For this Throwback Thursday, I’m going to give you a story I’ve been procrastinating writing for years.
Let’s travel back in time to the eve of my 25th birthday.
It was mid-spring, and I had found myself in gloomy Los Angeles for my brother’s wedding. My brother (because he’s an attention-stealing narcissist) had decided to get married two days before my birthday. (OK, we’re both self-obsessed narcissists). Truthfully, I was thrilled to be back in California. I hadn’t ventured back to the West Coast since foolishly leaving my gorgeous $800 a month apartment in Beachwood Canyon for a $2,000 a month mouse-infested shoebox in Chelsea. My memories of living in LA in my late teens/early 20s were as disjointed as the city itself; I was young and wild and ambitious, but also greasy-faced and acne-ridden and closeted—forever getting kicked out of Sunset Boulevard bars for attempting to buy drinks with my unconvincing fake ID. (The ID described a tall Asian woman; I’m a small Jew). I felt elated to be back in Hollywood in a much more secure place than when I’d lived there.
In fact, in retrospect, I felt rather smug about myself. I could drink legally now. I was an out and proud dyke now. I lived in New York now. Did I mention I was a platinum blonde? It might’ve looked hideous and fake and rendered my naturally raven-colored hair fried to a crisp, but I thought I looked fabulous.
I felt fantastic at my brother’s wedding. I wore an emerald-green, floor-length dress and adorned my crispy blonde head with a luscious flower crown. I made a killer speech, in which I shamelessly told all the 100-plus guests about the time my brother shit his pants while I was in the car with him. I felt utterly invincible. Hollywood was my oyster. The world was my oyster.
Sometime around midnight, my friend Cora* pulled me aside. We were dancing on the rooftop of the Standard Hotel at the wedding after party. I felt really cool smoking my cigarettes and clutching my champagne, even though the bottom of my dress had ripped, and I had somehow lost my shoes.
“Your birthday is in two days, right?” Cora asked.
Cora was a lesbian power babe who owned her own production company. I knew her because she had cast me in a bit part in a short film she had directed once. She had forgotten to put my name in the credits, but I didn’t mind because Cora was the coolest girl I’d ever met. I was merely grateful to have dipped my toe in her exclusive cool-girl orbit.
“Yes,” I purred, ashing into someone’s wine glass.
“Want to come to a party with me? You can bring your brother and a few of his friends. It’s at [insert famous celesbian’s name here) house.”
My heart fluttered. I won’t say the name of the celesbian because I’m not tacky, dahling, but let’s just say you’ve definitely heard of her. She’s had major mainstream success as an actress and is a bona fide rock star, whom I’ve fangirled over since I was 14. For the purposes of this article, let’s call her, Taylor Mallory.
I pretended to think really hard about whether I was available or not. I took a pause so long I could’ve birthed a child in its lengthiness.
“Yeah…” I murmured, making a big show out of checking the calendar on my iPhone. “I think I’m free.”
Cut to about 24 hours later, and I’m in a chauffeured car on my way to my idol’s house. I was with a rowdy crowd: my brother; Blake, a long-haired, loud-mouthed filmmaker (who claimed he had once directed Taylor Mallory in a scene); Thiago, a plush-haired Brazilian artist who told me he was sent to the elementary school guidance counselor for drawing so many pictures of nude women (he’s gay); and Tanya,* a red-haired wild-child who worked as a stylist in the porn industry. Truthfully, I hadn’t wanted anyone in this ragtag crew to come with me to this impossibly cool celesbian party, but Cora had drunkenly invited them all.
As we pulled up to Taylor Mallory’s retro Laurel Canyon bungalow, I took a deep, soulful breath. I’m not going to be socially anxious. I’m not going to be socially anxious. I have no reason to be socially anxious. I’m a gainfully employed cool lesbian who will actually be friends with these girls. I’m worthy. I’m worthy. I’m worth—
“Hey Z!” shouted a loud voice reminiscent of a foghorn, interrupting my confidence-building mantra.
