(Photo: Robert Zaleski/Stocksy)

Calling Julie: The Sister I Chose and Lost

I still have her listed as “sister” on my Facebook. You know how you can tag people as family in your profile? It has been five years since she died, and I just can’t bring myself to change it. Perhaps I never will.

Julie was my best friend.

We first met each other when we were working at The Destin Log on the northwest coast of Florida. It was my first “real job” out of college. I had followed a cute Air Force officer to the beach town after I got out of school, planning to move on to Atlanta after the summer. Turns out I loved it there and, although the dude didn’t love me, I stayed.

I had a friend who knew someone at the local paper, and — voila — I got a job there on the lowest rung, working the government beat in nearby South Walton County. Julie was the features editor — a beautiful woman who drove a cute red BMW. I was drawn to her immediately.

Now, the government beat was a shitshow. Since Julie had that role before me, she knew it. We quickly became friends. We bonded over the silly crap that went on in the County Commission (corrupt rednecks who ran the local government). We laughed until we cried at the news editor, a Civil War reenactor who often complained about the deer ticks that got imbedded in unmentionable areas while on her weekend campouts. Who wouldn’t chuckle about that? Our love of Mel Brooks movies, mac and cheese and margaritas further brought us together.

Together with her husband, Jim, Julie had me over for dinner almost every night. As I made $16,000 a year, this was kind of a big deal. Her family welcomed me in, including her son and her crazy mother.

Favorite activities including picking up shells, drinking lots of wine and smoking lots of cigarettes — we couldn’t be together enough.

She moved along to another job, leaving me with a promotion and her role. We stayed thick as thieves. We started to vacation together, including multiple trips to New Orleans and some to island destinations. Favorite activities including picking up shells, drinking lots of wine and smoking lots of cigarettes — we couldn’t be together enough.

Back when there were fax machines, we kept in touch by faxing one another jokes, funny drawings and lurid insults. I chuckled through many days of my subsequent crappy jobs.

When her husband died suddenly and she didn’t want to talk to almost anyone at the funeral, she put me as a gatekeeper between her and everyone — including her parents (who were NOT happy and didn’t forgive me for a long time).

That time was terrible. Jim had gotten forgetful and angry; he was not at all himself. After several exams provided no answers, Julie took him to a better hospital in a bigger town. The findings were grave: Jim had glioblastoma, a terminal and cancerous tumor in the brain.

Jim was diagnosed in April and died in August of the same year. That Julie kept me so close showed me yet again how important I was to her and reminded me how important she was to me.

Fast-forward a few years. After moving back to Virginia and taking a job at AOL, I was planning a trip to Las Vegas with my best dude friends from college. I invited Julie along, telling her I always thought she’d get along with my buddy Bruce. It was a silly long-shot, of course.

Only it wasn’t.

The minute Julie and Bruce met, they hit it off. My two dark-haired, blue-eyed best friends were flirting, bonding and — soon enough — more. After we all returned home, the two kept in touch. They fell in love. I couldn’t believe it, and yet I could. And how cool for me: A pair of my closest buddies were coupling up.

Before long, Julie moved to Long Island to be with Bruce and I had moved to NYC. There we were, after so many years, together in the same-ish city again! They got married, and she settled into her new home. I got out as much as I could on the Long Island Rail Road. It was about an hour’s trip. We played what we liked to call “The Sofa Olympics”; each earning a gold medal in lying around in our PJs, watching TV and laughing.

Without going into too much personal detail that isn’t mine to tell, it was great until it wasn’t. Julie began to suffer from a deepening depression. She felt too far away from home in Florida and her friends there. She thought she took her son away from a healthier place. She began to doubt the love of her husband, her other friends and me.

Apparently seeing no other way out, Julie took matters into her own hands.

She was in the hospital for about a week before she died (on Easter), though she was in a coma the entire week. Technically, she died of a heart attack. My best friend was gone. I was unwhole and broken. So many people were.

There are things I only told Julie. Only shared with Julie. Only Julie would understand. Remember that news editor? We laughed about her occasionally until (almost) the day she died. No one else in my circle knew her. That’s one of a thousand things I can never talk about again.

Of course I blame myself, at least partially. I now know a lot of people in the same situation do as well.

I still have many moments when I think, “I gotta call Julie.” Or, “I gotta tell Julie.” The thought disappears as soon as it comes, but it reminds me there’s a hole still there. A big one.

She was my best friend. She was my sister.

(Photo: Robert Zaleski/Stocksy)

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