“Thank you for reminding me that I wasn’t a bad person.” Julie and I had just gotten together for our annual dinner and gab session where we catch up on the year and reminisce about our shared past.
I met Julie in 2nd grade, the same day I met Ernie, when I was uprooted from Dallas and plopped down into a school of strangers as part of Miss Winn’s class (or maybe she was a Mrs. or more than likely a Ms.; it was the ‘70’s). Where I remember Ernie very clearly thanks to my brain’s solitary focus on “where is that tour guide kid,” I have the vaguest memory of a group of girls from my new class taking me by the hands and running with me up a hill at recess. In that moment, I knew I was going to be ok. And when I replay it in my head, I always see Julie as part of that group – carefree and smiling as we all ran. I was accepted. I was calm.
My 3rd grade memory of Julie isn’t any better. I remember her Trapper Keeper that had impossibly cute characters on it and said underneath them, “When it freezes, don’t get sneezes!” (I have a weird memory like that. Myers-Briggs says it’s part of the 4 letter thing – people like me apparently are just like that.) We shared a table in our English class and she’d claim I was going to get in trouble for taking the “100’s” on my papers and turning the 0’s into little heads – giving them little faces, hair and hats. I gave her a hard time about it years later and while she didn’t remember it, she suggested she may have been jealous of the 100’s. I doubt that, because while on a good day I may be considered “smart”, Julie is exponentially smarter than I could ever hope to be. I’m only smart enough to know I’m not that smart. (Does that finally make me wise?) I know without actually remembering that her papers were equally adorned with those coveted 100’s.
By 4th grade, we had moved into a different part of town, which meant new friends and new people. There was a brief return to Dallas in 7th grade, which heralded the bullying rite of passage I got to endure and then it was back to Austin for the end of 7th grade. It was 8th grade that I finally had another class with Julie – a social studies class. Once again we sat next to each other and Julie would tell me incredible stories; she was fascinating.
Here’s where I’m going to brag a bit. In that social studies class Julie and I were named as co-leaders for an assignment where each team of students had to prove who discovered America first before a panel of University of Texas at Austin judges. As one of the group leads, I got to draw the name of our potential discovers. I walked up to that hat with my fingers crossed it would be either Vikings or Spaniards and of course I drew Egyptians and Phoenicians. My heart sank. We were doomed. Julie and I each took on the responsibility of writing a paper (I think we made the rest of the group draw pictures and point at things). Long story short – and a huge thanks to Thor Heyerdahl, we won against all odds. Julie got points from the judges for her paper and I got kudos for the opening line of mine that went something like this: “When the Spaniards landed in South America, the native Americans referred to them as the “Gods of the Second Arrival”; therefore, who were the gods of the first arrival?” We made a great team. (And we scored special treats for our entire group, which made us temporarily cool.)
The next time I really remember Julie is 10th grade Honors Chemistry. There are plenty of stories there (we “may” have made an evil student teacher so nervous that she dropped her evil chalk), but the thing about 10th grade was it was when Julie became my very best friend. It started on a Spring Break filled with sleepovers while dancing to “Footloose” in her living room. This was only a couple of years after Julie’s mother said I reminded her of Carly Simon and I was still working on ways to forgive her.
Unfortunately, sometime between then and now, Julie forgot how amazing she was as a teenager. I think we all have that awful ability to remember the worst about ourselves and forget what makes us so incredible and special.
So, I’m telling you about Julie during high school – this way if she ever forgets again, she can always come back here as a reminder.
First, let’s start with me. On a good day I’m awkward and weird. In high school this was especially true. I was in orchestra (I eventually became the president – yes, the President of Orchestra), I loved math and science. I was even a charter member of Mu Alpha Theta, the math club. I quit, because I couldn’t stand the stigma. I was in the German Club. When “The Search for Spock” came out, I was camped out with my high school friends playing a game called “spoons” in front of the theater waiting in line to be the first people to see it. I had acne, bad hair, a love of my jeans and t-shirts, no OP clothes, Gloria Vanderbilts, Izods or Polos and not a Swatch to my name. I did have wooden Dr. Scholl’s that I would clonk around in – the wood echoing down the halls as it slapped the linoleum floors. To try to “get” my peers, I forced myself to listen to pop music. Seriously, who makes this a personal assignment? I was also (and still am) an introvert and if that’s not bad enough, I’m shy. Unless you were an extreme nerd, you wouldn’t approach me. I’m an acquired taste. My best day was being adopted by the D&D gang. I’m a babe among that crowd.
