors, for tapas. It’s where Niffer met her boyfriend, Claudio, last summer. He still works there.

Now Niffer is going without me, thanks to my mother.

I inhale the summer air greedily and walk slowly down West Houston Street in my impractical shoes and sheath dress. The initial elation of escaping the party turns sour as I start to perspire. I’m exhausted.

I always imagined working at the gallery alongside my mother. Dreamed of it, actually. I knew it was my future. But now that she wants me to start this summer, it feels all too soon.

But, I can’t say no to my mother—I never have. And now I’m paying the price for it. Keeping up with her breakneck work ethic is going consume the next two months of my life, as it has consumed all of hers. She only took time off from the gallery twice in twenty-five years: when I was born, and then six months later, when my father killed himself.

My phone vibrates in my dangly, beaded vintage clutch. A part of me dares to hope that it’s Brandt, saying that he wants to get some air, too. “Let’s get pizza,” or more likely, “Let’s fuck.”

I pull the phone out. It’s my mother. “Where are you? Richard wants a quote from you.”

“From me?” Richard is the art critic for The New York Times.

“Yes, Lulu.”

“I’m outside. I just needed some fresh air. I’ll be back in a minute.”

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