Saturday, May 14, 2016

Just Julie

The city flooded my senses with the promise of excitement.  Adventure is never out of reach in New York City.  Night was thick around us as we walked to the restaurant.  It was a Saturday evening, and downtown Manhattan was bursting with life.  The Empire State Building gleamed behind us, and every street was decked with its finest jewels... The lights in the city sparkle their brightest at night, as if trying to outshine the midday sun.

I walked happily, not bothered by the hustle and bustle of a big city.  Many noises and smells attacked my senses, but I happily took them in.  New York is a city of promise, a city where life seems to race by, and all you have to do is jump on for the ride.  I wanted to cherish my few short days there, and I was greatly looking forward to dinner with an old college friend, now a bona fide Manhattanite.

Dinner did not disappoint.  I was craving Brazilian food, so we found a restaurant with good reviews and walked in.  They didn't think they could seat us, since we didn't have a reservation, but I started talking to the hostess in Portuguese, and next thing I knew we were feasting on feijoada and picanha.  Many years had passed since I had seen my friend, and we had lots to catch up on.  The meal was delicious, and the conversation refreshing.

I looked at my friend, whose face and demeanor hadn't changed in the past 10 years.  Of course he had grown a little older, and living in Manhattan had no doubtedly had its effect on him.  Everyone changes a little in their lifetime.  But he had the same essence of my fast friend from days gone by.  I told him, "Man, you haven't changed a bit!" and I meant it as a compliment.  He smiled and laughed, and said, "Thank you!"

I asked him if he thought I changed.  He took a moment to think.  We hadn't seen each other in six years.  Since then I got married, moved three times, lived overseas, and learned another language.  In those few years I experienced heartbreak and true love, anxiety and peace, and many, many sunburns.  I lost my voice (literally), and found it, then lost it again.  I experienced deep deep hurt, and a little bit of happiness here and there.

When I asked him, "Do you think I've changed?" I expected him to say yes.  I expected him to notice the years of loneliness, as if they were etched into my face.  I thought he would sense crushing weight of feeling like an outsider, like I never fit in, that rested on my shoulders.  Maybe the condescending comments and pseudo-helpful advice given by well-meaning but disinterested "friends" had permanently altered my features, my personality.  In any case, he would surely notice the 15 pounds I had gained.

But he replied, "You're, very very Julie!"  His smile and laughter were genuine, as if he was surprised by my question but happy I asked.

"What does that even mean?" I said.  "You really don't think I've changed?"

"No," he said. "You're just... you're just Julie!"

I smiled and giggled a little.  Because I knew he was right.  I was "just Julie."  I couldn't be anything else other than "just Julie."  I felt a happy tinge in my heart, and a tiny weight was lifted.  Here was someone who knew the real me.  Someone who I essentially "grew up" next to - a friend who understood me: that I'm blunt, that I like to talk a lot, that I can get very passionate and animated when I'm excited, that I'm adventurous and like trying new things, that I'm sensitive and compassionate even if I don't always show it, that I'm moved to tears by beautiful music, that I often look serious and have a "mean" face, but in reality I'm generally easy going and friendly.  These things are not lost by the years and the struggles.  These things, for better or for worse, are who I am.  No matter how many people tell me I need to change to fit in, no matter how many people are intimidated by me or offended by me, this is who I am and always will be.

My friend didn't know what an effect his comment had on me.  He didn't know that I had been struggling against the current, not wanting to change my course, but feeling so much pressure to conform.  All he knew was that I was his friend and that I had not changed.  After a delicious meal and way too much dessert, we walked back to my hotel and sat in the lobby and chatted for a little while longer.  Soon it was time to part, and I hugged him goodbye.  It had been a refreshing evening spent with a friend who I could be completely myself with.  I didn't want him to leave and my life to go back to reality.  I didn't want to leave New York, a city where anything is possible, to return to my small town, where anything "different" is "weird."

I wondered if a weekend in New York would sustain me long enough to finish the school year strong.  I wondered if I could go back home and survive for just a little while longer... yet here I am, two weeks later, still longing to be back in New York.  Maybe it is the bright lights of the city that never sleeps that keeps pulling my mind away from this small town.  Maybe it is the memory of the never-ending delicious food, the sights, the smells, yes, even the crowds of people and traffic, that stir my heart to long for the city.  Or maybe I want to return to a place where I could be just Julie.

I'm experimenting with different types of posts these days.  I'm trying to be more introspective and concentrate more on my writing.  Please feel free to leave feedback.  Do you like these types of posts or prefer a different kind?  As always, thanks for reading!

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