The Final Leg Of The Journey
By calendrical quirk, the first day Julie could leave Wichita Falls, her job, her apartment, and her friends to join me in Chicago was Christmas Eve.
And so, while most people were buying last minute gifts, preparing feasts, and steeling themselves for that over hill and over dale trek to grandma’s house, Julie was beginning her journey to cover the last 900+ miles between us in an over-packed, seven year-old, spectacularly nondescript Volkswagen Squareback painted an indeterminate tan-beige-off white that was so mechanically precarious that we came to designate it The Hunk-O-Junk.
In fact, we soon realized that its benefits didn’t justify the inconvenience of repeatedly searching for a parking slot in a neighborhood where cars and curb space existed in a dynamic equilibrium (aka Musical Cars) that that worked only if at least 12% of all vehicles at any given time were cruising the avenues looking for a place to park. During the next snowstorm, we wedged The Hunk-O-Junk into a semi-legal space on the street and left it to its fate until we returned in the spring to sell it (the automotive equivalent of setting the tribe’s infirm elders adrift on an ice floe).
That resolutely inglorious chariot did, however, transport Julie to Chicago, earning itself emblematic status, immortalized in our telling and retelling of this story.
I had selected the apartment we were to share because of three primary advantages:
- It was available the same day I was looking for a place to live
- I could almost afford it
- Its location placed the entire city of Chicago between my soon-to-be ex-wife and me
The tiny apartment featured an excess of open floor space because of the minimalist decorating style I embraced secondarily to abandoning most of my worldly goods when I separated from my wife. The only furnishings I had salvaged from that relationship were a mattress, a desk, a desk chair, and a bolster that served as my easy chair.
I would have adhered to the custom of setting aside some drawers in anticipation of my new roommate’s arrive– if I had had any drawers. The final accent to the apartment’s décor was the artistic display of my underwear and socks on the bedroom floor.
The apartment was in Uptown near Lake Michigan and, as advertised, had a view of the Lake – if one stood at the eastern corner of the kitchen and squinted southwest toward the conveniently reflective window of the apartment analogous to ours in the high rise directly across the street, a glimmering sliver of Belmont Harbor could indeed be sighted.
Other than red foil and gold ribbon of Julie’s gift that the clerk had wrapped for me (that store didn’t routinely provide gift-wrapping; I suspect this was a pity wrap), there were no holiday decorations. Or window coverings. Or lamps. I was just too busy, too befuddled, and too broke to furnish the place.
On Christmas morning, the only groceries in the apartment were my usual sandwich ingredients procured from the local White Hen convenience store. I had, however, found (also at White Hen) not only a second (non-matching) set of flatware to go with the single knife, fork, and spoon I had liberated from my former residence but also a brand new pack of paper plates in classic white.
The Obligatory Final Glitch & Then We Open The Presents
After driving The Hunk-O-Junk most of Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, Julie arrived at the apartment Christmas afternoon to be met by – the doorman who handed her a note from me, explaining that I was at the Medical Center to calm the troops and scrawl my illegible signature, as Administrative Resident On Call For Psychiatry, on a couple of documents to make a protocol problem go away.
Happily, this was only a brief, if frustrating, delay. Two hours later, I returned to the apartment, ready to render my well rehearsed apologies for my absence. As it turned out, the contrition prep was wasted effort, and the apologies went unsaid.
While waiting for me, Julie had not only unpacked her belongings (without appreciably decreasing the empty floor space) but had scrounged all the fixings for the most delightful of Christmas celebrations: “It’s A Wonderful Life” was playing on her 15 inch black and white TV; a holiday feast of tuna salad sandwiches, ripple-cut potato chips, and icy cold glasses of gin and tonic was at the ready; and the room was bathed in candlelight (Julie had somehow secured a handful of candles from the batch the doorman kept at his desk to give to residents in case of a power outage).
Julie met me at the door with what became a continuation of that first kiss in the Dallas-Fort Worth Airport. Then, with us still locked in an embrace in the open doorway, her Christmas greeting to me, the first words between us now that we were, in every sense of the word, together, were
I loved you the first time I saw you.
I’ve loved you ever since.
I will always love you.
There was much more that happened that Christmas night, all of it fantastic, but nothing that tops that moment in the doorway.
The mechanics of telling this story bog down (even more) here. The problem is that Julie and I were, from this point onward, too damn happy, and I find it difficult to write an interesting narrative about happy. Come to think of it, I’ve always found just being happy a difficult task, requiring sustained and arduous effort – efforts that have been and continue to be amply and disproportionately rewarded, but strenuous nonetheless.
We were, of course, vulnerable to the same problems as everyone else and managed to create a host of hassles that were uniquely our own, as does everyone else – although I like to think we were clever enough that we were able to create a set of tribulations that would have ranked in the 98th percentile. Both of us worked too much, especially in those first few years. I was still married to someone else for the first several months of our co-habitation while the lawyers and the State of Illinois sporadically nudged the divorce along its meandering path toward completion. We moved. Then, we built a house and moved again – a couple of times. Jobs changed, friends changed, the weather changed. Julie’s daughter was in and out of our lives. We didn’t have kids of our own and then we did have kids of our own.
Permeating every aspect of our lives, of course, would be the tragedy of Julie’s illness, diagnosed two years after our first Christmas together, which led, almost 20 years later, to her death.
You see, the problem is the same predicament I pointed out earlier – we were too amazingly, overwhelmingly, embarrassingly, remarkably, astoundingly, resplendently, incorrigibly, wonderfully happy.
While I considered winding the story down at this point, there is too much about Julie that is too important for me to omit. I have to at least attempt to preserve and commemorate what Julie meant — and still means — to me. So, my plan is to collapse and condense the years Julie and I spent together, covering most of that time in what for me passes as telegraphic style, elaborating only those moments and events that proved to be life-altering.
You’re certainly welcome to watch me try.
Note: Originally posted May 22, 2006 at 1HeckOfAGuy.com, a predecessor of AllanShowalter.com
Julie Showalter was the fiercely intelligent, sexy, and loving woman with whom I had a outrageously wonderful marriage that ended with her death in late 1999 from cancer diagnosed the week of our wedding nearly 20 years earlier. She was also a brilliant scholar, the mother of our two sons, and a prize-winning author. Many posts on this blog are about her and still others consist of her writings. Julie’s Story is the account of our unlikely romance, Information can be found at Julie Showalter FAQ.