Monthly Archives: September 2015
My floaty turquoise dress looked beautiful when I was at home. Perfectly hemmed to be just above the knee, with a cinched in waist and bright shiny beading, I thought it was perfect for this black tie optional affair. The tulle seemed to flow around me like fairy wings as I pulled up to the Beverly Hills Hotel with my friend Melissa, ready to accompany her to her friend’s wedding.
Although I had no investment in the bride or groom (I was, as certain person put it, “the sexy plus one”), this wedding was a big hurdle for me. It would be my first wedding since my divorce three and a half years ago and my first single girl wedding as an adult. I was ready to get over this obstacle and move forward so I could attend my friends’ upcoming weddings with no need to freak out over it — not to mention possibly get a little action on the side from a lonely groomsman. I was doing this Wedding Crashers style, except I was actually invited.
Melissa was on my arm as we entered in the posh lobby. A man with a white coat and black bow tie greeted us, but as we sat down in the corner, I watched the groups of tuxedoed guests, draped in diamonds and long evening gowns, greeting each other with posh accents. They swam around the lobby with fake air kisses like they were going to the Oscars, dressed all in black. My turquoise flowy frock stood out in the crowd, and I became more aware that this dress once upon a time had come from Nordstrom Rack, not Neiman Marcus. My broke, normal, lower middle-class American human side was showing.
The average wedding in Los Angeles costs over $36,000, but this was over the top. Red carpets, the pristine blooms and attired help that wandered through the lobby. This commoner was driving up to the hotel’s entrance in a Nissan Maxima and discount dress. It was me infiltrating a world of old money that I had never been a part of, had always rebelled against while at the same time exhibiting heaping amounts of ambition to have a better life than the one that was given to me. Judging by the eyes that glanced over me, I knew this wasn’t going to be a wedding where 4,000 Syrian refugees were fed instead of a lavish ceremony and reception, but a full-on display of pure excess. All I could think was, So this is what happens when a 99 percenter goes to a 1 percent wedding.
We walked into the lush green courtyard where no one alerted the hotel staff that California is actually in a drought, and were handed pink lemonade in wine glasses that was the exact same color of the hotel exterior. Instead of a plain cloth aisle runner, it was a stretch of ivory carpet, and the wedding canopy had thick foliage of white roses and other various shrubbery. The string quartet in the corner, also draped in black, were playing classical pieces such as Beethoven’s “Ode to Joy,” as the guests whispered to one another about random, trivial things. Looking at the bottom of my empty lemonade glass, I hoped it had been spiked.
Since my return to this great city three and a half years ago, I find that most places in Los Angeles I will somehow find a way to fit in. Every club, bar and restaurant in the city of angels, no matter where it is, seems to have a corner for a little devil like me. Even though there are the haves and have nots in this city, we all seem to blend in a bit in pursuit of good times and happy occasions.
Despite that, there are certain parts of the city where these differences are more pronounced, like my time in Watts and its barred homes. And I wasn’t technically in Los Angeles at this shindig. This was Beverly Hills, the very heart of it, where ladies with pulled back dyed hair to hide their gray, with chic gowns and shining jewelry pranced like ponies on display. Every time another wedding coordinator passed me by on the side with a transparent earpiece in, all I could see were dollar signs.
“I’ve been to six weddings here,” Melissa said. “My parents got married here too.”
“My uncle got married here, 18 years ago,” said, “But I don’t think I would know anyone who would get married here.”
“No, Bryce wouldn’t get married here. She’d probably get married in New Jersey.”
I looked around. “I guess we’re going to New Jersey at one point.”
We continued to talk about the weekend’s past events, from the guy at the bar who was trying to get me to give his friend a lap dance to my mom’s birthday, all with my occasional slipping of the f-bomb. Melissa was laughing while trying to get me to quiet down, and I was left questioning that pink lemonade, slipping on my sunglasses at the bright sun shone down and joking how this was the only way I was going to get a tan.
