In the days leading up to November, talk of hurricanes and El Niño swirled in my head as I also braced for the emotional turmoil that arrives this time of year. Let’s face it. The holidays bring stress and strain and an unexplained sorrow that permeates even the most dazzling twinkle lights adorning our homes and hearts.
On the bright side, this also marks the month my daughter and son-in-law celebrate their wedding anniversary so regardless of mood swings, I find a block of time, crawl into my sweats, lower the blinds, and watch the DVD that, exactly 12 years ago, recorded everything but their honeymoon.
I love weddings.
So when my husband and I received an invitation to yet another Armenian wedding, this one in Southern California, I wasted no time placing a handful of rice into the self-addressed stamped reply card and mailing it off with “YES!” written in bold cursive. We made hotel reservations, packed our black-tie optional attire and headed south on the 99.
I would write the rest of these words on hotel stationery, determined to retain the emotional journey we unknowingly were about to travel.
But first we would stroll our favorite streets: Melrose, Rodeo, Roxbury, Wilshire, finding a cozy café on a shaded side street where we reminisced our own love story.
Laughing out loud, we remembered the reception we could barely afford, the lone carnations in borrowed bud vases scattered on cocktail tables, and driving home from a long weekend honeymoon with less than $80 in our newly opened joint bank account.
At noon the next day we arrived at the church. The groom spotted Dan; the two of them embraced while he whispered something into my husband’s ear. A few minutes later, the Armenian processional began: chanting of sacred hymns, rose petals carpeting the aisle, incense, candles, the entire bridal party in white – love everywhere.
Driving across town to the reception, I remembered the groom’s hushed conversation with Dan and asked him to explain. “Oh,” he said quite matter-of-factly. “We’re seated next to Robert Shapiro.”
Yes, that Robert Shapiro.
A few minutes later we watched Shapiro make his entrance, the entire wedding congregation (including me) taking notice – many grabbing iPhones to capture his celebrity. He appeared visibly weathered, much older than I remembered during the O.J. Simpson trials, but come to think of it, that was 20 years ago. His wife, Linell, wore a mauve gown that hugged her curves and was a stunning backdrop for her glittering accessories.
The four of us sat together – the men hitting it off immediately, bonding over legal banter while his wife and I marveled at the sensory pleasures surrounding us.
Scrumptious Armenian eggplants, peppers, string cheese plated on shiny silver platters. Belly dancers twirling in jewel-toned skirts and veils. Musicians playing ouds and keyboards, clarinets and drums. Currency floating in midair. And finally – the bride and groom dancing their first dance as Mr. and Mrs. on clouds of dry ice.
The crowd cheered, rising to their feet with applause and champagne flutes lifted toward the sky.
Later in the evening, a Fresno woman approached our table, extending her hand not to Shapiro but surprisingly to me – saying she recognized me from my Bee photo.
“I enjoy your writing,” she said.
As she walked away, Mrs. Shapiro asked what kind of writing I did. I told her mostly columns about life, but added I had also written two books.
“What kind?” her husband asked.
Well aware that the wedding ambiance was neither the time nor place to share that I had penned a grief memoir, I hesitated at first, but then answered, “My newest book is a collection of essays: ‘My Name is Armen.’”
“And your other book?”
At this point the truth rushed to escape from my lips. “It’s a grief memoir. We lost our son, Alex, when he was 22.”
There are moments when regardless of time or place, we are stripped naked of titles and status – both dissolving, collapsing by the wayside. This was one of them. The music stopped – their body language frozen between my words. The four of us stared into space, time, memory. Linell Shapiro had something more to add.
“We lost our son, too. His name was Brett.”
The designer gown, her jeweled clutch, diamond rings on perfectly manicured nails, faded into oblivion. Robert Shapiro was no longer the famous member of O.J.’s “dream team.” We were four parents – all with cracks running down our middle.
I came home and Googled their names and learned about Brent Shapiro’s final hours. He had died exactly one year after our son’s death from an accidental overdose of Ecstasy. Robert and Linell Shapiro would establish the Brent Shapiro Foundation for Drug Awareness and quietly do their part to change the world.
And there you have it. Real life. Punctuated by four unlikely guests seated together at a wedding. Two husbands. Two wives. Finding common ground. For better or worse.
Armen D. Bacon is a writer and co-author of “Griefland: An Intimate Portrait of Love, Loss and Unlikely Friendship” and a collection of essays called “My Name is Armen.” Write to her at firstname.lastname@example.org, @ArmenBacon.