The high school field trip was California all the way: a psychology class spending a weekend on Santa Catalina island, that balmy resort 23 miles off the Pacific coast, with no apparent goal except, perhaps, to study the stress-reducing effects of sunning and swimming.
But two of the students had other ideas. A few hours after the class and teacher were dropped off at some cabins on the far side of the island, the boat that had brought them made a return trip, circling back to pick up two girls who seemed to have prearranged their departure.
With no explanation, off went a junior named Nicole Brown, who with her sun-drenched blond hair and tan could have been the prototype of the California girl, and her equally stunning, dark-haired sister Denise, a senior.
The girls went to the island’s main town of Avalon, where they spent the weekend on their own instead of with their classmates.
“They just wanted to go into town for the weekend and have a good time,” says Ron Kosmala, a classmate who recently recalled the trip. No one seemed to mind that they were gone. “That’s just the way they were,” he says. “That was just Nicole and Denise.”
Once upon a time in her two-short life, Nicole Brown was able to come and go as she pleased. A beautiful young woman, she had freedom, she had control. But that Catalina weekend may have been one of the last times Nicole called the shots.
Only two years later she would meet O.J. Simpson at a nightclub in Beverly Hills, and from that moment on – until she died on her front walk, with her children sleeping inside – her life was dominated by the overpowering personality of her husband.
Escape preoccupied her during her last few years, and certainly her last few weeks. Although her beauty, wealth and social status inspired more than a little envy, what she desired more than anything, by the end, was a simple life away from the cameras, the hype, the glitz, away from the real egos and fake smiles.
“Everybody looks at you and thinks, ‘Wow, would I ever like to be her,'” Nicole’s friend Jean McKenna, who was once married to a professional athlete, told Dateline NBC. “And yet, people like Nicole and myself, we really would have liked to have been the people who were looking at us. We would rather be the normal wife who had a husband who came home every night. It’s just not that wonderful a life.”
Nicole Brown Simpson learned that celebrity marriages can be dark and lonely and more confining than they look. Marriage to a wealthy, well-known man can be “a trap, and that’s the truth,” says Nicole’s long-time friend Robin Greer, an actress who was once wed to such a man herself.
“When you first walk into the house, it’s impressive. But once you’re behind closed doors, if the relationship isn’t healthy, the house doesn’t matter anymore. Everybody else is only seeing the outside of the house. No woman, unless she’s really materialistic or very weak, would enjoy that.”
As it turns out, Nicole Simpson wasn’t just trapped in life – in the role of living, breathing success symbol and blond elbow-adornment – she is also trapped in death. She has been remembered not as herself, but as the wife that the athlete/sportscaster/pitchman would sometimes beat and is now accused of brutally murdering.
In press reports, Ronald Goldman, the other victim, has suffered the humiliation of being a double possessive – O.J.’s ex-wife’s friend – but the woman he died with spent half a lifetime stalled in similar anonymity.
“You’re always So-and So’s wife, Mrs. So-an-So; you get reduced to your last name,” says Greer.
Friends claim she was on the verge of reclaiming the “Brown” in her name, and all that it stood for: the warm, giving, free person who had gotten last 17 years earlier.
Nicole Brown Simpson Her Story ~ Jeannie Ralston Glamour Magazine (October 1994)