Suddenly, the bridal party arrived, and the wedding began. The rabbi and cantor from the poshest synagogue in Los Angeles walked up the aisle, although I was wondering if they actually knew the bride and groom or they were there because of the location. As each of the groomsmen walked up, I began rating them, with Melissa giggling and shushing me every step of the way.
As the wedding began and the bride and groom went under the wedding canopy, I couldn’t help but to let my mind wander a bit. As each step of the ceremony took place, I thought of my wedding, with little details that time slipped away. How when the wine was blessed during my wedding, I kept my lips tight and didn’t drink a single drop. When the rabbi who introduced us came up to talk and spoke of my ex’s love of football and how him getting married during football season was a huge sacrifice. Asking my now-ex who the Chargers were playing right there under the wedding canopy, which left the entire room laughing. There was no laughter here.
Perhaps it was one of the side effects of divorce, which in my case included several trips to social services, dead-end jobs to pay the bills and a lower credit score. As the rabbi prattled on about love and forever, I didn’t want to be bitter, but it couldn’t be helped. There wasn’t always forever, no matter how much we wanted it. There wasn’t always a guarantee of love, and even if there wasn’t a divorce in their future, of happiness. Marriage takes work and commitment on a regular basis. That is one thing that doesn’t always come even if you throw gobs of green cash and flower petals at it.
As the groom stepped on the glass, my excitement grew. I loved this part, my favorite part of any wedding. I wanted to scream out “Mazel tov!” the way I had at other Jewish weddings and start singing. But at my voice reached a fever pitch, I realized I was probably 100 decibels louder in joy than anyone else. I lowered my voice as the clapping of the surrounding people felt more appropriate at the hotel’s famed polo lounge than at a wedding. Yet as the groom and bride kissed, all I could think was, My ex never kissed me under the chuppah. He hugged me instead.
We headed into the cocktail hour, Melissa on my arm, and another white jacketed man greeted us.
“There is the open bar over there, with sushi, and then outside you’ll find shrimp, lobster and oysters at the raw bar,” he said. For a 99 percenter, I do happen to like fancy food things, so as Melissa found some people who she knew, I saddled up for all the gourmet goodies, topping it off with a glass of cabernet. People would try to come up and greet me, but the moment they heard I was a plus one there was an immediate scurrying away.
Downing the jumbo shrimp and snacking on the New Zealand rack of lamb servers were passing that around, I sat on the comfortable wicker couches outside. As the sun went down, the math in my head was whirring up, remembering those old wedding planning days. Each appetizer was probably another X amount per person, on top of the costs per plate of the dinner and the open bar. There were a lot of hungry people tonight throughout greater Los Angeles, and they certainly weren’t eating rack of lamb. Hell, I wasn’t most of the time.
As I looked at Melissa, talking to one of her old friends, she was straddling this line of blending in with the one percenters better than me. I didn’t know how. All I knew was that the jumbo shrimp were about the size of my fist, and a part of me loved and hated them all at once.
A white-jacketed server came out to ring the bells and sing out in a pleasant voice that dinner was served. I ushered Melissa to dinner, and the opulence surrounding me was nothing short of insane. The flower arrangements looked like a Martha Stewart Wedding magazine invaded the room for battle, and the gold-rimmed charger plates with the menu, accented with calla lilies, took the photo-ready feel over the top. It was so overwhelming that I challenged one of the guys at the singles table to a light saber duel with the flower just to tone it down.
I looked down and there were so many utensils and glasses that I couldn’t see straight. My light saber duel partner came over and he instructed me to eat from the outside in. His different colored eyes flashed at me as he talked to me about going to Brown with the groom for undergrad before the groom went off to Harvard for law school. I gritted my teeth a bit, knowing that Cal State Fullerton graduate was probably not something I should boast about here, no matter how strong our journalism program was.
