Stellastarr Week: Former & Friends

If I’ve learned one thing about friendship during the course of my almost forty years, is that friend archetypes are a real thing. Sure, there are subtle variations, but for the most part there are certain basic categories and personality bundles that everyone has in their friend group. There’s the classics like “the funny one” and “the successful one,” but there are also more complicated ones that still seem to be every present. There’s the “mom,” who seems to always take care of everyone and scold you when you’ve “disappointed” her. There’s that one friend who grew up under much better circumstances than the rest who just doesn’t “get” certain things. There’s the friend who is mildly rude or offensive, but you tolerate them because you know deep down they’re a good person. Then there’s always that one friend who can’t seem to get their shit together. They constantly need help, or advice, or to just vent about the latest crisis. They don’t have bad luck, they just don’t seem capable of making the right choices, almost to the point that you wonder if they want to. Everybody at some point in their life has had that friend. For me, that friend was Julie.

I met Julie when I went to college. She was part of our original clique known as “The Circle” that I’ve mentioned before. She had the distinction of being the only member of the group who wasn’t an art major, though she did take some art classes. Julie was the first person I’d ever met who had a tongue piercing. She was “alternative” in all of the most Nineties of ways. She wore JNKO jeans, never had the same hair color for long, and had various “exotic” piercings, including tongue, eyebrows and what were, at the time, uncommon parts of the ear. She listened to a lot of alternative and metal, and smoked cloves (when she could afford them).

I can’t remember how me exactly met, or how she became a part of our little group, but she was always around. Even if she wasn’t an art major, she fit perfectly with the rest of us. We were all considered “different” or “odd” by our peers, and so naturally gravitated towards people who embraced those traits.

Of all of us, Julie was the most open about her sexuality. I’m not talking about the fact that she was bi-sexual. I’m referring to the fact that she was openly flirty and talked about sex unabashedly. For most of the rest of us in the group, talking about sex still made us blush, in many respects because we had never personally experienced it. In this measure, Julie was leaps and bounds ahead of us, and reactions ranged from awe to discomfort because of this.

Julie also had the responsibility of being the only one in our group who had a car. It was named Two-Tone, mostly since it had two different color body panels due to previous accidents. I have fond memories of how all seven of us would manage to pile into this one compact car to go to the nearby truck stop for coffee late at night. On more than one occasion, I rode in the trunk of the car. It may sound uncomfortable, but in my opinion it was roomier than trying to sit in the front passenger seat with someone on my lap or crammed three across in back seat. When we could afford it, a night of drinking coffee, smoking cigarettes and sharing fries at the truck stop was a special occasion. Julie was known for getting lost in conversation and accidentally ashing into her coffee. When she would drink it, we would all get grossed out, but she would shrug it off saying “it’s just carbon.”

About halfway through our first semester, things started to get a little awkward with Julie. You see, Julie started to get a crush on me. For my part, I was starting to get a crush on Heather, who was starting to reciprocate. Julie was also starting to get a crush on Heather. She started making suggestions that she liked the two of us together, and wouldn’t mind joining us. This was a foreign concept to me, an inexperienced kid from the suburbs who had, up until going to college, been very conservatively Catholic. This odd little love triangle lasted for a while, the rest of the semester to be sure. Heather and I continued to fool around, and Julie kept trying to lobby for inclusion with one or both of us.

Like most of us, Julie spent more time hanging out than she did with her studies. As a result, she was one of the two people who wasn’t able to return for spring semester. She moved back in with her parents in northeastern Ohio. She still had a car, so every couple of weeks she would make the drive back down to Ashland to hang out with all of us. The strange love triangle dynamic continued, but was lessened by the fact that she wasn’t around as much.

After spring semester, almost all of us were done with academics and had returned back to our parents’ homes. Julie and I stayed in touch as much as possible. I talked with her on the phone whenever I could, but not as much as I talked with Heather. On my first visit back to Ohio that summer, it was her and Heather that came and picked me up.

As much as we could, we all tried to saty in touch, but distance and lack of money played a big part in the isolation of some of us from the group. Me being the only one in another state made it harder to stay included, especially since I didn’t have a car. Heather, Jeremy and Julie were the only ones to make the effort.

