Monday, November 02, 2009
my cousin Julia...
I remember when Julia first came to stay with us, it was like looking through a window into another world. The world of Julia.
I was at that awkward age, and she breezed in, cool, confident and totally in charge, with an accent from Chicago and stories about magic places called Cabrini Green and Cicero. She watched soap operas before I even knew what they were, who was this glamorous creature? She knew about kissing, like she was an authority and she had her own makeup, eyeshadows that she didn't mind wearing in great glittering heaps, and mascara, waterproof even. She showed me what a curling iron could do and eyeliner, and how to pinch your cheeks to fake blush and nevermind about the extra advice on anything and everything.
She was adventurous and taught me about boys and music and cars and showed me the right jeans (oh god forbid, I got those wrong, who knew what would happen, she would roll her eyes at my questions, Trust me, she’d say, knowingly, hinting at some unspoken doom) We listened to music, so much music, so many debates over who was better and which band member was cuter, who was a better drummer and oh, the record covers that we’d look at for hours... some songs I can still hear in my head with a skip where the record was scratched.
We got into trouble from our parents with our long distance phone bills and she could dance, could she ever. She taught me how, or tried to. She’d say, It’s all in the hips, Trust me. Disco, that was her thing, and I went to my first discotech with her. She loaned me her birth certificate so I could get a fake id, and for 3 glorious years, I was Julia Sbarounis when I snuck into nightclubs. We would go to places like Denny’s Den, where she spoke perfect Greek to everyone, and every boy loved her, in spite of them all being afraid of my Uncle John. My Dad was her Uncle John and I can still hear her calling him that, in that perfect accent, and she wasn’t afraid of him, of my Dad, not the way we Mihos kids were, what with his mental microscope and his way of knowing everything we were up to and having a debate prepared for every occasion, she would just laugh and say, cousin, you are nuts, he’s the biggest pushover on the planet. Now, I know she was right. She loved my parents and saw a great parallel with our Moms being the long-suffering non-Greek ladies.
When i saw her in October a year ago, she had bought everyone Tina Turner tickets, cancer wasn't even a thought in her head. Drew was working the tour and I was out in Chicago on Neil’s book tour, so we showed Aunt Jo backstage, telling Julia, naw, you’ve seen it. We had a cookout out the houses on Marmora and she liked Drew for me, she saw how much he loves me, and she said, yes, he’s a keeper, I officially approve, so when the hell is the wedding?
now she's gone, one year later, how can there be a world without Julia? that I will never hear her voice again, this is where my heart is caught in my throat...
I didn't see her at the end, my denial was so great, that my dear sweet angel of a Mom, she called me on the phone, gently saying, you do realize that this is serious now? I said, what? no. can’t be. Not my Jul. I called and spoke to Aunt Jo, and Jul got on the phone, her voice, tired but definitely her. Jo told me, she has to rest, maybe you can call her back. My thought, wait, what, how can it be, no, no, I saw her in late summer this year, she picked me up from my hotel when i was out on Jonas Brothers tour, she came up into my swanky hotel, swearing about the heat and most of all, she was bald, and she pushed me, saying, What, don't you like my new haircut, and we cried together at breakfast, until my Uncle John came in and said, oh What the hell? in his beautiful accent.
She wasn't scared, I was, and I still am because how can there be a world without Julia. I told her, she looked different but not because of her bald head, it was that she had found...something, some new mission, a path she was excited to walk on, she was there with her new mission and it shone out her eyes and spilled all over that breakfast table, there in suburban Chicago. She was ready to help all the people that were scared to go through what she had just gone through and she was hopeful to hold their hands, I asked her, you mean, kind of like a cancer spokesmodel and she laughed her ringing bell laugh and said, yeah, Cat that's it, I can help these people. I can! I remember saying to her then, I bet your sweet saint of a Mom, my aunt Jo, is so proud of you. She laughed again and said, yeah, yeah she is.
Jerry, who I have known since we were young and Jul was in high school, she said he was like coming home for her, she was so happy to have someone to share her life with. I will never forget how many bridesmaid dresses my cousin had to wear, and how much she wanted to be that bride. and she was, she was the most beautiful bride, the prettiest girl in the world.
But now, a world without Julia...who's going to help me though, who's going to remember what boy I liked in sixth grade, and that I had a purple sweater that she thought looked better on her so why couldn't she have it (she could- I would give her anything she wanted) who will I laugh with over the blackmail notes and letters that I still have in my parent's closet in Annandale, in the house where she came to visit us and changed my life forever, by approaching all the popular cool kids with her fancy accent and her camera and her attitude and suddenly I became cooler just by being related to her. Who's that pretty girl that you were with, Stuart Ruark, the school badass, asked me, and she kissed Sean O'Donnell, just about the coolest guy ever. She wrote his name on her arm and she showed me how to walk up to a group of people and just start talking, she said, what's the worst that can happen? It was like having my own rare species of wild cat that everyone wanted to look at and touch. I never knew anyone like her.
She could imitate anyone, and did so, with alarming accuracy, her Dad, my fabulous Uncle John, was her specialty and I will always hear his voice coming out of her mouth. She loved her family fiercely and foremostly, and don’t you ever, don't ever ever try to cross a blood relative of hers, because you won't win, and you won't do it again. Seriously. Family was her First Commandment. Her nieces and nephews were her treasures... I know all my relatives, but I could short-cut to updates by spending a half hour on the phone with Jul. She knew everyone’s good and bad news, and further more, she knew how to field everyone, and to give them well-heeded advice. Her relationship with her brother, my colorful cousin Tommy, had material to fill not only one television series but could probably spin off to two. She championed the underdog and she held her hand out to anyone. She lived next door to her parents, my Aunt Jo & Uncle John, and I have always thought, could I do that someday? Get up in the morning from my own life and walk next door to theirs, and it sunk into my head how unselfish and supportive this cousin of mine was. To see her with Megan, Tommy's first daughter and the love of her life, was to watch every sunrise for a month happen in one blinding moment.
I remember when she begged me to get her into a BonJovi show, all her contacts had failed and there wasn't a ticket to be had. I called the lighting guys on that, and said, hey i know it is against roadie etiquette to send you a person without chaperone but can you triple please let her sit at the lighting console with you because she won’t leave me alone on this one, and they groaned about it at first, but didn’t they all just fall in love with her, my brave cousin, who went by herself, cause I could only get one pass and she won every last crusty road-dog over. They still ask about her, and how can I tell them that she’s gone? How can I even believe it yet myself?
I bought a ticket to Chicago to see her, to go see this impossible situation, this invader that is giving my cousin so much pain, my thinking, still, up until this morning when I woke up to that 6 am phone call from Vicky that Julia was gone, because I thought I would go there and fix her and play music with her and talk about our lives and where they are going, and see that pooling light from her eyes, but no. I was too late.
I still can't believe there will be a world without Julia, because now I know there won't be. My cousin, my bright, beautiful, feisty, gorgeous lightning bolt of a girl, she lives in my heart.