38. Los Angeles

written 11 months and 2 days after

We were engaged for exactly a year.

Life continued as it always had in some ways—work, eating, television, exercise, and on—but woven into the fabric of our time together was this new, bright thread.

We would stay up late and talk about the wedding. I would cry, overwhelmed by how many choices we needed to make, and he would assure me that it would all come together. I would beg to elope and he would roll his eyes, knowing I wasn’t serious.

We would fight and we would not; we should shop for my wedding rings (he got me two) and his. I would go with my mother and try on my first wedding dress, which ended up being the wedding dress I chose.

“Got it in one,” I told him, when I came back from the appointment.

He would go with his own mother and choose his wedding suit—Gucci, dark blue.

“You’re going to love it,” he told me, when he came back.

We would sit on the couch, both staring into the screen of his laptop as we personally designed the custom bicycle jerseys that we had made for his groomsmen. I found the vintage, Hawaiian floral pattern, he found the color scheme. I suggested monogramming the jerseys with the groomsmens’ nicknames, and he added lettering that honoured our wedding, our date. Together, we decided where to place the pattern, where to place solid colouring. We debated what sizes to order. He decided against the sizes I recommended and when they arrived (too small), I gleefully gloated as he re-ordered the jerseys in the larger sizes.

At night, he wrote his vows on his iPad and I would try to peek but he would shield the screen. He’d ask how mine were going and I would just grin, tell him that if he showed me his, I’d show him mine. Of course, neither of us budged.

“Wait until the wedding,” we said.

In addition to all of these other preparations, eight months before we were married, we booked a trip to Los Angeles.

We wanted to travel together during my spring break but also, the photographer we booked was going to be in LA at that time. We decided to shoot our engagement photos there. We chose two locations: Malibu and Downtown LA.

I hadn’t been to Los Angeles before and we carefully researched the restaurants we wanted to eat at, looked up museums, and traced, in Google Maps, the path from our condo to Venice Beach. We didn’t even try to not behave like tourists.

The day he arrived—I had come to LA early to meet with some friends but he couldn’t get that much time off work—it was colder than we both thought it would be. We went for lunch on the patio of a vegan restaurant where the names of the dishes were things like: Blissed Out, Soul Nourishment, Happy Heart and Elevation.

It was so chilly on the patio that we both asked to move inside, to a booth. After, we wandered Venice and ate donuts at Blue Star, which I proclaimed my favourite, ever.

I had purchased a floral patterned silk midi slip dress for the photos downtown but I hadn’t found anything I loved for the shoot in Malibu. So, the next day, though it wasn’t a particularly scenic destination, we went to an outdoor mall.

Kurtis had, famously, and long-standing, little to low tolerance for shopping. This was complicated by the fact that he always wanted to do things together.

Usually, he insisted on coming when I went shopping for outfits and I would end up frustrated in the middle of some cleanly lit store telling him that his sighing and penchant for sitting at the bottom of mannequins’ feet was ruining the whole thing for me.

Ultimately, we instituted what I called the Orange Julius method, something we gleaned from a meme he’d sent me that, essentially, described our experience in a mall together.

When his energy flagged, I would say “OJ! Bring the energy,” and sometimes, he would literally go get an Orange Julius or other times he would straighten up, plaster a big, dorky grin on his face, and start picking things up and saying, ‘how about this?’

It was a manic performance and it always made both of us laugh.

It wasn’t that either of us wanted to not be together in the mall, it was just that we had needed a short-hand for when the experience dragged for both of us.

Still, the day at the outdoor mall in LA, he did well. In and out of stores we went, and nothing was saying ‘Photograph me in Malibu,’ to me. I began to get grumpy, and dehydrated, and discouraged. He got me a lemonade, and a pretzel, and took photographs of me that, at the time, I said I didn't like, and now, when I look at them, I wonder what I was upset about. I look grumpy behind my sunglasses, sure, but not bad, as I had claimed then.

He took so many photos of me, gamely and willingly. When I look at them now, as I do any photo he took of me, in all of them, I see a woman I don’t know anymore.

As we were eating, I glimpsed a floral bedecked pop-up shop; it was a French label that I had followed for a few years. Both of us had essentially reached our shopping limit for the day but I asked if I could pop in, just to see.

Of course, he said yes.

There, tucked in amid soft pink sweaters and tan linen shorts, I found a brilliant green floral silk dress. I didn’t even try it on. I guessed at the size, snatching it up and taking it to the till. The bag the woman gave me was a reusable one and as part of the event, a man was embroidering the bags for free.

I requested that he embroider “Against Despair” onto the bag and while I waited, I asked him what the most common request for embroidery was.

“F—k,” he said.

“Really?” I said.

“Yes,” the man said. “Really.”

Kurtis laughed. I was delighted to have found The Malibu Dress and this made him bouncy and bubbly too.

The next day, we visited Griffith Observatory, marvelling at the planetary installations, and taking foggy selfies together at the top near the telescope. In the evening, we ate sushi in a dark restaurant, flipping through the photos of the Observatory, him: marvelling at the facial hair he had grown and me: fretting about whether my hair was too wind-blown.

