Same As It Ever Was

I arrived in Los Angeles last Thursday.

It was my first time in LA in a year, save for a layover at LAX on Christmas Eve.  Once on the ground, I headed immediately for my rental car, and then for my best friend’s house.

She was going through a divorce.

I never wanted to join you in this, she said to me upon my arrival. We sat around the table and the cats circled us.  The little one — the black cat — had had an allergic reaction to some medication and had lost her fur.  Half-naked and mangy-looking, she curled up in my lap.

I looked around the house; the place where we’d had her wedding years earlier.  I’d flown in from New York for it.  A month before her wedding, I’d sat in a courtroom in the suburbs of Los Angeles with my brother and watched the judge sentence him.  And a week before her wedding, I’d stood up in a courtroom in Chicago in front of Judges Posner, Easterbrook and Wood of the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals, and argued a case of civil procedure.  I’d never felt so much like a lawyer in my life, but I knew at her wedding that I was only a lawyer’s wife — and barely that — and my life and job were teetering at the brink of destruction.

What’s the best advice you can give me as I’m about to be married? she’d asked me the night before her wedding, as we laid together in her bed.

You’ll wake up a few years from now, and look at him, and think, Oh. You again?  I said.

I looked around the house once more — how strange to think that only last summer we were planning a party and her beloved husband had been sitting right beside us.  Now, gone.  A ghost.

Let’s drive.

When you have come of age in California, you know how to Drive.  You know the canyons; the sunsets.  You know Sunset.  When in doubt, you worship at the altar of four wheels.  We stopped at my parents’ house so I could drop off my luggage and change clothes, and then we were off.

Where are we going?

Dunno.  Beach?

Traffic.

I’m taking 126.

Right. 

We went West until West turned North and we watched the sun hover above the Pacific before it sank below the line of the water.

I thought we’d go to Santa Barbara.

We exited the 101 at Cabrillo Boulevard at twilight; the sky heavily pink’d and purple’d.  We parked the car so we could walk around, and we agreed to have dinner on the pier.

Take a picture of me, Jade said as we walked.  Her maxi dress flapped behind her.  She was backlit by the setting sun.  It was perfect; the moment was perfect.  If I’d loved her in a different way, the moment would have been unbearably romantic; as it was, the scene was heartbreaking; nostalgic.

Down the pier we walked until we could find the least awful seafood joint, and we had ourselves seated for dinner.  Inside, there was a guitar player, backed by a synthesizer.  He played like it was 5 o’clock on the Lido deck.  But it was 8 o’clock on the pier.

It seems funny that our friendship has lasted five times longer than either of our first marriages, Jade said, pausing briefly on the word “first” like it was sour.  Neither of us had ever intended to enumerate our spouses.  Eyebrows raised at our own peculiar lot, we lifted our glasses and clinked them together. What else was there to do?

We finished our dinners and flirted with the server like we’d done since forever.  But times had changed, and now, we were ten years older than the waiter, versus vice versa.  Then we tumbled back out into the salty-sweet night and walked down State Street under an almost-blue moon.  Walked where I’d walked as a teenager with my girlfriends; as a university student with my boyfriend; last year with my New York friends after climbing Mt Whitney.  And again, now.

Nothing had changed, really.

Jade and I had shared everything: finishing grade school; graduating from high school.  She was there at my UCLA graduation.  We stood beside each other on our wedding days.  When we were each married, we’d shared the same bridal veil, even.

In fact, I had come across that headpiece just the other day as I reorganised my closet.

You know, I still have the veil we both wore at our weddings, I observed, quite out of the blue.

Get rid of the fucker.

Indeed.

Then we laughed and laughed, because there were things we could shed and things we could not.  There was pain that was easily sloughed like a ready-to-pick scab, and the offensive reminder of our innocence, ignorance that was hanging in my closet was one such healing wound.

We were the same as we ever were; same as it ever was — before we began the long drive back to Los Angeles, the 101 a fiery trail of tail-lights rimming the Pacific Coast.

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