Allison paced around her living room, waiting for the poll results. She took a long, controlled breath, trying her best to escape the thought that she was about to lose everything. She walked out the sliding glass door and onto the patio of her third-story loft. The boardwalk below was busy with rollerbladers and tourists. She exhaled and felt the warmth of the sun and could taste the ocean. Under normal circumstances, she would have considered it a perfect day.
There were things was going to miss. She’d miss the designer clothes and supplements. She’d miss the daily delivery of gift bags filled with natural oils and cruelty-free makeup. She’d miss the organic dog food they’d send Freddie each month, and she wondered where she’d shop for him now. There would be fewer party invitations, but maybe this will be the fresh start she needed. She’d never felt like she needed a fresh start but had always figured one would come along, someday.
I won’t miss worrying about the numbers, she thought. There would be no more scheduling photo shoots, rescheduling photo shoots. She wouldn’t miss the responsibility of waking up and being “on” each and every day. Maybe now she could meet a normal guy and have a normal relationship. That might be nice, she thought.
“Oh just stop it,” she told herself. There’s no reason to think like that. Everything is going to be fine. This whole thing is going to blow over. What she did was wrong, but it’s not like she killed anyone. People will understand. She thought about that 9-year old YouTube start. Byran something? He threw a toy at his mother’s head and called her a cunt when she interrupted his live stream. The entire internet saw that and he barley apologized. He still has his 12 million subscribers.
She had submitted two public apologies. The first one, They denied. The second one was released but only made things worse. People called it, tone-deaf and too-little-too-late. In the end, They decided to put it to a vote.
On the table, her phone vibrated non-stop. Don’t pick it up. Don’t pick it up. She’d promised herself she would wait until the poll results were in before reading any notifications.
She sat out on the patio and Freddie jumped onto the chair next to her. She looked out at the tall billboard, framed between two palm trees. There were workers putting up a new, coming-soon movie poster. She could always see this billboard from her loft and would watch each week as they rotated on a new movie advertisement. That actor she liked with the award-winning smile now had half his face replaced with a new person’s award-winning smile that she couldn’t recognize yet.
“I can’t believe this is actually happening,” she said to Freddie. Her thoughts were racing again. They can’t do this to me. They won’t do this to me. She hadn’t worked this hard and for this long only to be pushed out now. Her followers would just have to understand. After everything they’ve been through together, they knew who she really was. They knew she didn’t deserve this. She’d given them much more than fashion tips and keto recipes. She’d given them her most personal moments. With every photo and video shared, she gave them a piece of herself. She gave them reassurance during her own moments of doubt. She put her own weaknesses on display so that they might find strength. She’d taken on all their baggage and made it her own, all so that they could see themselves in her.
Sure, she’d made money. And yeah, she liked the attention. But God knows she’s sacrificed. Sacrificed time and sleep. Sacrificed friendships. She’d put herself through years of constant comparison and unforgiving competition. She lived with the perpetual burden of creating and sharing new content every single day, every single night. And now what? They were just going to take it all away and leave her with nothing?
She thought about all the direct messages she’d received over the years. Messages from girls who thanked her for giving them the courage to leave an abusive relationship. The message from the suicidal mother who read one of her free e-books and found the strength to carry on. She inspired thousands to take a chance on the life they always dreamed of. There were hundreds of messages from people around the world thanking her for making Monday morning bearable with her motivational posts.
“They all loved me once,” she said, looking down at Freddie. “Those fuckers.”
There was part of her, however, that felt relief. Relief that the video was finally out. Part of her had always known it would come out. Any time another Public Figure went down for something minor in comparison, she felt guilty. When the bad news would break for others, a little voice would creep into her ear and say, You’re next.
She didn’t know how They found it. She didn’t know how They found everything. But she knew that, sooner or later, They always did. Still, she had begged her parents to delete any copies. Burn any photos. Run over all the hard-drives. They swore they did, they promised her. But as the saying goes, these things have a way of getting out.
