It's September of 2004. I'm preparing a script for submission to a fancy actor and one of the freshly printed pages slices my thumb. A paper cut that won't stop bleeding. I'm panicked, not from pain or worry, but because I'm not sure I have time to get another, non-bloody, script printed before the FedEx deadline. I call the mailroom and beg them to put a rush on the print order. I cover my thumb in Band-Aids. I keep working.
I've just been promoted from my very first Grown Up job to my second Grown Up job, going from talent agent's assistant to agency partner's assistant. Creative Artists Agency is a top firm representing players in Hollywood and beyond, so I don't mind that my tasks are secretarial: I may be at the bottom of the ladder, but I'm learning from the best. I am exhausted, more exhausted than whatever I think baseline exhaustion is, but believe without a doubt it's because I am working all the time.
The minute I learned someone would pay me not only to read and watch material but to help shape it into its final form, it's all I wanted to do. A college film major, I interned at production companies over summers, and when I graduated I went straight to CAA: per multiple mentors, it was the best place to learn fast. My résumé got me the interview, and the blind confidence of the newly graduated cinched the job; I promised to work around the clock if that's what it took. And it is indeed what it takes: I've always worked hard, but now I work harder. I'm increasingly tired. I bruise easily. I've always bruised easily, but these are different. Bigger. Occasionally I wake up with nosebleeds. I got them as a kid, so while it's odd that they've returned, it's not so odd that I need to be concerned. What I am concerned about is excelling at my assistant duties while also proving my creative acumen by reporting on material my boss doesn't have time to read. This is how I'll get a coveted executive job.
But it gets harder to ignore these things when other people start noticing. At a party, a med student does a double take at my bruised legs. I admit it isn't my best look. "You should go to the doctor," she says. I scoff. There's no way I can take time off. It's not that my boss wouldn't let me, it's that I'm 23 and a future Master of the Universe — even asking for an hour away is a chink in my assistant armor. My dedication to this job is a badge of honor.
Finally, if only to get everyone off my back, I make an appointment with a doctor my first boss recommends. The doctor, whose office walls are covered with accolades, has kind eyes and a long white beard. He tells me there's nothing to worry about, I'm probably anemic, and takes some blood. I speed back to the office. What a waste of time.
The next day, the doctor calls my work line. He believes the lab that tested my blood made an error, and he needs me to get a second opinion immediately.
Is he on drugs? "It's the middle of the day, I can't leave."
He replies that if the results aren't a mistake, I need an immediate blood transfusion, so I should probably take this seriously.
A tear escapes from my eye, a traitor to the "no crying in baseball" attitude I strive to maintain at work. The boss asks what's wrong. I explain.
"Darren will drive you." He points at my fellow assistant, my partner in long hours and dreams of promotion, who's thinking the same thing I am: Who will answer your phone? I ask the question, hating that my voice shakes as I do. He shrugs. "Honey, I'll be fine."