I missed last week’s photo challenge, but when I saw this week’s topic, I had to pull out my old photo albums.
The photos you see here embody my New Year’s resolution for 2013. What is it?
***To appreciate that life is sometimes too short — and to fulfill some of my bucket list wishes.***
The photos I’ve chosen are from a defining point in my life. Why was this little window of time, this blip in my life, so special that I feel the need to highlight it here?
Because the girl in the photos with me is my friend Julie. She was one of my very best friends growing up. I loved her like a sister. We laughed together, cried together and reached many a milestone together.
These photos of Julie and me are from a once-in-a-lifetime trip we took together. I know, I know, people say “once-in-a-lifetime” but they don’t always know that for sure. Sometimes they just say this to be dramatic.
But I am saying it because I know it is true. I know that Julie and I will never take another trip together. In fact, we will never laugh or cry or meet another milestone together again. Ever.
Because Julie is dead. She was killed in a car accident 5 years ago when we were just 31.
It still takes my breath away when I remember that she is really gone, but I often find myself smiling as I think of the time we spent together.
Though Julie’s death was tragic and horribly sad, her life was the opposite. Julie exuded warmth and beauty. She was positive and sweet and lived her life to the fullest. She was courageous and didn’t let anything stand in her way…
…including me. You see, I didn’t want to go on that trip. I had never done anything like that before. I wasn’t adventurous. I didn’t think I deserved the opportunity to get on a plane.
It was about a month before our high school graduation when Julie proposed the idea. Her exchange student for our senior year, now like our new sister, would be returning home to Mexico just after graduation. What if we went to Mexico to stay with her over the summer?
I was not the adventurous type and I opted to stay home and work until we started college in August. Plus, I needed to be home to help care for my little sisters. And I had never done anything just for me before. How could I start with something so drastic? No, I would not go.
But it wasn’t really up to me. Julie would not listen to my protests. She jokingly threatened to unfriend me (we had been very good friends since we were kids) if I didn’t commit to going. She said she knew what was best for me (and I admit that she often did). So, on one of the many evenings I spent at her house, she made a final plea. Again I refused. We were munching on her delicious homemade chocolate chip cookies when she picked up the phone and called the airline (this was before you could use the internet to book your tickets). She pretended to be me and booked my tickets while I stood in her kitchen. Though I halfheartedly protested and though I feigned anger, I was secretly delighted. I knew I would enjoy this special time with Julie. And I knew I was going to miss Judy (her exchange student), who was now a dear friend and that this was my chance to see where she lived and to say a real goodbye.
This was going to be my first real adventure, my first and last hurrah before heading off to university (20 minutes away – another story!) in the fall.
So we graduated from high school, Judy left for her home in Mexico, and we embarked on our adventure 8 days later. Before stepping off the plane in Tucson (and driving the 4 hours across the border to our friend’s house), I had been a shy straight-A student who hung out in the teachers’ lounge after school because I could always relate better to people older than me. Between sophomore & senior year, I took every single Advanced Placement class (and there were a lot!) our high school had to offer — and aced them all. I was voted “Class Introvert” and could get A’s on Calculus tests without studying. I thought A.P. Physics and Chemistry were fun. I had been babysitting since I was eight and got my first “real” job the moment I was old enough to get a work permit. I balanced school and mountains of homework with two afterschool/weekend jobs. I volunteered a ton — you name a volunteer activity and Julie, jme and I signed up for it. I had a resume filled with achievements. I had a full scholarship to Cornell University and scholarships to a number of other prominent schools for Engineering or Biochemistry/Pre-Med waiting for me and I had every intention of continuing to be that people-pleasing, old-before-my-time nerdy girl…
I thought that maybe before college I would do something crazy like cut my long hair or start wearing lipstick. I had no idea how this trip was going to change me.
It was an incredible 3 weeks. Because Julie and I were staying with Judy and her family, we “lived” in the heart of a non-touristy part of Mexico where I was the only person with blondish hair for many, many miles. We got a taste of what it was like to grow up there. What an amazing way to see another culture. Our many adventures included a 28 hour (total) roundtrip escapade on an old, steamy, smelly, jam-packed bus. We were headed to see another friend (Juan–also a former exchange student) in Mazatlan. The bus trip came complete with dirt roads, middle of the night stops by gun-toting “bandits” in the midst of nowhere, and people who were so scary that we slept in shifts because there had been a number of recent American kidnappings on buses just like ours. As the only Americans who had probably set foot on our bus in a very long time, we figured we were targets, which made it that much more exciting for my friends (and nerve-wracking for straight-laced me). When we stumbled off the bus, though, I realized that it was all worth it. The area was the most beautiful place I had ever seen. The days were amazing — swimming in the ocean, drinking pina coladas in the pool, parasailing and so much more — things I never dreamed I’d be doing.