Course after course came — ravioli appetizer, elegant salad with wine dipped pears, for me a beef tenderloin entree, cooked perfectly rare. My light saber partner got more and more drunk, coming over to my chair and leaning over it to an absurd amount. I asked him if he was staying at the hotel, and he said no — he was staying at a hotel over by Melissa’s house, and Ubered over. There was almost an insinuation in his voice that, after I dropped her off, I should come by.
I accompanied Melissa to the bathroom, passing the white curtains and the little Hispanic ladies in French maid outfits who were standing in the corners. As we headed back, I heard the music playing from the band. As the doors opened, I overheard a woman talking into the microphone, but after a few words, I realized it wasn’t talking. It was rapping. And the song was Warren G’s “Regulate,” the gangster classic about violence and, um, the rap term for girls.
“I don’t even know this song,” Melissa said as I was left stammering. The song then it parlayed into Ice Cube’s “Today Was a Good Day.” I shook my head, unbelieving of what I was hearing. The band was shouting, “Shake ‘em up, shake ‘em up, shake ‘em up, shake ‘em,” referring to South Central sidewalk craps games. The pale skin of all the guests on the dance floor in their fancy tuxedos were swaying back and forth with the older, wrinkled ladies draped in diamonds and portly gentlemen trying to appear hip and knowing of the music.
My mind went to that recent visit to Watts, seeing those bars on the windows. And I looked around the room at all the guests, wondering if anyone in there ever had stepped foot in South Central Los Angeles at all, let alone without going, “Where’s the nearest juice cleanse?”
As we settled back in our chairs, Melissa and I began talking, just the two of us. Even though my voice would slip into f-bombs and had to get louder to talk over the music, we talked freely. We spoke of the years past and how, a year ago, I had a falling out with two friends, and how we should be making up. As we discussed our friends, my resentment towards my one percent surroundings and overanalyzing of wedding culture faded into the candlelight. My friends, the people that I loved the most — this was what mattered, this was what counted in life.
For some people, all that counted was large shrimp, fancy dishes and Martha Stewart. Yet I remembered at the ceremony, when the rabbi was discussing about how the decision was made about coming together and standing strong as two, I was changing his speech in my mind to one. It wasn’t my wedding but my divorce that made me stronger in love, not only for myself but for many more people around me. It would make me stronger for when it was time to return under the chuppah with the best partner and create what I was always meant to: A loving family, a happy life made up of the right people.
When we left that night, I said goodbye to my light saber partner, making no further inquiries about his hotel room but watching him try to encourage me to crash the brunch the next morning. Melissa and I continued talking about our lives and the people we love, and how even she felt awkward in the room where this extravagance was on full display, and she had grown up around it. As I dropped her off and headed home, singing to my music, I felt more fulfilled than any one-night stand from a wedding could bring me.
There was a confidence in me that I finally knew what mattered, and it wasn’t the appearances of decadence and class. It was in that there was love in everything that I brought into my life and to the lives around me. It was about finding joy. It was about creating love with someone, not smoke and mirrors that show up on one day of your life and might disappear on the next. Sure, there are flirtations, one night stands and other various dating antics in my life, but one day there won’t be. There will be a groom to my bride once again. But until then, I’m liking my life right now.
The next morning, with the previous night’s makeup flaking underneath my eyes, I woke up to the text of a friend. “Hey, did you ride around on a groomsman last night?”
I laughed to myself, loving how my friends make me smile every day then messaged him back with a joke. “Nope, and am highly disappointed in myself. After all, the Beverly Hills Hotel does have a polo lounge.”
The story of 9/11, in my mind, started with my dad leaning over my bed to kiss me goodbye. He was about to take a plane to Amsterdam. Yet the air around me seemed to shudder. And halfway between consciousness and unconsciousness, all I could think was, “Something’s not right…”
Everyone knows where they were during that day when the breath seemed to catch our throats and our bodies began shaking in grief. Some people had loved ones in the buildings or the planes. Others lost people who were on the ground. The stories are all different, yet somehow the same. Either way, we lost something of ourselves that day as Americans that we have been clamoring forever to get back by any means necessary.
