By Catherine Wagley
By Channing Sargent
By L.A. Weekly critics
By Amanda Lewis
By Catherine Wagley
By Carol Cheh
By Keegan Hamilton
By Bill Raden
"Yeah," she said.
She told him the truth. He fell in love with her regardless.
She doesn't feel apart from other people anymore but still gets naked in public. She performs a burlesque show. It's theater, not sex work. She smiles and says, "I still hang out with a whole bunch of girls who run around in their panties in front of people."
The girl who was once a sultan's sex toy becomes the woman who cringes at the sexual demands on young girls. Her son's teenage babysitter approached her one day, laid it out: Girls at parties make out with other girls to titillate boys. In a "hooking-up" culture, the pressure to please boys is intense. "I was like, that's really sad. Girls should be kissing each other who want to be kissing each other! It's not a porno movie! You're 14!" she says. Boys, she feels, were working harder for it in her day.
Now, she is the mom with an old, matched set of Louis Vuitton luggage — a gift from the prince. A friend discovered it one afternoon while helping Lauren clean out the garage. "Hey, I almost threw out all that cheap fake luggage you have," said the friend. "But I wanted to ask you first."
"No, that's real. Don't throw that out!" Lauren said, laughing.
The girl who vied to be top dog at the harem, who preferred having power to having friends, disappears into a life of dinner parties and barbecues. She becomes the woman who no longer assumes everyone has a price. "In Brunei certainly everyone did," she says. "Maybe it changed when I stopped having a price." A mischievous grin spreads across her face. "Though, I never thought everyone had a price. I didn't think Gandhi had a price. But normal people, you put them in the right situation, and they have a price."
"My mind empties out, my body grows balanced, and my heart opens."
—Some Girls, Chapter 24
She e-mails occasionally with surfer girl Delia, who was her friend in Brunei. Delia lives in Huntington Beach, just got remarried. They are always threatening to meet up, like any other busy modern-day women. Lauren is curious to see if Delia remembers the harem the same way.
Fiona, whose last name she doesn't know, she never saw again. Lauren has sold the memoir in 11 countries; it is being translated into nearly as many languages. Recently, she sold the rights to Thailand. "I had this little lurch in my stomach," she says. "I always assumed no one I knew in Thailand or the Philippines would ever see the book. But now it's looking like that isn't the case. Who knows who will come out of the woodwork and say hi one of these days."
She suspects Prince Jefri will like the book. He's been having a tough time of late. He lost a great deal of money, was kicked out of his country, then let back in.
"I think he'll be flattered," she says. "I think he likes to think of himself the way I portrayed him. As a handsome womanizer ... playboy ... lonely ... smart ... guy. I don't think he's under many illusions about himself."
People regard her with either repulsion or fascination, or both, once she starts telling her story. "You were where?" friends say, when they find out. "How come you never told me this?"
Usually, it just doesn't come up.
It's the folks closer to home she worries about the most. The religious family across the street, for instance. The families she shares a front-yard culture with, which is about to kick into high gear as winter melts into spring. In the late afternoons, the block comes alive with kids on bikes and moms and dads tending their gardens and nosing into one another's business. Everyone here knows everyone else. What would her 85-year-old neighbor, Helen, bless her heart, think when she finds out the mommy next door was once an international teen prostitute? Helen who has lived in the neighborhood for more than 50 years, to whom Lauren brings cookies, and to whom she brings her baby to play at her house, and who she feels looks at her with respect and love.
"You did what?" says Helen, craning her neck to hear. "You wrote a book? Well that is just really interesting."
"To be honest, I'm not 100 percent sure she completely understands," Lauren says.
Her parents do not completely understand, either. One afternoon not too long ago, she sat with her mother and father at a therapist's office in New York, a list of items covered in the memoir in her hand. They went over it point by point.
Mom and dad already knew she was in Brunei, had a sense of her activities there. "What did you think?" said her father, "I thought you were a diplomat?"
That she'd written a book about it, however, was news to them. Lauren grimaces now, grips her cup of tea and admits, "They are very sad and hurt about it. They are fearful of what will happen. They live in a very conservative community."