She thought back to last week, before the news broke. Back when she could still sleep at night. Back to when she felt overwhelmed with a sense of purpose and ambition. Back to when she would close her eyes and hug herself and feel grateful, grateful, grateful for everything she had and how everything was finally coming together.
Then she thought about the morning it happened. How she woke up and saw it, trending on all the blogs and all the networks. Her worst-case scenario. Her waking nightmare.
Playing on a loop for all the world to see was a home-video, filmed 15 years ago, of her standing in front of the TV watching Peter Pan, dressed up as Tiger Lily, singing the song What Made The Red Man Red? at the top of her lungs. There she was, dressed in a white smock, war paint on her face, with a large feather coming out of her hair. She’s running around the house, reenacting Tiger Lily’s native dance, patting her mouth her hand, screaming OOOooooOOOOoooOOOO. She’s there, stomping up and down the hallways like some feather-clad, tomahawk wielding, monolithic caricature of Native Americans.
And then the worst part, the part they turned into a meme. The part where she looks right into the camera with her blue eyes, her feather hovering over her young blonde hair, and declares, “Ugg-a-wugg-a-wigwam.”
Not only does the video show her portraying a racist-white fantasy of an opposed people, but flagrantly wearing a misappropriation of their garments. It was an open and shut case. She was officially part of the problem.
What excuse could she offer? What defense could she mount? It didn’t matter that she was only seven years old in the video. It didn’t matter that she was “too young to understand.” That was the whole point — she could never understand. She was a white woman. Whether she was a child or an adult she could never understand and so it should go without saying that she should have just known better. There was no arguing this point, she thought.
And why hadn’t she known better? Tiger Lily was always her favorite Disney character growing up. Why did her parents allow her to behave this way? Her father just stood there laughing as he filmed. What kind of sick household had she grown up in?
She remembered feeling a certain moral superiority over her friends who up as The Little Mermaid. At least she’d been smart enough to see Ariel for what she was — another helpless sap who trades in her voice for a pair of legs just to meet some dude with a boat. But God, Tiger Lily? How could she have been so stupid? Native Americans didn’t even have tigers. And now, not only had she participated in the racist misrepresentation on her favorite character, she hadn’t even noticed that Tiger Lily was just another patriarchal pawn, designed to make young girls fantasize about being rescued by a white guy with superpowers who refuses to grow up. I guess the jokes on me, she thought.
“If only I wasn’t wearing that fucking feather,” she said out loud to herself. “I could blame this whole thing on a seizure of something.”
She had a friend who confessed to faking a seizure to avoid a similar situation. She had been at a big Influencer dinner and called a recently transitioned he a she. The whole table went silent and stared at her. Thinking fast, she started to shake uncontrollably and flopped around like a fish on the floor, shouting deranged bit of gibberish that rhyme with he and she and them and they. A few people at the dinner knew it was an act, but no one ever reported her or brought it up again.
It’s too bad, she thought. The feather and face paint would cost her. There was no way to explain that.
On the table, her phone exploded with a new wave of notifications. Don’t pick it up. Don’t pick it up. The poll results wouldn’t be in for another 30 minutes.
Freddie looked up at her and wagged his tail in reassurance that everything was going to be ok. She looked down at him, tears in her eyes. She was humiliated and she believed she deserved it. She felt anger and resentment and betrayal. And at the core of her anger, she felt guilt — guilt for the bittersweet sense of relief that this might all be over, and that she might finally be able to take that long, extended exhale she could never admit to wanting.
She looked down at the boardwalk and saw a little girl standing on the ledge, asking her brother to take her photo while she posed in front of the ocean. Above the little girl, she watched as the workers rolled down the last strip of the new movie poster. She recognized the new face and the award-winning smile. She looked again at the billboard and tried to remember what face had been there earlier. She thought more and couldn’t remember any of the movie posters or any of the faces that had been there before. She thought how strange it was that she looked at this billboard every day and could not remember one single movie poster.
Her alarm went off from inside the loft and a stream of new notification came in. Freddie looked up her at her. The time had come. Her followers had decided. The poll results were in.