I craned my neck, only to find my 20-year-old friend Kayla standing by the gate of Taylor Mallory’s house, holding hands with her girlfriend who looked maybe 18.
“Uh, what are you doing here?” I asked, with nerves slowly creeping their way across my gut.
“You told me you were going to this party! I thought I would come along,” she sing-songed, her bright blue eyes shining in the moonlight.
A quiet rage washed over me. Had my friend invited herself? I stared at Kayla. She looked so adorable in her denim short-shorts and vintage band t-shirt. Her eyes danced hopefully in the moonlight. Fuck it. Cora did say I could bring people.
“OK. Come on, let’s go, everyone,” I mumbled, leading everyone into Taylor Mallory’s backyard, my eyes peeled like a Florida orange, searching for Cora.
“OH MY GOD, ARE YOU OK?”
“ARE YOU BLEEDING?”
“HOLY SHIT, THAT WAS A HARD FALL!”
A bunch of voices nervously screamed over my head. I had tripped on the cobblestone path leading into the party and face-planted into the ground. My knees were bleeding. My left ankle was already swelling. My mouth was full of dirt. Had I sprained my goddamn foot?
“I’m fine! Don’t worry! It was just a little trip! Shouldn’t have worn such high heels!” I laughed, a little too loudly. I peered out into the crowd. A sea of cool LA dykes stared at me like I was a rare bird in a zoo. They all wore loose tank-tops with no bras, skinny distressed denim jeans, and scratched-up Converse sneakers. I was wearing a long, leopard print skirt and a lace crop top. I wanted to disappear into the smog-ridden air.
Get over it, Zara. It’s no big deal. So you fell? It’s a great conversation starter, my confident self told my insecure self. (What is youth except being caught in a place of wild self-doubt and unwarranted cockiness at once?).
I picked up my sore body off the ground, dusted off my muddy skirt, ignored my bleeding knees and strutted back into the party like I belonged. I grabbed a beer out of the cooler, even though I detest beer, and fought the urge to gag as the bitter syrupy liquid made its way down my throat.
“Sissth,” my brother slurred, swaying back and forth like a sailboat tied to a mooring on a windy day. “Let me introduth you to Taylorrrr Mallory.” We had been at the party for, what, ten minutes? How had my brother managed to get completely plastered in ten minutes?
“No, it’s OK,” I said, panicking. I felt paralyzed and starstruck. It didn’t help that I could hardly walk on my (probably) sprained ankle. I needed a moment to mentally regroup before meeting anyone at this party, let alone a cultural icon.
“You’re sthoo cute!” he roared, grabbing me by the shoulders, clumsily marching me over to Taylor Mallory.
“I hate you,” I hissed between gritted teeth.
“TAYLOR! HEY, TAYLOR!” my brother shouted for no particular reason, as we were now standing right next to her and her hot butch girlfriend.
“Hi,” she answered, curiously.
“We met once. I directed you in a scene, remember?” my brother asked, pulling her in for an invasive bear hug.
“Oh, yeah!” she said, smiling blankly, clearly having zero memory of ever working with my freakshow of a brother.
“There’s someone I want to introduce to you! She’s like a HUGE fan of yours.”
I shot my brother a subtle look of pure death.
“Aww. She’s giving me a dirty look, she’s STARSTRUCK! How cute!”
Was he for real? Wasn’t humiliating your sister like this against some sort of international sibling code? I instinctively kicked him, hard, in the shins with my pointy stiletto heel.
“OUCH!” he yelped, dramatically clutching his leg as if I had just put a bullet through his thigh. “JESUS CHRIST, ZARA! WHY DID YOU KICK ME?”
“I didn’t kick you,” I hissed again, trying to telepathically send him the signal that he was embarrassing the hell out of me and needed to shut up before I disowned him as a brother.
Taylor Mallory looked slightly scared for her life.
My brother smiled, his eyes so big and so round you could see the whites all the way around them. Was he on Adderall? He looked like a complete psychopath.
“Anyway this, right here—” he bellowed, pointing to me, “This is your biggest fan! She kicked me because she’s like so embarrassed and starstruck and excited to meet you. She loved you on The L Word. She’s seen you in concert like 5,000 times. She’s obsessed with you.”
