The Seal Beach massacre, which took place a year ago this week, was, for me, more than just an act of violence seen on the news. It was more than another story told by reporters and anchorwomen. The Seal Beach massacre took place at my hair salon, Salon Meritage, where I had been going for ten years to see Gordon, my stylist of sixteen years, and my close friend.
It was just by chance that my appointment was scheduled for Thursday October 13 and not Wednesday, October 12, the day 8 people were killed at Salon Meritage. For the past 16 years, every four weeks, I have been going to Gordon on a Wednesday or Thursday, when the salon wasn’t as crowded and he wasn’t as busy, so we could have some time together to talk and catch up. Gordon is not just a hairstylist to me – he is an important person in my and my family’s lives. He has cut (and later colored) my daughter’s hair since she was 8 years old. He attended both of my children’s B’nai Mitzvot. He has spent holidays with us and celebrated birthdays with us. Just two days before the massacre, a friend and I had taken him out to dinner to try and cheer him up after his relationship of ten years ended abruptly. I adore Gordon.
I was napping when the shooting happened. I had taken the phone off the hook so my house would be quiet. When I turned the phone on and heard the many messages that had come in during my twenty minute break, I turned on the news. I called my husband, I called Laurie and Jodi and Ellen and Gail. We all called our children. Gordon does all of our hair. Our first thoughts were, of course, where is Gordon? Where is he? Is he dead? Is he safe? Then the frantic phone calls began to anyone we could think of who might know something, until someone was able to confirm that Gordon was ok. In the end, he would lose five long-term and beloved friends among the eight people that were killed that day. Those people were his family.
Here’s what happens when a crisis of this magnitude occurs – you go into shock, a little bit. You drive by the place, seeing the hundreds of flowers and notes and candles, the stunned mourners and community members milling about. Two days after it happens, you gather with Gordon and your friends. You listen in horror as he tells the entire story of the shooting, from start to finish. There is no way to explain how sad you feel. We all go home and spend the weekend crying, then going numb, and repeating over and over, “I can’t believe this happened.” You remember the five people who worked at the salon – Randy, Christy, Michelle, Laura and Victoria– and grieve. You feel such sorrow for the three others who were killed, just because they were there. But most of all, you worry about Gordon, because how can his life possibly ever be the same?
The town of Seal Beach is moving past the massacre, as it should. For the people who live in this – and neighboring- communities, it was a vicious attack on the quiet little place they call home. Nearly everyone knew someone connected to the salon. For me, going to Salon Meritage was always an hour or so to look forward to – time with Gordon, the friendly familiar faces, the relaxing and restorative process of getting my hair cut and colored. I loved going there. And now I go to see Gordon at his new salon, and we have our time together. I would follow him anywhere.
Those of us that love Gordon are reminded every time we see him of the ravages of violence on those who survive such terrible acts – the difficulty of being a survivor. Gordon has created on his arm a living, tattooed memorial to his friends and former workplace. There is a daily battle for Gordon to find peace inside himself, to find a sense of calm and safety. For him, every single thing about his life is different than it was just a year ago.
I mourn the victims of the shooting on this terrible anniversary. And I hope for Gordon to find peace of mind, and for his life to feel familiar again.