The night of our shoot in Malibu, I spent an inordinate amount of time in the condo’s small bathroom doing my make-up, curling my hair, lotioning my limbs. On the Uber ride out to the beach, the sun was just beginning to set, gilding both of us in gold. He was frantically Googling ‘power poses,’ and ‘how to look good in photographs, men,’ and asking me for tips on how to pose. I tried to point out that he might be searching this up a bit late and also that I didn’t have any insight.

“Just be yourself,” I said, and he worried he would look goofy.

It was the first time we met our photographer—the incredible Lauren Dixon—and she was relaxed, effervescent, immediately setting both of us at ease. We played in the surf, and clambered up rocks (my dress was blown up by wind, and he shrieked as my underwear flashed into sight, then when he realized my butt was sandy, he brushed it off with a wide grin). The ocean was a bright coin, lit by the flare of the sun, and the sand was perfectly soft. I felt giddy and carbonated, smiling easily, un-self-conscious, playful, even.

There was always, beneath even our fights, a deeply-rooted contentment and joy in each other’s company, but that evening in Malibu, my joy was right at the surface, overflowing.

This kind of a life—a relationship—had always seemed impossible to me. The night, even in the midst of it, had the unreal fragility of a daydream for me. But everywhere I looked, things were solid and real. He was there, playing with his hair in the water, pants rolled up, lamenting that he hadn’t gotten a tan before we came, and the sea was puddling at my toes, and the sun’s heat was gentle on my chest.

We took one photo, back to back, and on instinct, I leaned my head towards him, resting it against his shoulder.

Later that evening, when we were holed up in a very small beachside pub in Venice drinking kombucha, the proceeds from the sale of which went to stray dogs, Lauren sent us a sneak preview of the photos. We scrolled through them immediately, each of us clamouring over the other. When I saw the photo of us back-to-back, I immediately marked it as one of my favourites.

I didn’t explain to him that I loved it because it was such a rare, public example of what I always knew: that when it came down to it, though I let myself lean on very few, almost no, people at all, I had come to rely upon him implicitly.

We spent the balance of the next day at The Getty, which he had been to before and wanted to show me. I love museums and, in particular, loved seeing them with him. He always knew so much about the architecture, and never once suggested that I needed to move more quickly if I stopped at, photographed, stared at, and considered a piece of art for a long period of time.

For art he never had any flagging energy and together, we took in every part of The Getty—staying, as we did with most museums we visited—until it closed.

Just before leaving, we had a coffee (him, decaf, though, because he couldn’t even handle a small amount of caffeine without turning into a whirling mass of nervous energy) and green tea for me. We were on the patio of The Getty, sun pouring down and he was wearing the blue shirt I’d helped him buy for the trip.

He looked so handsome. I remember thinking that. I remember thinking that it was impossible that someone who looked like that could enjoy a whole day at a museum with me, but there we were.

The following morning, he and I toured an architecture school downtown and visited a bookshop, while we waited for Lauren, our photographer, to arrive.

I had done a smoky blue eye and straightened my hair and he wore a dark blue blazer. For these photos, he got ice cream—because he loved it—and ate it in an open area garden, chickens clucking at our feet, while I stood next to him. Elsewhere, we danced down an alleyway that had been strung with white pairs of underwear, lights glowing through the fabric. On a quiet street, below a huge mural, he and I gazed into the camera, trying not to laugh. In all of them, we look (we were) happy. There are sun-soaked frames of me trying on his sunglasses, me checking his blazer, him wrapping his arms around me.

It was an additional part of our photography package, an engagement shoot in two locations, but we both thought it would be fun. I imagined showing our future children the photos, having them exclaim over their parents’ youth, their hair, their clothes.

“We can never have too many good photos of us,” I said, and he agreed.

On one of our final days in LA, we visited The Broad, which we both pronounced incorrectly (we would realize this, to our horror, many years later and immediately both of us would experience intense, retroactive embarrassment).

It was cold inside and I had worn a soft denim dress. While he was looking at a fairy-tale installation that was designed to remark upon the inherent racism of many European fairy tales, I pulled out the t-shirt I had stowed in my bag (just in case I got cold). I wriggled my dress down (there was no one else in the exhibition room) and quickly pulled on the t-shirt. Then, I slipped the dress over the t-shirt. When he turned around, his eyes widened.

“Did you just put that on now?’” he said.

I nodded, laughing.

“How?” he said, looking around.

I just wiggled my eyebrows.

“You’re so fast,” he said. “I didn’t even notice!”

On the Uber ride back to the apartment, a girl with long black hair drove and played smooth, bass-heavy chill step so loudly that it was impossible to talk. The windows were rolled down and there was a soft breeze. He and I both fell asleep.

On our last day, it was just a morning.

We walked from our condo to the beach before we packed our bags and took an afternoon Uber to the airport. It was overcast and cold. I wore a sweater. No one was there except for us. We walked past shops of all manner, all closed.

At the beach, there was a pier and we stood on it and looked out at the deserted beach, the still sea above which birds wheeled. We took some photos together and peered through a massive, blue telescope. You had to pay for it to work, so we couldn’t see anything more closely. He told me he wanted to be clean shaven for the wedding and I said I would be dying my hair back to its natural dark brown, almost black. As we were turning to leave, we saw a sole surfer, clad in a black wetsuit, clutching a white surfboard, emerge from the water.

Along the long, expanse of earth, the surfer trod. We stopped and watched him until we couldn’t see him anymore. Then, we went on with it.