This is the twenty-fifth chapter of “Scammer,” a serialized novel about ambition, fame, and influence in the age of the Internet.
This chapter contains descriptions of prescription drug abuse.
I’m probably going to get cancelled for saying this, but … Adderall was so much fun.
Like, so much fun. I’ve only been in love once, and that was nothing, nothing compared to what I felt when I was speeding my ass off. Adderall made me a powerhouse. Adderall made me my best self! Adderall made me feel like a god, like anything I did would be worthy of praise and glory. On Adderall, I was cold and confident yet somehow also exuberant, flowing with good ideas that I couldn’t wait to execute. A true boss bitch, in every sense of the word.
About fifteen minutes after I washed down that pill Elio gave me, my mind began to clear up. One by one, those panicky, doubtful voices shut off until there was only the goal and a clear path toward achieving it. Gone were my worries about the time, about letting the company down, about my reputation going to shit. It was just me and the work. My creative side, which panic had chased into hiding, emerged in the newfound silence. Suddenly, I knew exactly what to say and how to say it.
I sent the revised ad copy at eleven fifty-eight PM, fingers fluttering over my sweaty keyboard, throat parched, tongue strange and heavy in my mouth. I’d given this campaign my best shot. If it flopped, at least I’d be able to say that I was proud of what I’d done.
The campaign did not flop. I’m still not sure how they made it happen, but our partners somehow managed to release everything on time. Apparently, this sort of last-minute scramble was more common than I’d thought. The public, none the wiser, ate it up — NipNop’s Australian user base grew eightfold over the next two weeks, with the average person spending three more hours on the app now that they had an algorithm serving them curated content. My follower count spiked, too. Every day, I inched closer to a million people watching my every online move.
“She does it again!” Oliver boomed into a microphone at the next company all-hands meeting, a blinding white grin threatening to split his face in two. He turned to face the mass of product designers, finance bros, and software engineers spread out on the floor, grown-up kindergarteners sitting criss-cross applesauce in hoodies and bright turquoise T-shirts. “I’m so glad that we brought Helena on board before some other lousy startup could convince her to work for them.” He shot me an exaggerated wink. “You’re a total asset, babe, and I’m not just saying that because you’re my girlfriend. Congratulations, Helena!”
Whistles and thunderous applause ensued. Impulsively, I rose out of my seat and ran to give Oliver a hug, making sure to lock eyes with Andre as I did so. His scowl deepened, and he crossed his arms over his chest like the sore loser he was.
That’s right, bitch! I thought gleefully. Eat your motherfucking heart out.
I bought a handful of pills from Elio after that, dutifully waiting a day between each dose so that my tolerance wouldn’t rise too quickly. I wasn’t abusing anything, I justified to myself, because I was only taking Adderall for work. It wasn’t like I was popping pills recreationally, even though the little blue circles made work a lot more enjoyable.
Later, I’d learn that Adderall usually made people less inventive, but that was never the case with me. The drug split my mind into two parallel processes. One was laser-focused on the task at hand, chugging along until it got things done. The other was a magical, glittering concept factory that daydreamed, plotted, and visualized all the cool things I could do next. Together, they made a damn good team. Never had I ever been so productive. Never had I ever been so happy while being productive.
It was Adderall that finally led me to find myself a team. If I was going to be doing work, I wanted to do only the most effective, impactful work. This was something I knew already, mind you, but I really felt it then — why did I spend so much time on boring things when I could pay other people to do the same for much less?
Thus began the hiring process, which started with an open call for resumes on Instagram. The right people had to be just as obsessed as I was, just as single-minded and type-A and willing to do anything to succeed. And, of course, they had to be Helena Holloway fans. Loyalty was the most important quality. At the end of the day, I still ran the Marketing department. I couldn’t have my team disagreeing with me on the overall vision.
— Me jumping up and down on the bed in my office in a turquoise dress, my face a smiley blur: Are you hungry and foolish? Do you think you have what it takes to work at a fast-paced, fun-focused startup like NipNop? DO YOU WANT TO GET PAID TO BE AROUND ME FOR TWENTY-FOUR HOURS A DAY???? (Okay, maybe not twenty-four, but you’ll be around me a lot). Then working at NipNop Marketing may be the right job for you! Benefits include unlimited vacation time, all the snacks you can eat, a likely uptick in your follower count, and full access to yours truly. Sorry, no health insurance or 401(k) matching at this time … though who needs those when you’re young and hot? Plus, you’ll be making six figures. College education and hard skills not required because I can teach you everything you’ll need. Slide into my DMs with your resume. You know you want to 😏
— My desk, piled up with hundreds of printed-out resumes: Thank you for all of your submissions! The hiring period has now CLOSED. I will DM you if you get an interview. Stay tuned!
— The NipNop lobby, filled with college-aged kids in smart casual wear, some of them with terrified-yet-exhilarated looks on their faces: Interviews TODAY!! Look at how nervous y’all are, it’s adorable. May the odds be in your favor!
