Sarah Hepola

My favorite color is blue. My favorite smell is campfire. My favorite movie is Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, unless it’s Magnolia, which I also love. My favorite jacket is that leather jacket over there, and when I sat down to make a list of my favorite essays, these are the ones that came out.

Lush for Life

I have a soft spot for this story, because it was the first time I published something serious about my drinking. I’d been joking about my consumption for years, but this essay felt like the equivalent of finally looking my audience in the eyes.

In high school, I knocked back Budweiser while the sweet sugar plums on the dance team and the cheerleading squad sipped their dainty wine coolers and passed out on the couch. College was a five-year jag of bargain wine and bourbon. I was good at drinking, which was a relief because I also quite liked it. Being drunk solved one of the key problems of my existence — namely, that I was me.

I Could Get Married Here (But Didn’t)

When my boyfriend and I traveled to Mexico, I thought we might be starting our lives together — instead, we were bringing our story to a close. A sliding door moment, re-considered.

He was the first in the water. I sat on a towel and watched him splash around like a little boy. “It feels amazing,” he assured me, and I waited until strangers had stopped passing, and then I took off my top and the little gingham skirt that hid the heartbreaking part of my thighs, and I hustled out in my one-piece fast enough that maybe nobody saw me. Whenever I allowed myself to return to water, I was overwhelmed by how much I had missed it. Out on dry land, I felt hollow in some indescribable way, but the water connected me to something larger than myself. As the waves gently rocked me and I stared up at the open sky, I wondered why my soul had felt so half-empty before, why I kept frantically trying to fill it.

Watching a Spectacular Public Meltdown with Just a Hint of Jealousy

This piece on enfant terrible Cat Marnell brings together so many of my areas of expertise: Addiction, first-person narrative, celebrity, professional envy, online culture, the drug of attention, women’s tendency to both tear down and idolize one another. I also appreciate the coda to the tale: Cat Marnell really did write that book, and it was a bestseller.

So, what did I think of this writer? In the following months, I thought a lot of things about her. I thought she was a gifted memoirist and a self-mythologizing poser. I thought she was an addict in love with her own damage and a deeply troubled soul. But mostly what I thought after clicking the link in that e-mail was: Damn, her Whitney Houston piece was better than mine.

The Fabulous, the Terrible Mr. Lumpyhead

I briefly worked in a foster home for children with catastrophic illnesses. I wrote this short essay for my own blog, but the story is so odd and confounding that fifteen years later, I still think about the baby at its center.

I call him Mr. Lumpyhead because he has this amazing terrain of a head. His head has cliffs and peaks and ravines. It’s because he had too much fluid in his cone-shaped head, so they drained the fluid, which collapsed the skin into this bumpy pattern, because Mr. Lumpyhead doesn’t have a skull. I’m not sure what he has or what creates the shape of his lumpy head, because I don’t really know much about medicine, least of all about how a baby survives without a brain.

Ask a Former Drunk: It’s Time to Talk About Alcohol and Sex

I often get asked about booze and sex, and I usually offer up some calculated talking point, but this column was the first time I managed to lasso my far-reaching thoughts and experiences and conflicting ideas onto the page. There’s a letter from a young man that I included toward the end, and it hits me each time I read it.

Much of the conversation around alcohol and sex has focused on assault—the line at which intoxication becomes incapacitation, for instance—but what we fail to mention is how haunted people can be by the sex they actually, technically consented to.  I struggle to categorize my own stumbling, partially forgotten, drunken smear of a sexual history. But this past year has shown me there is a lot of silent suffering out there on the topic.

Every Woman Should Travel Alone

When I was 27 years old, I took a five-month road trip around the country by myself. Since I wrote about that trip on my old blog, in fits and starts, I never had one essay that tackled the experience. Then I read Cheryl Strayed’s Wild, and got inspired.

But I try to hold on to the girl who was young and stupid enough to believe in foolish adventures, the girl who was equal parts ready to fall in love with you and hurl a ball peen hammer into your front windshield. I had a strength I did not realize, but one I did not forget. When I am restless and defeated and scared again, I tell myself this: that the greatest trip of my life came because I did not get the things I wanted.