About a year and a half after my failed college experience, I was still living in Syracuse and I didn’t really have any friends to speak of. Any contact with my Ohio friends was important, and Julie was still one of the only ones that kept reaching out to me. She wanted to bring me to Ohio for a New Year’s Eve party. She drove up to my parents’ house on the 29th of December, along with a friend of hers from back home I had never met. I had to work overnight on both the 29th and 30th, but then the plan was to drive to Ohio after I got home from work on the morning of the 31st. Julie and I had a good time talking about old times. Her friend really didn’t want to be there, and seemed annoyed by everything. Then, overnight on the 30th, Syracuse got hit by a blizzard. When I went in to work at 11pm, it had only started to snow and there was only an inch or two on the ground. By the time I got out of work at 4am, there was three feet on the ground and no sign of it letting up anytime soon. I had a harrowing drive home, only to be greeted by a wall of snow at the end of my street that was as tall as my mom’s little Ford Escort. You see, the plow had come through on the main road, and thus the snow was piled at the end of all the connecting streets. I drove around the outskirts of my neighborhood, looking for a street where the pile at the end wasn’t so high. I found one, swung out wide and gunned it through the drift, like an action scene in a movie. As I was trying to make my way through the suburban streets towards my house, the snow is so deep that it’s coming up over the hood as I drive. I made it to within a block of my house before I could force my way forward no more. Knowing full well that I needed to get my car to the driveway before the plow comes by, I trudged through the snow to my house and grabbed a shovel. I was able to dig my car out a bit and make it another fifteen feet before getting stuck again. I managed to close the distance to my house to less than a block, but I was running out of time. I struggled back to the house and woke everybody up asking for help. Mom got up and started making coffee. Dad started to clear a path to our shed to get the snowblower out. Julie came out to help me shovel and to drive the Escort while I pushed. Julie’s friend sat in our kitchen and complained to my mom that this wasn’t what she had in mind and kept asking when breakfast would be ready. We eventually got the car safely into the driveway, and Julie, my dad and myself where all cold and uncomfortable. After breakfast, I still planned on heading to Ohio for a couple of days for this party, but Two-Tone had other ideas. Attempts to start the car were futile, and it wouldn’t even turn over. By now, it had stopped snowing and the roads had been plowed. We gave the car a jump, hoping it was just the battery. It started, but we wanted to take it somewhere to have it checked before trying to drive it to Ohio. It turns out that the alternator was shot and would need replaced. My parents loaned Julie the money to have it fixed. By this time, I had been up for over twenty-four hours and was fading fast. I couldn’t see myself going back to Ohio for a party. I was tired, and I was sick of Julie’s friend and didn’t want to listen to her for four five hours in the car. I cancelled my participation, and Julie and her bitchy friend headed back without me. She did send money to pay my parents back, though.

Years later, when I was living in Ohio with Jeremy, I would still hang out with Julie from time to time. She had been seeing a guy she met at Perkins (her favorite hangout in her home town). Jeremy and I were both surprised weeks later when we got invites to her wedding. We made the trek across northern Ohio, from our home in the western corner to Julie’s in the eastern corner. As we were getting to the church, Jeremy noticed that he was having trouble stopping. A couple of blocks from the church, we lost the ability to brake altogether. We coasted through a red light or two, honking our horn, and turned into the church parking lot, where Jeremy used the emergency brake to stop. Julie is bad luck for cars, apparently. The wedding and the reception were nice, and it was the first time Heather and I had talked in a few months (she was also invited). The next day, Julie’s sister’s boyfriend replaced the brakes on our car.

Julie and her husband Eric didn’t seem like the most likely pair, but if they loved each other, that didn’t really matter. Julie got pregnant, and Eric signed up for the Army as a way to provide for his family. While he was away at basic training, a very pregnant Julie got lonely and would constantly beg Jeremy and I to come out and visit her. We did once or twice. Her son Vinny was born, and we again went out to visit her, this time with Heather, who was made godmother.

