"Anyone who saw us together knew we are soul mates," Melissa Lawner says. "We were very, very connected and energetic with each other. We were inseparable. We were that couple; you called us DamonandMelissa."
When Lawner was thirty-five, Melissa announced she was pregnant. At first, he says, he felt "incredible joy."
Then the band he'd been playing with, called Fader, won a contest at the historic Whisky a Go Go on the Sunset Strip. A tour was discussed. Melissa made her feelings clear. "She was like, 'I'm going to be a mom now. All this crazy shit is over,'" Lawner says.
Lawner quit the band, sold the house in the hills, and moved his family to the flats of Hancock Park. With the profits from the sale, he concentrated on business, determined to feather his nest. He started a company that sold a high-end energy drink called Marquis Platinum and invested in another restaurant called Bridge. In short order, he and Melissa had a second daughter.
When the economy tanked in 2008, the Lawners lost everything. "By the time I saw what was coming," he says, "I was fucked. It was like I knew the cars were going to be repossessed, I knew the house was being foreclosed on. We were $900,000 in debt."
Penniless and humiliated, Lawner packed up his family and flew to join his father in Bali, where he was living with his Balinese wife and two young sons.
In Bali, Lawner reinvented himself as a party impresario, using his nightlife experience to bring a little sizzle to the tourists visiting the Island of the Gods. With Melissa by his side, he put on functions four nights a week at high-end hotels and nightspots. By 2011 Prestige Indonesia magazine was calling the Lawners the "It couple behind Bali's most exclusive parties."
Though the Lawners were living comfortably—with an income of about $30,000 a year, they could afford a big house and servants—their lifestyle started to take a toll. There was a lot of drinking and partying, along with predictable marital discord. Lawner was the man on Bali; everything was available. "I was out every night. Things began to spiral a little bit. My breakfast of choice was a beer and a cigarette by the pool," he recalls.
After he was briefly kidnapped by local nightlife competitors and forced to pay ransom, Lawner says, Melissa put her foot down. "Our girls were growing up on an island in the middle of nowhere, without knowing any of my family," she says. In 2012 the Lawners returned to L. A. They moved into a room off the kitchen in Melissa's mom's house, near UCLA. "We needed to go home," Melissa says. "I kind of forced him. He did not want to leave."
Bankrupt, with no car and no assets, Lawner began looking for a job. "I was applying all over the place. Waiter, cashier, valet parking. Anything. Whatever I applied for, there were twenty people in front of me who had more experience. They'd ask me, 'What have you done?' and I was like, 'Um, I owned the hottest restaurant in L.A.?' And they were like, 'Yeah, whatever.'"