And the nights were even more incredible. More things I never dreamed I’d do. All of a sudden quiet, shy me who hadn’t really dated much was dancing on tables at these gorgeous open air bars, forgetting about all of the responsibilities waiting for me back home, and getting kissed by older guys in their 20s (Mexicans & Americans alike) who could have stepped off movie sets or off the pages of GQ.
On the bus ride back to Judy’s city, I felt like a new person… All of a sudden I had gone from being a cornerstone on the math team to someone who had 25 year-olds competing to spend a few minutes on the dance floor with her. It was fascinating and exciting.
Our next stop was a lovely little town on the Gulf with mountains in the background. Here we had more adventures with sangria, late-night swims, and mechanical bull-riding. Then Julie’s older brother (who was in a band & lived in San Francisco) asked us to take a couple of days out of our Mexican adventure to come to see him. Julie hadn’t seen her brother in a while and she had a huge crush on his roommate, so it was a quick yes from her. All we had to do was drive to San Diego & he’d have tickets waiting for us at the airport. Along the way we stopped to visit Judy’s cousins in Tecate (right next to the Tecate beer factory) for another wonderful night filled with yummy food & drinks and happy people. No matter where we went (with the exception of on that bus to/from Mazatlan), I never heard a word of complaint or saw a frown. Regardless of what everyone did or didn’t have, the people we met/lived with were warm, welcoming, generous, and positive.
Even the drive up to the U.S. was an adventure. And then we were off to San Francisco, a place I had always wanted to visit. We didn’t do anything too exciting, but even a trip to the grocery store was fun with Julie. And, as it happened, the roommate guy she had a crush on actually “liked” me. Julie was very gracious about it and happily let me have my moment with him. He was 25 and an engineer on a big naval ship — the U.S.S. Abraham Lincoln. Though he was quite handsome, he was nerdy like me & we were instantly drawn to each other. It was odd for me to realize that I had spent my teenage years feeling awkward and burying my nose in books — and all I had to do was take my hair out of my ponytail and throw a pair of jeans on (and talk to people 7 or 8 years older than me!) and voila… Eric and I stayed up all night every night talking. And then we all spent the days together seeing the sights. It was a total departure from the “me” I knew, someone who had only had a few high school boys show any interest in her. [Eric continued to send letters & call me (and my mother!) for years after this trip.]
Before I knew it, Julie, Judy & I were flying back down to San Diego and driving back into Mexico… And shortly afterward, we made the long trek back to Arizona to catch our plane. Judy’s family had a condo near the airport, so we spent one last night there — the 3 of us girls — laughing, talking & drinking more sangria in the hot tub (I hadn’t even been in a hot tub (or a condo for that matter!) before). It was a wonderful way to end our trip.
That summer was — and remains — the best of my life. After that I started college as a new person. Still the old nerdy straight-A student who loved math on the inside, but with a new look and a newfound confidence on the outside. I was always so grateful to Julie for that and so many things.
That trip was the last time I saw Judy… Until 5 years ago — for Julie’s funeral. Julie was killed by a drunk driver in Spain, a country she loved so much. The special young man she loved survived, but he was seriously injured — and he had lost the love of his life right before his eyes. I was no stranger to loss or tragedy, but this was beyond anything I could wrap my mind around. When jme, who had grown up with Julie from the age of 3, phoned to tell me what had happened, it was an absolutely heartbreaking call. Jme got on a plane to come back home from Seattle. And Judy flew from Mexico to stay at my house so we could be together to bury our dear friend…
Though her life was short, Julie’s impact was great. She made everyone feel special and she touched lives here and across the Atlantic in deep and lasting ways. The world was a far better place because she was in it.
So, this year I resolve to be more like Julie. I resolve to check some things off my bucket list (and to make a bucket list). I resolve to just “go for it” more. I resolve to work on living my life to the fullest (I’m sure it will take me a while to get there, but I vow to work on it). And I plan to honor her memory by trying to find and nurture the little light that she saw inside of me when we were just girls on the edge of new beginnings.
In Memory of Beautiful Julie – 1976 – 2007
Weekly Photo Challenge: Resolved
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