I can’t think of many things more essential to me than friends. And in this stage of my life, I’m referring to girlfriends. Which is odd, because I spent many of my adult years undervaluing their importance. I thought I enjoyed men friends more. They like to be silly, be outdoors, and most have little interest in gossip or shopping; they just felt like a better fit with me. Oh, how wrong I was, and my repentance is sincere and bone deep.
When I moved to Floridee about nine years ago and started my new life here, it took a while to really build meaningful relationships. As artists, we worked at home and left our community most weekends to take to the road for art shows. Made some fun friends on the road, a few who have become deeply significant to us, but most often they are people from all over and we see them in short weekend spurts, when our paths come together on the art show circuit. Making friends here at home would take a while longer.
And it’s funny how I first met Julie. I was invited by an older couple whom I adored to come to their home one night with a few others to see about being a part of their small group, a weekly gathering, back in my oh so distant church days. We told them we were spending the summer in Jerzey, and were in fact leaving the next day for about 5 months. It’s what we did the first few years down here, we still went back to our house in Jerz to do shows and visit family for the summer. But Vito said no worries, no commitments, just come see what it’s about. Out of nothing but sheer respect and politeness we agreed to attend, expecting to merely meet a few new people and be on our way.
Got to their house, saying my hellos, when I heard loud laughter coming in the door. LOUD laughter, and there is no better way to get my attention. My first Julie sighting, and I had no idea what kind of blessing was coming into my life. I was distracted, we all were, by the schedules Vito handed us, listing our upcoming times to host…. in the small group that we had no idea we were joining. However, I’m a big believer in following the path of cookie crumbs the Universe sets out before me. We liked Vito so much, we just thought we’d go along with it.
Fast forward to next fall, we return to St Augustine and take our place in the schedule. Turns out to be a good thing, as we enjoyed these new people and started meeting weekly, 8 of us. All of it part of my schooling from the Universe; it’s been a good thing for me to start over, to be less insistent on my own way. Earlier I would not have allowed myself to get embroiled in any regular hang with people until I made sure it was a good flow (for ME, it goes without saying. Yes, I was a jerk in that way, and others, I’m sure). I liked things the way I liked them. But Vito’s ways were Vito’s ways all the way, and I learned from that surrender.
I quickly came to enjoy so many things about Julie. I thought I was queen of letting it all hang out, but the crown was mine no longer. I didn’t even realize what a gift her straightforwardness was at that time, because it took me a few years to really find my way through the southern culture. Bless my heart. Her truthfulness was a care package from home, in a land where it is sometimes considered impolite to tell the truth. I would come to rely on Julie’s honesty again and again, and for a while, in my craziest sad days, she was like a compass to me, pointing the way to safety… to truth. Being real has always been the safe zone for me; I’m not great at reading subtle signals, at playing the games of manners, especially with females, ironically. But Julie was as real as they come; I never had to wonder where I stood with her.
The Universe was SO behind that involuntary gathering. A year after we started meeting one couple split up, completely shocking us all. This is what I’m saying. We met with them weekly, supposedly sharing our hearts and lives with one another, and to us it seemed to stop on a dime. Of course it didn’t, but this is the thing about southern culture. It’s sometimes hard to know what’s really happening, for me anyway. I’ve since been in another group and experienced this phenomenon for a second time. Believe me, folks, if my marriage falls apart, it shall be no secret or shock to anyone lol. Probably somewhere between my oversharing and their locked lips lies a healthy balance. And when Julie’s marriage struggled she trusted us to know it and be a part of working with them and for them to help, if possible. Sadly, it wasn’t possible, and my friend who had become so dear to me was hurting, openly. It was hard to leave her that spring when we headed to Jersey, and I had no idea that we too were heading for the worst hurting of our lives. Within five days of arriving our hearts were also broken.
My phone rang many times that summer, calls and texts from friends offering support. But I could never bring myself to respond, I just didn’t have it in me. The only calls I took were Julie’s. When your heart is broken there is a rest in sitting with another broken-hearted person; perhaps that’s the power of support groups. We were each other’s support group, and we made it through, carried by the kindnesses of many and of each other.
One of my favorite things about Julie is her capacity for dreaming. The first night I got back we drove down to the Hammock area, sat by the inlet and watched the sun set with a bucket of clams and a bottle of wine or two. She had lost her beautiful home by the water and yet she told me that night that one day she’d have a home in the woods, on the water again. After enough wine, we actually drove around and walked some of the nearby properties, out on their decks and lawns, imagining what Jul’s future home might look like. She had a passion for farm markets too, and shared with me her vision to start a local market to serve both the community and local farmers. Over the next few years I can’t say that I saw much forward movement in either of those dreams but that never discouraged Julie. She talked of those things as if they already were, and in her mind it was done. She never stopped believing, in herself or her dreams, and that was huge for me to watch. Like me, she is an extremist. Her personality, her vision, her belief in herself… they are rock solid. I felt for a while that I was almost translucent, wispy enough psychically to blow away in a strong breeze, and being around Julie did much to ground me. She is confident without being obnoxious about it, she is sure of who she is, and I had begun to really wonder in my lostness…The Universe knows what it’s doing when it puts out those bread crumbs, it is best to pay attention. Julie was a touchstone for me, and I hope I served a similar purpose for her.
I don’t want to embarrass her by going on and on, but suffice it to say that Julie has been running the Salt Air Farmer’s Market near Marineland for almost 5 years, and since the fall she and her friend and business partner Sloan have been directing the Wednesday Pier Market as well. She’s also bought herself a beautiful home in the woods, right on a spring that leads to Lake George. Dreamer Extraordinaire, she knows how to make things happen. Painful losses and sorrows can hurt us for sure, but they can also strengthen us if we allow them room to do so. I have been lucky in my life, far more lucky than I deserve or ever hoped to be. I know this because of gifts like Julie, and I know that you have similar stories in your own life. Wouldn’t it be great if we recognized and acknowledged them while we have the chance? Thank you, Universe, for unwanted small groups and surprise friendships. May they ever continue.