Eight years ago today, I said goodbye to Julie. She was leaving on a hiking/camping trip with a group of students through Angel Tree ministries.
What I didn't know is that I was saying goodbye to Julie for a lot longer than a long weekend. The trip was cut short when Julie and one of the students were taken by the currents of the Temperance River.
It's funny how memory works. How selective it is, leaving seemingly random bits of the story to be recalled. I remember what I was wearing that last time I saw her. I walked outside where she was walking in from the parking lot and the wind caught the skirt I was wearing and she said something about it being like Marilyn Monroe over the air vents in that iconic photo.
I remember seeing the whole team of adults who were going on the trip standing inside the church, holding hands in a circle and praying.
I remember my phone ringing two mornings later, earlier than I usually got phone calls. And Julia's voice on the other end telling me what had happened. And saying, "Oh my gosh. Oh my gosh," over and over because it was all too unbelievable. Unimaginable.
I remember walking into church that morning and glancing over at the receptionist's desk. Her desk. I'd glance in that direction every time I walked in the door for a long time, always half expecting to see her face. Always crushed when the reality hit me that I never would again.
I remember the whole staff sitting in a big circle in the chapel. Telling Julie stories. Crying together. I remember walking through the planning of her funeral. A task I'd completed a few other times because it was my job, but never like this. Never for a friend.
I remember seeing her face in the casket at her funeral. And thinking, "That's not Julie. Julie isn't really here." Because everything that made her Julie was gone. The life, the personality, the grace. Her shell was left, but it wasn't her.
And now it's eight years later, and she's still not here. But we remember. I remember the sweet young woman who made me laugh. Her passion for photography and American Idol, for good food and deep friendships. And how she wouldn't drink out of a water bottle because she read it could give you smoker's lips. See? She's still making me smile.
July 28, 1978 - June 25, 2008