— A group shot of my team sitting on my bed, with me in the center: Congratulations to everyone who applied and suffered through that grueling interview process! The winners have been selected among you all. Meet NipNop’s new marketing team: Bradley, Brigid, Ari, and Christina! Bradley handles general strategy and sales (and fetches coffee for me whenever I need it because he’s a good boy), Brigid does graphic design, Ari does copywriting, and Christina is our premier analytics bitch! If you unfollow me, she WILL find out 👀 Of course, I’m still your head bitch in charge. All social media posts and Stories still come directly from me!
Letting go had been a good choice. After months of half-assing them at the bare minimum, I started putting effort into my posts again. My strength was in storytelling, and that was where I redirected my efforts.
— A winking selfie: HELLO, INSTAGRAM! I’m back! Fully. I’ve liked running a startup to having a very needy baby before. Now that baby has sufficiently grown up enough that I can send it to daycare without worrying too much about its well-being. Bradley and co are the best babysitters. I should know — I convinced Bradderz to drop out of Berkeley just for this job! Love you, Bradderz.
— A green awning against a blue sky, with the words “HAYES VALLEY INN” printed in white serif font: Enough of that boring business talk for now. Just like the best mommies who leave their children in the hands of professionals, I am busy embarking on my own adventures in my best dresses and sparkliest jewels. Today I’m going for a weekend stay at the Hayes Valley Inn, a cute-as-fuck hotel situated right between Alamo Square and the Civic Center. Care to join me?
— Me and Marnie sitting on a bed with our arms around one another: Why are we here, you ask, especially since I already overpay for a circular room in the heart of the city? Well, we’re here because Marnie Tucker, author of “I Hope They Serve Fireball In Hell,” invited us, and one doesn’t just say no to Marnie’s charms. Plus, the Inn is all old-world Victorian glamour and that is so on-brand that I just can’t say no. Marnie and I are going to spend the weekend doing exactly what two hot girls in a hotel do: stay up all night and smoke weed and climb on to others’ fire escapes! This one’s gonna be an Instagram-Only Special™ because I haven’t done one of those in forever. Buckle up! I heard that the SF hills can be quite the ride for non-locals.
— A headshot of Marnie in the hotel hallway, looking seductively over her shoulder: Before we begin, allow me to introduce you to Marnie Tucker. Though her reputation precedes her, I’d like to acquaint you two on a more intimate level. You most likely know that she’s a pickup artist who writes about her sexcapades in the most hilarious way (I’ve read a draft of her next book, “Once Bitten, Twice Shy,” and trust me — it’s even better than the first), and that she will literally do anything for a good story, but did you know that she has an EYE for photography and is one of the most loyal people I know? Seriously, we were in line at Blue Bottle when I spotted a cute girl whose number I wanted to get. “Stand back and watch the magic,” she said, then proceeded to talk me up to the girl so much that she agreed to get drinks with me that very night. That’s the Marnie I want you to know.
— Me on the fire escape in a short pink dress, smirking at the camera: Marnie is also brutally honest. “Helena, you’ve got to put on shorts under that dress or you’re gonna give the entire street below you a peep show.”
— Me in a leather chair by the turret window, left leg raised to show a huge purple bruise the size of my head: Honestly thought everyone else was overreacting to my bruise until I saw this photo and screamed. OOPS! Hahahahaha. Marnie and I were playing an impromptu game of tag when I slipped and took a wee tumble down two flights of stairs. Fortunately, they were carpeted! And fortunately, there doesn’t seem to be any other staff or guests here today. Don’t worry, it’s less painful than it looks! A chaotic delight, I am.
Manic-pixie, stimulant-assisted chaos looked good on me. I never mentioned the crashes, the come-downs so rough that they left me alone in my office, sobbing like a malevolent deity had decided to steal all my possessions and kill everyone I ever loved. This was the dark side of these magic pills: whenever the exuberance wore off, my world turned bleak, pointless, grey. Not even cuddling with Matisse, the workplace cat, could make me feel better.
Whenever I felt especially bad about myself, usually in my work bed at around two in the morning, after everyone else had gone home, I liked to curl up under the covers and turn on God View, the secret feature that let me see any user’s Nops, private or not. It was like watching unscripted reality TV — I was privy to so many lives, so much petty drama and little secrets.
Though I could’ve been like Norma Wallace or Finnick Odair, leveraging such knowledge for personal gain, or like Kieran Irving, publishing confidential information for fame, I was only really interested in knowing what my friends and frienemies were up to. Marnie sent lots of nudes, which was expected. Andre spent most of his time arranging “meetups” with various men — though he trusted the truly rowdy stuff to a different service, since he’d been the one to come up with God View in the first place. God View was a good name for the feature, rendering any user omniscient.
Sadly, the person I wanted to spy on most no longer used NipNop. Nevaeh had dropped off in late May, right after Stories started becoming a thing. What was she up to now? Was she still at Stanford? Was she still with Kayleigh? I had no way of knowing, and all the other private Nops in the world couldn’t satisfy my awful curiosity.
