Edie Sedgwick was my idol.
As a junior in high school, I read the biography Edie: An American Life by Jean Stein and George Plimpton, so I knew she grew up on a ranch, the troubled scion of a privileged family, had been institutionalized at Silver Hill and sculpted a horse at Radcliffe. In 1965, she became the most glamorous of Warhol’s “superstars,” the one who best set off his own spectral image when they appeared in photographs together. I’d seen footage of her in Ciao! Manhattan balancing on a stone wall, a celestial tightrope walker; and later, a tragic burnout, camping at the bottom of an empty swimming pool. She died only months after the filming was complete, of an overdose of barbiturates, at the age of 28. To me, 28 seemed plenty old, and besides, I had a premonition that I would die in a car crash at that same age. Before then, I was destined to become Warhol’s last starlet: Edie Sedgwick reincarnated as a middle-class Jewish girl from Connecticut.
I knew what I had to do to become Edie. First, I had to become as exquisitely, breathtakingly thin as she was. (I knew beauty was a prerequisite, too, but thinness you could take action on immediately.) Second, I had to get to New York. When I got there, Warhol would hire me to work in his studio, but would soon realize my destiny and make me a superstar. College was just a means of getting to New York; my real life would be in the Art World. I would make art twenty-four hours a day, and I wouldn’t need to sleep. Or eat.
It wasn’t 1967; the Factory was defunct; the Warhol of the Factory era was no more. But somehow I thought that if I could just be strange and beautiful enough, it would still be possible, in 1984, to find that world—or for it to find me. In choosing Barnard for school, I understood that I was choosing Uptown, not Downtown. But it wasn’t until I got there that it became clear just how different college was from the New York of my imagination. Instead of raising the silk screen from one of those dazzling society portraits while Andy looked on, I was charting the velocity of balls for my physics lab; instead of shooting up in the bathroom with Billy Name, I was locked in a stand-off with my uptight pre-med roommate.