In high school I was friends with all of the nerdy academic kids. It was safe. We surrounded ourselves in a snark filled bubble of being above all of the things what made us not cool. We might not be invited to the cool parties (or any parties), but I could dissect “A Tale of Two Cities” and walk you through the complexities of the digestive system in the same breath (I can’t do that now, for the record). We were the academic elite – destined to wear all the extra do-dads with our caps and gowns and we were snobs in our own right.
I am (and was) very conventional and uptight. I was not fun. I was a smart, elitist, uptight asshole just like my friends. Then I was in 10th grade in Honors Chemistry and there was Julie.
Julie was (and is) a person who wasn’t like me in the least – in the sense that she was outgoing, athletic, cute, super energetic and extremely fun – she actually laughed. She’s the kind of person whose soul I picture perpetually spinning in a field of daffodils as the sun gently brushes their cheeks. Carefree. She’s also devastatingly brilliant, which my little elite clique didn’t catch onto. I remember one time being warned by that crew, “if you hang out with her, it will ruin your reputation!” My thought to that was, “what reputation? How do I get one of these again?”
One of my favorite moments was going to my 10 year reunion and one of the intellectual elite asked about Julie. I said, “she’s in med school, what are YOU doing again?” They scuttled away. They always underestimated her, falsely assuming a more conservative demeanor equated to intelligence. They missed out on the fact that intelligence and fun can pair even more beautifully.
Over our years of friendship in high school, I became more “me”. Laughter came more easily. My sense of humor became a little more wicked. I lightened up. I started having adventures. I experienced more – and my taste in music grew. I went to Rocky Horror. I danced and sang and was more comfortable being me. All thanks to Julie.
I’ve told Julie in the past that I didn’t know what she got out of our friendship, since I was hell bent on being unfun in the beginning. I suspect that I offered a sense of stability where she offered freedom – a perfect yin and yang.
So Julie, I just want to say again and put it out here so you can see yourself through my eyes: You were truly an amazing teenager. You were brilliant and funny. You danced and sang and lived life to its fullest. You were Janet! Sure, you did some dumb things along the way – made some dumb choices – but you survived (and didn’t come flying out of that Camaro, or crack your skull on that dashboard, and De De’s blood and vomit washed right on out and we learned Dorito’s aren’t a great breath mint when it comes to hard liquor, and you did bounce right on off that car with only a tear in your shorts and a few sore muscles as proof and we still went shopping. You even slapped the quarterback!). I’m still deeply impressed that you tried out for the drill team and still disappointed that you didn’t make it; you were good enough but unfortunately your last name wasn’t Biddle. You even managed to look appropriately defiant when you, Roger and I were in the hall avoiding club time and a teacher asked why we weren’t in our club meeting and Roger declared that we were, that we were in “the Breakfast Club” (which I’m sure scored a major eye roll from the teacher). I should point out here for everyone else, I never did anything dumb. Ever.
Thank you for all the late night walks, the talks, the laughter, the shared adventures, the Cornquistos, the whim purchase of the “Footloose” soundtrack, Bruce Springsteen, Billy Joel, and Cat Stevens “Morning Has Broken”.
Thank you for being flashed by me at Barton Springs and not spending years in counseling over it. For teaching me that “All will be well, all will be well and all manner of things will be well.” (My mantra when I’m having a bad day.) For introducing me to me. If I could give you one gift, it would be that you could see yourself through my eyes whenever you look back and think that you were ever a bad person and not the incredible person you actually were and are. Like your mother, you are a beautiful person with a beautiful soul. You are joy.
And you’re also a doctor! So go suck it former elitist classmates!