As a people-pleasing nice girl with a tendency to disregard any and all negative feelings, I accessed a rare primal anger I had never tapped into before. I was suddenly fueled by the desire to beat my fists against my chest like a gorilla and charge toward my brother.
“Rad!” Taylor Mallory said, a little too sweetly, giving me a look of guarded tenderness that one regards an overeager fan with, not a potential new friend. I watched my hopes and dreams of us being best friends shot down to the ground. They withered in the grass for a moment before taking their last breath.
“Thanks for supporting my work,” she chirped. Then her girlfriend put a protective arm around her perfectly bronzed shoulder and whisked her away. My dreams were pronounced dead on the spot.
“How could you do that to me?! I told you I wanted to be friends with her! We’re at a house party, not an album signing!” I angrily whispered to my brother, as I fantasized about tackling him to the ground.
“Z! You’re a fan! She loved it!”
“I can’t believe you embarrassed me like that.” I turned my body away from him, in defeat. Right as I was about to walk away and find somewhere to slowly die, I got distracted by a loud, Brazilian singing voice.
“HAPPY BIRTHDAY TO YOU! HAPPY BIRTHDAY TO YOU! HAPPY BIRTHDAY TO ZARA!” I averted my eyes upward and gasped in horror. Thiago was belting the Happy Birthday song to me, while young Kayla and over-the-top eccentric Tanya cooed along, grinding their bodies against one another. They both ran over to me and began enthusiastically slapping my ass as Thiago kept singing. I noticed a cast member from The Real L Word, the really cool one with the even cooler haircut, giggle at our spectacle.
“We are going!” I spat, rounding up Blake, Thiago, Kayla, and Tanya. My crew had clearly lost their minds. I hobbled toward the street, wondering how I was going to get a cab home.
I could feel tears stinging my eyes. I let a fat tear wash down my cheeks. My ankle was definitely broken. That’s when I saw a girl who had recently ghosted me in New York.
“Zara?” she asked, incredulous. “What are you doing here? Are you, like, crying?” She was clutching hands with a real-life model, probably about 5’10” and 105 pounds and so utterly gorgeous it hurt my eyes to look at her.
Bleeding, weepy, grass-stained and disenfranchised, I choked “hi” before limping into the black night.
We were halfway back to our hotel in an Uber when I realized I couldn’t find my phone. Shit. I had left it there. There was no way I was going back. I would just have to leave it there and buy a new one. Happy birthday to me!
The next morning, I woke up to a pounding on my door. “It’s me,” I heard my brother sheepishly squeak.
“Z! I’m so sorry! I was such a drunken idiot last night! I totally see now how that was embarrassing.”
My brother’s eyes were so red it looked as if someone had poured peroxide into them. He reeked of booze and cigarettes. I couldn’t stay mad. After all, I had told a story about him shitting his pants at his wedding. I deserved it.
“I hate you,” I said, my voice dripping with sisterly love. “Let’s go get Bloody Marys.”
As I sat hungover, still in my clothes from the night before, at the too-cool-for-school Standard Hotel rooftop bar and slugged back a drink with my clumsy oaf of a brother, I had a major life epiphany: There was nowhere in the world I would rather be. My friends weren’t LA-cool and probably couldn’t pull off the tank top with no bra look, but they were wonderfully outrageous. They loved me enough to bestow me with passionate birthday spankings! They were colorful and weird! Like me.
From that point on, whenever I find myself embarrassed, I think about what an amazing chapter it will make in my memoir. And girls, I encourage you to do the same. If you’re shamed at a celesbian party or fart during sex or shout out the wrong name in bed, don’t fret. Pick yourself up off the ground, ignore your bleeding knees, and head over to a laptop to write about the experience.
Remember, a boring life without cringeworthy moments doesn’t make a New York Times bestselling memoir. But a crazy life, with haphazard flaws and loads of embarrassment, now that makes for a wildly successful memoir, babe. Keep it up, and they’ll turn your life into a movie.