A Guide to Living and Dying on the Digital Frontier

“Remind me again why you’re writing a burn piece about yourself.”

A Guide to Living and Dying on the Digital Frontier
Photo by Jay Wennington / Unsplash

by E.M. Lark

No one has seen Leila Oakley for the better part of four years. It’s for the best. Ever since the journalist’s public breakup with former Hollywood golden boy Ben Woodwick, and the extra-publicized cheating scandal between Woodwick and his “No Roads Left” co-star Arienne Laurel, she seemed to have vanished from the public eye. Her former burgeoning career at Vanity Fair was all but completely shut down. Some insiders report that before she left, she was in complete disarray–

“Remind me again why you’re writing a burn piece about yourself.”

I snap out of the trance and swivel in my chair, turning to face the one voice of reason left in my life. Jo, ever the pragmatist, arches her sharp brows and waits for me to answer. I spit out the strands of my frizzy dark hair from in-between my lips; a pout replaces the strange sensation of chewing on my hair for the past half-hour.

“My editor thinks I need to make a comeback,” I reply, like it’s that simple.

“You already sort of – did?”

“Not exactly. I mean – yeah, people were gonna give it up sooner or later. But that was before I left New York. Before I made it even worse by making a –”

Jo holds her hand out in a firm palm, fingers clenched together. Today, she is the safety monitor and I am the unruly child running in the road. It wasn’t always this way but it sure is now. She shakes her head and approaches me with said hand, offering a firm pat-pat to my cheek that’s more endeared than anything else. Still, I frown back up at her, and prod the bridge of her glasses.

“Leila, you were twenty-two. You’d just had your fucking heart broken. By a guy who lived and died by old Brando film reels, and thought he was God’s gift to cinema.” Jo rolls her eyes and slides her hand behind my chair, before perching herself on the coffee table. “I’ve hardly seen anyone beat themselves up for being human this way. There are way worse people out there that are just going about their day. Every week on Twitter now, there’s some new cheating scandal from some mediocre white guy–”

I laugh half-heartedly, but nothing else comes out. I don’t have much in it me at the moment, save for finishing this stupid article.

“-- so –” Jo continues, and I shut my mouth this time, “You have some chance to run away now. The world isn’t what it used to be. And maybe in some ways it’s even worse, but the women in your position… or anyone in your position … get a little more compassion out of the deal.” She pauses, and snaps her fingers together. “Mostly. Don’t look too far in the comments.”

I finally respond with a curt “You really think I still read those? Lesson learned.” I’d seen enough of it for a lifetime. Several accounts shut down and rising up again from the ashes, just to get privated again. So on, so forth. I couldn’t stay away forever, though.

– and left on equitable terms before anything else could possibly ruin her career. So why now? Why has Oakley returned to the scene of the crime?

Jo makes a good point, though. Things have changed since 2018. I certainly hope they would have, but obviously no one could have prepared us for the social repercussions of a global pandemic. Some came as a saving grace, a call to arms for those who were silenced. Some of it was utter bullshit, because you can’t leave people inside for that long and not expect them to go a little off the rails.

Inside sources report that Oakley has some new information on the wave of Hollywood disasters, from PR fallouts to more serious accusations of misconduct on film and TV sets. Fame once had a friend in Oakley, as a majority of her pieces had been about looking at the humanity of the industry. To find the good in the bad was nothing short of a miracle, especially when she had also been aiding in reporting about the Weinstein cases.

But the seasons have come and gone for Oakley, and this time, she’s got teeth.

“You’re not gonna leak those pictures of Ben and Not-Arienne, are you?”

I jump back again; Jo is once again hovering right behind me, her gaze fixed on the screen. Her head settles on my shoulder.

“No,” I affirm. “-- No. No, I’m not going to do that.”

“You sure about that?” She gestures towards the screen. “Says right here you got teeth. That reads like you’ve already sunken them into something. Unless you’re a vampire and you haven’t been telling me.”

I hate it when she has a point. I stall my hands over the keyboard, backspace button under my middle finger. “I’m not going to… show the pictures. That’s too far. But when it rains, it pours, right? And Benjamin, as always, is rivetingly disappointing. I need to say something.”

Sometimes it still hurts to say about the person who you loved more than anything in the world. Even after he trainwrecked us, we tried. We tried. It didn’t work, and it was better that way – but the hounds will always come running and that is exactly why I had to go.

I don’t owe Arienne Laurel shit, either. But she was weirdly kind to me. We talked and tried to make good. She’s never going to be a close friend but she isn’t my worst enemy either. Maybe I’m still being too nice, or maybe I’m tired of fighting it. Hating her made me hate myself even more.

And with the weapon of Ben’s latest affair in hand, maybe Arienne and I aren’t so different after all.

Is Oakley on a manhunt for Woodwick, and his latest accusations? Or is she back on the trail of exploring the complex world of the rich and famous? There’s only one way to find out. We’re going to go live with Oakley herself on Friday night.

E.M. Lark (they/them) is a writer/reader & reviewer/pop culture drama snoop, currently based in NYC.  Recent works can be found in The Lumiere Review, Cutbow Quarterly, Penumbra Online, Roi Fainéant, among others past and future. They can be found on Twitter at @thelarkcalls.