Goodbye Old Friend; someday we'll meet again …
THE GHOST WITH THE FINE CHINA CUPS
My last memory of her… a friend from long ago.
Julie was a startling beauty, a blue-eyed, natural blonde; a model, guitar player, a singer with glowing purity of tone,
a talented writer, and possessed of a wicked sense of humor.
She was too young to be dating and yet she was a natural flirt. She had a big crush. On me. I too had a crush. On her mother! An explanation is in order, I’m certain you’ll agree.
I was sixteen and standing on the quicksand of a Jehovah’s Witness adolescence. All my social contact was through the local Kingdom Hall. Any future prospect of dating or marriage was foreordained to be within the microcosmos of that religion.
Or so it seemed...back then…
Carol Ann Smith, (Julie’s mother) had 3 beautiful daughters: Nancy, Debbie, Julie, and the fruit of the
Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil was Carol Ann’s garden.
That’s all the setting you’ll need, I suppose.
I was perhaps,” interesting ” because of my poetry, writing, artwork - who knows? I was tall, not bad-looking, possessed a rich vocabulary. I really don’t know what these people found worth their time. I was extremely flattered they cared at all!
Carol Ann took me under her angel’s wings and encouraged me to develop my talents; showing intense interest enough to become my Muse. It made all the difference in the world. I owe her memory a debt beyond evaluation.
Carol Ann introduced me to Classical music and played Rachmaninoff while I spent time in her living room with her daughters (one on one). Nothing at all romantic in that deck of cards, I assure you.
Those years from my youth are treasures of my heart. Memory evergreen.
The following visit with Julie after five decades is bittersweet.
In our phone conversations, Julie cautioned me--prepared me in advance she had been felled by an affliction or two and would not look the same.
On the phone, it was as though mere days had passed since our last encounter in the Jurassic era of our lives--so vivid and bright was her ravishing humor and personality I felt no necessity of bracing myself.
I drove to her apartment filled with warm enthusiasm.
Now, here I was standing outside her apartment - rapping on the door.
Finally, the door opened...slowly…
There before my wondering eyes stood this little old lady bent double; pushing a walker, covered with Band-aids.
Forward motion, perceptibly a maximum effort.
It was all I could do ...not to gasp.
I swallowed hard and entered her apartment - taking my proper position among her souvenirs, cats, and memorabilia.
Julia Leigh Smith stood slightly bent forward on the other side of a Japanese folding screen - still applying makeup and chatting away like the 15-year-old prodigy she once was. (Back when she was way too young for me…)
You can walk out of a darkened room into full sunlight and feel suddenly invigorated. Julie’s life had been the opposite.
She’d taken a path from glittering summer to darkest winter.
I observed and listen to this living ghost - this cherished person so indispensable to my development as an artist and confident young man. Both Julie and her mother would invite me to read to them my latest work and praise my efforts; pouring refreshing acceptance at a time most sensitive to young artists - quelling fears and healing insecurities.
Old friends must catch up, spinning memories into gossamer recollection, capturing the missing bits, discovering missing pieces. Applying tiny editorial emendations. A wisp of this n’ that--flavors, hues, and shades -creating a new portrait of who we had once thought we were.
Julie performed nobly. We sat for tea in fine China cups with wistful vistas and Auld lang syne.
Old Friends chit-chat. Taking our turns pouring into the cup of memory - sipped, savored, and sighed.
Her cell phone would ring now and again. An abrasive male voice--always the same voice--interrupting, demanding an accounting of this visit. The voice was insistent and irrepressible. It was Julie’s mysterious man friend. Not happy that another male had set foot in "his" domain was he. Mildly she assured and scolded him alternately, then, disengaged and apologized. Every man in her life for as long as she could recall was both controlling and possessive -and she added - rude.
But she didn’t want to have THAT discussion. Not today.
We spent our time on golden days - BEFORE the long, slow, slide into her present abyss.
Julie and I had the common link that we were teenage Jehovah’s Witnesses. She had been ‘born in.’ Born in is so-o-o different than what I knew. No selective choice is involved. A young person feels trapped in a single point of view. No room is provided for sniffing out other ways of thinking, reasoning, or believing are permitted.
I, on the other hand, was “a boiled frog” gradually steeped in cold water, then not so cold, ratcheting hotter but not realizing I was ‘done’ till I was served on the platter in prison.
Cause and Effect thinking comes slowly to teens. Born in’s more easily go off the rails when adversity arises, in my opinion.
As she spoke, it was as though she were pulling open sealed doors ripping open nailed windows. Bit by bit, I learned things I wouldn’t have dreamed. Shocking and unseemly things about - what really went on in her family. People I thought I knew hid a rotten side no matter how self-possessed or spiritual they appeared.
Julie had run away from all that by the time she turned 18. She set off out of Texas to Los Angeles, away from a Jehovah’s Witness frying pan into the fire of Scientology. Yes - Scientology! Her first attempt at examining another POV.
If you are raised around narrow-path thinking that disallows challenges to your dogma, you develop a taste for it - it might well seem normal that all other “alternate” Truths will have the same strictures.
Julie ended up pregnant and forced (Scientology’s policy) to abort if she wanted to remain ‘on staff’ as an Auditor.
She hung bravely until she fell apart and crashed; only then moving back to Ft. Worth, Texas.
Somehow, she pulled it together long enough to start a promising modeling career.
In no time at all she met and married a man with money who built things for a living.
There was money--lots of it--and cocaine. She burned through a lot of both. Her candle was burning at both ends.
The addiction and her temperament collided and the balance of her mind was ‘disturbed.’
She injured her spine. (Wouldn’t say how.)
The severity of the damage required an internal steel brace. As she was recuperating, she fell and twisted. The operation had cost a fortune. That fall bent the brace! Now a permanent stoop forced her forward into a curve.
Pain and misery ended the marriage. The divorce settlement was enough for her to possess a beautiful home, property, assets to last a lifetime. Right?
Wrong. The money went right up her nose.
Her back problem couldn’t be addressed without costing another small fortune. That was gone.
So great was her legendary beauty, there were still men who came and went--each time breaking off a part of her and leaving with assets.
I saw where her story was headed. She lost her home and property and friends, one awful decision at a time.She turned to her mother--her old - ‘competitor-in-chief’ - for money and pity, but soon exhausted what little remained.
See what a bright a wonderful reunion there was?
It was my turn.
I was disabused of any thought at all that MY life had been anything but lollipops and sparkling Unicorns by then. I recited a few of my standard Hollywood stories and divorces and crowed about my seven children. Finally, we found ourselves as quiet as two old people in a room staring into an empty teacup wondering where it all had gone.
We steeped in tepid silence for a long minute or two. An earth and moon sort of an embrace.
Eventually, visitation at the end, we vowed to stay in touch, maybe regather the old gang and have a proper reunion. I headed toward the door and she tried to follow as best she could to see me out. We hugged and I peered at her tear-brimmed blue eyes and caught a glimpse of a soul drowning in pain.
"So very nice to see you--let's do this again soon..."