November 20th, I received news that my dear best friend Julie, had passed in her sleep. My heart sank. Tears began filling my eyes. I felt sick. There was no way it was true. I mean, I had just talked to her the week before. The first phone call I made was to John Paul, Julie’s son. When I heard his voice confirm, “Miss Anne, mom died” it took everything I had to stay upright.
I was at work when all this happened.
That was a hard, painful day. Many people reached out to me via Facebook and text messages to make sure I knew. Being 6 hours away from each other, Julie and I didn’t get to see each other all the time, but we talked every week. Throughout the day I would have fits of uncontrollable crying. Jason just held me. Just about the time my crying would subside I’d think about how much Julie would have loved Jason and how she’d never get to meet the love of my life. She would have surely been Team Jason – an inside sentiment between Julie and I. When I went to bed that night, swollen-faced and puffy-eyed, all I could do was wonder if Julie was happy when she passed. Her happiness was so important to me. She had so much love to give to the world. And I needed so badly to know she was happy.
The very next day as I got into my car to leave for work a little black cat came out of nowhere and jumped onto the driver’s side floorboard. Two very important things here: 1) I had never seen this cat before and 2) Julie had an obsession with black cats. She had two; Codie and Storm. And she encouraged others to adopt black cats because she worried people didn’t want them because they all looked the same. So here I am sitting in my car the day after Julie’s passing and this black cat jumps up onto my lap and starts purring loudly. I just sat there and watched him. When I would pet him, his purrs got louder. He eventually curled up in a ball and started to close his eyes. I took a few pictures, shared on Facebook and had to get the kitty out of my car because I had to get to work. During the drive to work I thought about Julie and her love for black cats. My heart suddenly felt better. I smiled thinking about Julie. Call it Devine intervention. Call it whatever you like. But it was at that time I realized Julie was telling me she was happy. She was OK. She was where she needed to be. Julie was with me that morning.
When I went home at the end of the day that black kitty was waiting for me in my garage. I named him JuJu. (That’s what I used to call Julie. Landon called her Aunt JuJu.) I had no intention on keeping the cat. I figured he would come and go as he pleases. Landon put down a bed for him. The next day we bought food. He got new dishes and a litter box. Now he has toys and a covered cat bed all for himself. Every morning and each evening we sit together in the garage where JuJu lays in my lap while I pet him. Sometimes I talk to him. Sometimes we just sit in silence.
Many people don’t know how Julie and mines friendship began. Julie was the Catering Manager for Traditions, the Officer Club on MCRD Parris Island. I gave a brief and provided a lunch to the Series Commander Course Marines at Traditions and made arrangements through Julie month after month. After a while, our work relationship turned into meeting up at Traditions on Friday nights to have a beer or two. One of those Friday nights, Julie told me something that changed the course of our relationship. She said something like, “So many people warned me about you and said I shouldn’t be friends with you. Since you’re pretty, going through a divorce, skinny with big boobs everyone thinks you are bad news. But I told them I make my own decisions.”
Side Note: Parris Island was and still is a fish bowl! It was such a toxic environment. If you weren’t doing anything wrong, people gossiped about you and made terrible things up. If you were admittedly doing wrong, everyone covered it up and acted like nothing was happening. I had people judging me left and right. It was a terrible time for me. Even the people I worked with were turning their backs on me. It was an incredibly lonely time.
What Julie told me hurt to hear. I started crying because I hated how mean and terrible people were. How dare someone “warn” Julie about me. The crazy part is the people who told her awful things about me didn’t even know me. People had zero reason to not like me, especially if they didn’t know me. All because she gave me a chance when most other people would have easily been swayed by someone else’s opinion, Julie was literally my only friend.
Julie chose me. She was the first person to ever choose me. We’ve been inseparable ever since.
Julie and I had a special bond. If you can believe it, we never fought. There was never a time in our friendship when we didn’t talk to one another because of arguments, disagreements or just because we were getting on each other’s nerves. And if it seemed like we were getting into a heated debate, I would start tickling Julie until she would almost pee herself laughing. One time she actually did! And then we both laughed so hard because of it! Julie and I had no shame.
She brought so much joy to my life.
I traveled to Parris Island for her memorial and to say my goodbyes. I was asked to speak. A Marine dressed in his blues walked me from the pew up the stage and to the microphone. I told him without him there my legs wouldn’t have been able to hold me up. I made it without crying.
3 weeks later….
When I close my eyes, I can still see Julie lying motionless in her casket. Eyes closed, arms crossed, a somber look on her face. It makes me shudder because that was NOT the Julie I loved in any way, shape or form. She was always smiling and laughing. She was vibrant. She was loving. She was compassionate. When I close my eyes, I want to see THAT Julie. I know I will get there one day and that this is part of the grieving process. Everyday I miss her. Forever I will love her.