Why had I run away from her all those months ago? That thing with Kayleigh had just been a misunderstanding, and I’d blown it up to such huge proportions with my antics. Lying there in those lonely hours with no one but myself as company, I turned the incident with Nevaeh over and over in my mind. If I could go back, I never would have left like that. If I could go back, I would make it all okay again.
Maybe I could reach out? No, that would be too creepy. I remembered what Kayleigh had said that one time I went to Stanford to make amends — Nevaeh wanted to be left alone. I’d already hurt her too much. I didn’t want to re-open old wounds by popping up out of nowhere.
As it turns out, I needn’t have worried. In late September, a new email sat in my inbox. Subject title: Hey.
So it’s been a while since we’ve spoken, and I really hope things are going well in San Francisco. I’m not sure why I’m writing to you, to be honest, besides the fact that I’m kind of tipsy and I’ve thought of you nonstop since March. I figure that a tipsy email is better than a drunk text, so I’m writing this as eloquently as I can and hitting “send” before I can talk myself out of it.
You know how you go to a new place with a person and that location becomes forever stained by your memories together? I was in Sonoma Valley this past weekend and there you were — stealing a bottle of sauvignon blanc when the attendants weren’t looking, taunting the bees pollinating the flowers, demanding a better shot. Not literally, of course, but you might as well have been, from the way I was acting.
You’d like the lavender fields better in the early fall. I think we went too early last year. This time around they were in full bloom, bursting with that splendid purple color that you love so much. I hear there’s still a week or so before they all go away. Maybe you could do a photo shoot there, if you’re not so busy. I feel like your fans would eat up that sort of thing.
I’m sorry that I never reached out after what happened in Los Angeles. I was going through a lot, and though a good amount of it was due to you, I blamed all of it on your actions, and I guess that wasn’t fair. Like I mentioned earlier, I still think about you every day. I think about how well we clicked, how I’d finally found someone who immediately understood me, every part of me, and I wish I hadn’t thrown that away so readily. It’s hard to make friends like that. You’re everywhere these days and it kind of kills me that we used to be so close and are nothing at all now.
Anyway, congratulations on everything you’re doing with NipNop. You must be so happy, what with 900,000 followers and counting … I feel strange being an excited onlooker. Are you still working on your book proposal? If you need edits, or if you just want to hang out again (which I don’t blame you if you don’t), you know where to find me.
Your friend always,
Was this a joke? Maybe Andre was playing some sort of elaborate prank on me. But no, the message had been sent from Neaveh’s Stanford email address, and the writing style — wistful, melancholy — was all hers. I didn’t believe in manifestation, but here it was. Maybe all of the obsessive thoughts had been worth something.
For this was truly serendipitous. To be honest, I still hadn’t written more than four chapters by the end of September, and of those four chapters, only the one that told of my name change from Nicole to Helena was any good. I had no idea why the book was coming along so poorly. Maybe I didn’t want to write yet another Feminist Memoir, or another tome of circle-jerk loosely billed as life advice. Maybe I thought romance an overwrought topic and no longer wished to write about Oliver. Maybe I was paralyzed by the thought of beginning, especially since I’d read Marnie’s new book. Everything I wrote would suck in comparison, I just knew it. Or maybe I secretly feared that I could no longer write. Somehow, becoming a founder had zapped it all out of me. Perhaps working in tech had dulled my senses, reduced my wordsmithing abilities to captions or snappy one-liners that sounded good as sales copy. Even Adderall couldn’t do much. On it, I could do everything except string together sentences for And We Weren’t Like.
Whatever my blocker was, I could use Nevaeh’s help. And I certainly wanted to see my best friend again, even if it meant I had to throw my entire manuscript in the trash.
You’re totally forgiven! I was also a piece of shit back then, especially to you, and I’m sorry if I put you through any emotional distress. I think about you all the time too! NipNop is great but I’m kind of on the struggle bus with that proposal. Wanna come over tomorrow and help me fix it? You are, after all, the best writer I know.
The reply came back in less than ten minutes. Absolutely! You still live in the tower, right?
Of course, I wrote. Can you make it?
I’ll take the Caltrain up right after class, she said. Expect me at around 8:30 PM.
The next day, at eight twenty-five PM, I stood in my tower, peeking through the curtains like a turn-of-the-century widow, heart thumping so profusely that it made my lacy bib collar flutter up and down. I wore the same white ruffled dress that I’d gone to the lavender fields in. Maybe it could provoke some good memories.
There was so much I wanted to say to her. I hoped that everything would go well.
Five minutes passed. The N train whooshed to a stop in front of my house, bringing with it a sea of people, none of them Nevaeh.
Fifteen more minutes went by. Nothing.
Hey, I texted her. Running late?
What if she didn’t show up? Was she ghosting me?
A half hour crawled along. I remained standing, immobile, feeling vaguely nauseous. Great. She was ghosting me, and I deserved it all.
Then came a loud knock on the front door. And another.
I jumped — I’d been so lost in my thoughts that I hadn’t even seen the Uber come by to drop Nevaeh off. Ohmygodohmygodohmygod, I thought as I flew down the stairs, nearly slipping several times on the smooth wood.
There she was. The first thing I said to her after six silent months was “Hi.”