As the years go on, we tell the tales of where we were that day. The stories of who we lost, and now, the stories of the people who have someone defied the darkness that marks this day — babies born, celebrations taking place despite the horrors. We weave our words to help heal the scars that have been left behind, when in truth they don’t really fade.
In recent days, I have been listening to StoryCorps, an nonprofit organization dedicated to recording moments in the lives of everyday people. One of their missions has been to record the stories of all the people who were in the twin towers by getting their tales from the people they left behind. The stories were seemingly simple: A man who lost his fiancée after dropping her off for work, a woman whose ex-husband called from the 103rd floor to tell her he always loved her, a man who lost his two sons, a firefighter and a police officer. Every 9/11 story resonated like it was the first one I ever heard.
Lots of people like to dismiss stories. They are a waste of space and time, they don’t mean anything. After 9/11, I decided that I should become a journalist, but in my years of being such in my career I was often screamed at and dismissed for my interest in more narrative focus rather than traditional pyramid style newspaper writing. My editor in Santa Clarita would yell at me daily about being the worst writer he had ever seen; a sentiment that shifted once I switched over to the business desk.
As I met people who poured their hearts and souls into opening up their little shops, talked to people on the phone whose passion resonated through tones, I saw the power of stories: An immigrant man who sought to make a new life for his family. Two movie directors who never forgot where they got their start. A single mother who found her calling in doing for others what they couldn’t do for themselves. All of them were beautiful; all of them were real. Their stories made my words shine. These were the stories I would miss over the years as I fell into desperation and darkness.
We do tend to forget things as time slips away from us as other emotions settle in to replace the sadness, such as anger and fear. We forget the story of that day that shaped us, that 9/11 where a whole country cried out and forgot all the things that divided us and remembered the things that united us. How strange it is now that we are a country more divided than ever before, where lines have been drawn in stone rather than sand that the tides can take away, where chaos and ego reign over restraint and the common good. In our blindness, other lives would fall throughout the world in addition to the ones here.
The words of a friend of mine resonate in my head after my divorce: We would take three steps forward, but then have to take two steps back. The one step was still there, and although we were shaky on it, we had to figure out the path to take to make it right again. I’m hoping we’ll get there. We may, we may not.
In the meantime, we all carry our own stories from the darkest days, whether on 9/11 or in the years to come. The tales we tell shape the people who we are, make sense of the universe and all its strange complexities, of both tragedy and time.
It took me forever to find mine. It is the story of a girl who would fall into darkness, but pulled herself out of it. She had her heart trampled on and broken, felt despair as life threw her curve ball after curve ball, but yet never gave up. She created a new life for herself despite the odds; wanted to quit, but her body wouldn’t let her. Although she would never forget the depraved times of her life, she would remember them while living in the light, because that’s the only way she would survive. I was hoping that the people from the StoryCorps 9/11 project found those types of endings for their stories, too. We may never know.
On this solemn day, I try to remember the people of this country, individuals who lived normal, non-extraordinary lives who had the worst of extraordinary circumstances happen to them. The children without fathers, the husbands without wives, the ones who tried to run but eventually had death catch up to them. Each of them has something to say, and each story they tell is vital to us as human beings.
I want to remember those who had lives that were just beginning, loved ones they wanted to kiss goodnight, hours of conversations that were meant to be had but were cut short with the knife of tragedy. I want to remember the heroes who were willing to lay down their lives for those people, not those who were standing on the sidelines, biding their time to exploit it for their own gains. These stories aren’t complex, although the sheer number of them threatens to drown us in grief. But for their sake, we must never forget.
These people, these stories are the ones that keep us going, because they remind us that love is the greatest power in the universe, and you can’t smoke it out of us. It binds us forever so that not even death can steal it from us; instead, we pass it on. Today, go beyond remembering the over 3,000 people who lost their lives, because every number there is one soul, one life, one voice that we should do everything in our power to keep from being silenced forever.