I attended prep school for three years, starting as a sophomore. And within just a week or two of that boarding school experience, I was aware of a student in my class whose energy was engaging.
Julie, who hailed from Alabama, was loud and fun and inviting.
You wanted to be her friend.
I got to know her during that year, and although I don’t remember specific times together when we were sophomores, I know we had a lot of laughs. I remember, too, that I always felt special in her company.
During the summer before our junior year, Julie sent me a letter. (This was back in the days of the pony express.) Having ended the previous year without a roommate lined up, she realized she was in the random sampling. She didn’t want to be placed with just anyone, so she wondered if we could room together.
When I received that letter, I was beyond flattered.
To have this remarkable person want to share a room with me?
So, Julie and I were roommates junior year. And we had a lot of good times. But there also were challenges. We were at such different stages of growth.
Senior year, Julie and I no longer roomed together, but we continued to bond. In fact, it was that year that we discovered a common repertoire … One day, we both happened to be sitting in “the Smoker” (i.e., the senior hall lounge with ashtrays), and we were watching the film version of Gyspy on television. Until that moment, neither of us knew that the other had grown up with the lyrics.
But once we learned of that common knowledge, I scored the vinyl from my parent’s collection (Funny Girl, too), and Julie and I sung along at the top of our lungs, absolutely annoying anyone within earshot.
Everything’s coming up roses…
Don’t rain on my parade…
Boy, did we belt!
I can’t recall how well we kept in touch after graduation. I do remember getting an invitation to her wedding breakfast. And a few years after that, there was the 10th year reunion in Virginia.
I enjoyed seeing Julie at the reunion, but I also appreciated that we were living in different worlds and that our paths may never again cross. She had married a doctor and settled in Mississippi, where she would ultimately fill her days raising a daughter and doing remarkable work on behalf of charities in her community.
I was still (at the time of our 10th reunion) living wildly in New York. Settling did not then seem an option for me. (In some ways, it still doesn’t.)
…Three weeks ago, I sent out one of my occasional email blasts. When I do this, it is to alert people to recent blog postings, and I send it to fairly much everyone in my email address book. Julie has always been included in that list, as has been Kate (my veni vidi vici buddy from our prep school Latin class).
Just a few hours after that recent blast, I got an email from Kate. She shared with me that my missive had made her nostalgic, and so she decided she’d like to touch base with Julie. (She, too, had neither seen nor spoken to Julie in ages.) Since Kate was at work and didn’t have her address book handy, she decided to do a quick Google search to see if she could get Julie’s phone number online.
But what she got was an obituary.
Julie died in October.
… Since learning the news of the brain tumor that was diagnosed 14 months before Julie’s death, many of us who went to school together have reached out to each other.
By phone. By email. By Facebook. Whatever works.
And through the internet, we have gained access to written memorials from people who knew her years after we did.
It has been heartening to absorb their testimonials, and to recognize – in this woman they describe – the girl we all knew.
… In the 25 years that have passed since I last saw or spoke to Julie, I’ve been blessed to know – and to become close to – a small handful of people who possess what I call charisma. And when I think of someone with charisma, I think of this: you just feel so damned special to be in their company.
There’s something about them…
Something they quietly pass along to you...
A gift of joy, laughter, wisdom.
A generosity of spirit.
A magnetic inclusiveness.
That was Julie.
My introduction to charisma.
I will always be touched by her life.