As the years went on, we saw and spoke to Julie less and less. Heather and I got back together and moved to Columbus in that time. We would go up to visit Julie occasionally, and talk on the phone here and there, but we each had our own lives. Eric was stationed overseas in Korea, and Julie’s marriage was not going well. She would seek out help from Heather and I. We would go up to visit her and try and talk things out. She would thank us and we would go home, hopeful that our advice had helped. A few months later, she would find out that Eric was having an affair with a Korean woman, and again we were there to help her move out of their apartment. He returned home, and tried to work things out. She would call us up and entreat our advice once again. This is when we started noticing the pattern. We only heard from Julie when something was wrong, and she had invariably not taken the advice we had given her months before, putting her in almost the same situation we had talked about last time. Sometimes this was just a long phone call. Sometimes it was us driving up to see her and Vinny and talk things out. She and Eric tried to work things out, but ultimately would get divorced, which caused another trip by Heather and I to help. After that, we would hear from her about every four months with another issue that only our guidance could solve. From trying to find a job to going back to school to an abusive boyfriend, we were always the ones she would call. And we would give advice and map out plans. And Julie would feel better and she would promise to try. And we wouldn’t hear from her for four months, when the cycle repeated with a new but similar life crisis.

The last time we saw Julie, she came down to see us. She needed to get away. Her friends were toxic, and the guy she was seeing wasn’t good to her. She hated living near her parents, who she never got along with. She hated living near her sister, who she never agreed with. She hated not having any opportunities. She drove down to our place with her son. We spent most of the day at the park, trying to talk through things while Vinny played on the nearby playground. Julie resolved to move down to Columbus, to go back to school, to get her life together. We had our doubts. We were skeptical. But we wanted to help. We hated seeing our friend suffer, and we knew that the best thing for her to do would be to get away from the truly corrosive environment she was in. After the park, we laid Vinny down for a nap and Julie and I went to our local record store, where I picked up the ebut album from a little band called Stellastarr. We went back to the apartment and listened to it while we made plans to get together next weekend to help her find somewhere to live in Columbus. We researched schools and jobs and college requirements. Julie and Vinny left early the next day.

We didn’t hear from Julie that week, and she didn’t come down the next weekend. We heard from her a few months later. She and the guy who was not nice to her were moving in together, but she needed our advice. We tried to schedule some time to get together, but that fell through at the last minute. We talked on the phone for hours, Heather and I taking turns. We gave some advice, reiterated our earlier advice, and tried to make plans. Those plans also fell through.

Julie called us again months later. I don’t know what the issue was this time. We didn’t answer. She left a voicemail asking us to call her back, no other details given. We didn’t call her back. A couple of weeks later, she called again. This time, she didn’t leave a message. And that was that. We haven’t heard from her since.

A few years ago, I tracked her down on social media. She seemed to be doing okay, but if her posts and status updates were to be believed she had a new set of the same old problems she was dealing with.

Julie was a big part of my life for a while, and a big part of my life with Heather as well. She was one of my closest friends for a long time. But, life moves differently for different people. Even though Heather and I didn’t exactly have a handle on everything in our twenties, we had more of a handle than Julie did. Our mistakes were consistently new, not re-paints of the same old ones. As much as you care for someone, it always has to be their desire to change. This is true for addiction, for relationships and for just about anything. You can nudge them, you can assist them, you can point them in the right direction, but you can never force them into change. When all of your prodding and helping goes unheeded, there’s only so much time before resentment and frustration set in. I loved Julie, but being around her just made me feel bad more and more. I felt bad that she couldn’t change, and I felt bad that I was in a better place than she was. I felt guilty for my victories when I was around her. Our time together devolved so that it was never about catching up, it was always about what was wrong in her life and how can we fix it for her. Neither side was getting what they wanted from the relationship. We got frustration and guilt, Julie got advice she apparently didn’t want.

I don’t know where Julie is now. I hope she’s happy. I hope she found someone who loves her. Her son at this point must be getting ready to go off to his own college experience. Wherever Julie is, I hope she knows that we always wanted her to be better than she thought she could be. It’s sad when a friend can’t seem to pull themselves up, even with a helping hand from time to time, but we all have a friend like that.


Mr. Tooduloo

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