When I was ten years old, I learned my best friend had died from leukemia. Her name was Julie, and she once was my favorite person, in the way little girls choose their favorite person. We met in Italy in the first grade, in Mrs. Pendleton’s class. Or had we met in kindergarten and carried our friendship over into first grade? I don’t remember. Actually, after thirty-plus years I don’t remember much about Julie at all, but I do still remember how much I missed her not going on our class field trip to the zoo.
That morning I sat on a double-seat bench in the middle of the bus and didn’t talk to anyone else. Then I waited and waited and waited for Julie to climb aboard and sit next to me, except she never came. The bus started up, and Mrs. Pendleton and my mother, who had volunteered to be our class chaperon that day, whispered to one another a few seats in front of me. The engine was running; my classmates were being told to sit down. And I started to panic. Where is Julie? Why isn’t she here? I told Mrs. Pendleton that we couldn’t leave yet. We had to wait for Julie. Then Mrs. Pendleton and my mother had another quiet but short conversation. They invited me to sit up front with them where I was told, sympathetically but without much fuss, that Julie had moved away.
It wasn’t unusual for friends to move away. It wasn’t unusual not to have a chance to say goodbye to each other. Julie and I both lived in Italy not because we were Italian, but because our fathers were in the military. This is how life as a military kid works: you move, you make friends. Then you move again, and you make new friends. Sometimes you get to stay and your friend has to move and make new friends. You do this so much that it becomes second nature, but as you get older you recognize the importance of saying goodbye to people you might never see again.
This is not, however, the moment I learned that she had died. That moment came much later, when I was in the fourth grade at a new school, on the other side of the world from where Julie and I had become best friends. And when I learned she had died, I was devastated. Julie, it turns out, had moved away because she became sick. I was never really lied to, but her family had to rush her back to the states in order to get her the best treatment possible. As my mother stood in the kitchen telling me this, I was stopped midway on the stairs, not sure whether to go upstairs or down. So I just stood there. My mother asked me if I was okay. Yes, I was okay. She asked me if I had any questions. No, I didn’t have any questions. Then she asked me if I even remembered Julie. No, I didn’t. I didn’t remember Julie, my best friend. And that’s why I was devastated.
I remember there once was a girl named Julie who I absolutely adored. I remember there once was a girl named Julie and I missed her terribly on that class trip to the zoo. I remember there once was a girl named Julie and we were such good friends that we would sometimes hold hands. I remember there once was a girl named Julie, but I don’t remember her. Not her face, not the color of her hair, not the sound of her voice, or even the feel of her hand.
I remember nothing about her, yet I often find myself thinking of her.