Brioche French Toast
This is the fifth “chapter” of the fairytale love story I lived for 5 glorious years with Julienne Gede Edwards. It helps if you read the other ones first, probably.
Ch 1 – Meeting Julienne
Ch 2 – Finding Julienne
Ch 3 – A Kiss, and a Confession
I do want to give fair warning, though. This one has a lot of unfiltered expressions of pain and loss. And if I’m warning you about THIS one, and not any of the previous ones, then you know it’s going to be pretty raw. It’s hard to think and feel these happiest of times so clearly and not suffer the backlash of sorrow and devastation of the present, so be warned. I’m not apologizing for them because I’m not ashamed of them, but I imagine this stuff can be rough to hear sometimes. Hence the fair warning.
As always, thank you for the love and support. It honestly helps more than I can express. I love you all, and also *finger guns*
You’re the best.
After Dothraki Love Nest Weekend, a couple of things became clear. First, that I was going to struggle to compete with this level of imagination, thoughtfulness, love, and execution of vision going forward. How do you buy a Christmas present for someone after this? What would be remotely in the league of romantic gestures? (Fun fact: a couple Christmases ago I suggested that we set a budget of $25 for each other’s presents to reset the standard, because we’d gotten on an ever-escalating scale of gift-giving like it was retaliatory nuclear strikes of love. The withering look she gave me was all the answer I needed. The Gift War would continue apace. She always won.)
Second, I had no choice but to believe in magic. I’d seen it, and more importantly, felt it that night. Yes, I learned about fairy berries, which are just little plastic balls with battery-powered LEDs inside that make them pulse with light. But the effect they had, the sheer wonder they caused inside – that was pure magic. I liken it to the feeling that people get about the awe and wonder and power of the universe around them, and how some people ascribe it to a religious concept of divinity, or a spiritual enlightenment, or being in tune with nature. Whatever it is, it is the sheer knowledge that one cannot know the answers to every question, especially not the existential ones. I’m an atheist, so I know that I don’t know everything, and tend to reject the arguments of people who claim to know the Truth when they patently and obviously do not.
But magic? Yes, I believe. I am not exaggerating when I call Julienne magical. In fact, as a friend pointed out this week, the word “magical” is a paltry thing to try to describe the sheer wonder and power of Julienne. There is no word. She made me believe because I was there. I saw it and felt it every day. (She still proves it to me, sometimes by the very fairy berries that she adores. It’s hard to say she isn’t reaching out to me when a little plastic ball that’s been dead for three weeks suddenly lights up after I have a crying jag.)
It was no surprise,then, that our mutual obsession with each other only continued to intensify. Taking her to the airport the next day was painful. It was clear that the concept of “home” was no longer attached to a place – for both of us, wherever the other was at that moment was home. “Home” was the feeling of having the other close by, not necessarily in sight, but sure in the knowledge that they were near. What made it even worse was the knowledge that we wouldn’t be seeing each other over the upcoming weekend (October 4-5). At this point, the idea of going two weeks without being able to touch each other was maddening and untenable.
(This definition of “home” still stands today, painfully. I don’t have a home, not anymore. The closest I feel at “home” is at her site, because her presence there is undeniable. I’ve said before that, at the house we made together, I am like a ghost, wandering in search of something I’ll never find. Sometimes I feel like I live in a museum dedicated to her that I have frozen in time, and I am the caretaker of this museum that no one visits but me, where the exhibits look as if she just stepped out. When I get to the house, I still call out to her as I always did, and after I wait for a beat, listening to the answering silence, I quietly say “hi baby” in the way that she did so often, with a particular lilting cadence she used. Every morning I open the curtains for her before I leave so she can see the woods outside our bedroom. I kiss her pillow and tell her that I love her and promise that I’ll drive safe, just like I did with her when I left for work every morning. When I get home, I go into the bedroom where I found her almost every day for the last few months we were together and I wrap my arms around her pillow and I hold it and it’s the closest I’ll ever get to hugging her again, and I cry.)
It had to happen, though. I was filming the (sadly, never completed) movie that Christian, Allie, and I were all part of, and she was running her second half-marathon, this time a night run at Disney’s Hollywood Studios. Since it was early October, it was “horror” themed, with the Disney villains exhorting the runners on (a particular favorite of hers was Hades projected over a bridge they ran under). I wished I could have been there to see it, but at least her mom took what Julienne described as “the best series of pictures of me.”
They did not disappoint.
Then, to my delight, she flew up on the 7th to stay with me, and I’d fly down to Miami with her on the 11th and come back on Sunday night, the 12th. It would be our longest stretch together and we were excited and ready for the chance. It would turn out to be even better than everything that came before it. I was working, of course, and every day I came home to the almost identical noirish scene from before. One of us would cook dinner and the other would “help” which usually involved pouring the wine and snuggling the chef. I can close my eyes and put myself back there: hugging her from behind as she stirred something, kissing her neck and just being lost in the happiest place I’d ever found.
(Even when she hated her body, she always thought she had a beautiful neck. I remember complimenting her on it early in our relationship, and the look and smile she gave me was a mix of surprise and delight. She was so happy that someone had confirmed what she’d always felt.)
Julienne was (I hate that word now, “was.” I hate it with everything I have) – Julienne is an incredible cook. She taught me so much about how to prepare things-that-are-not-meat (I am very good with proteins but I had very little interest in things that were not proteins, except potatoes) like asparagus and brussels sprouts and spinach and all those things. Cooking was one of our favorite things to do together, listening to music and drinking wine and trying to pay attention to the food while the other person did their best to distract whoever was cooking.
(Over the last year we had together, I gradually did more and more of the cooking until it was just me. Once she was on morphine constantly her appetite began to weaken, treatment made her sensitive to odors, and her lack of interest in food meant it was difficult for her to cook. It was such a good part of our lives, though, that when she had me draw up a list of things I would do once she was gone to “mitigate sadness,” as she put it, she had two requests. One was that I go to therapy once a week for six months, and the other was to cook an actual meal for myself once a week. I’ve done both of those things, but I miss cooking with her so very, very much.)
After dinner we’d snuggle on the couch with Lewis and watch movies and drink wine and just bask in the comfort and safety of each other. There was always such a sense of security when Julienne was with me, and I loved how she’d tell me how safe and calm she felt when we were together. Those days told me everything that I was feeling was correct, that I didn’t just want to be with her every day for the rest of my life, I needed to do that. It had become less of a choice and more of an imperative.
(One thing happened during this time she was staying with me that hurt to see after all these years. She sent me a text complaining of pain in her side, and a general feeling of listlessness and that something was wrong, and she was pretty sure she had ovarian cysts. We were texting about her seeing a doctor. Less than a year later, those cysts would turn out to be where her cancer spread. Her doctor had told her not to worry about them, that they’d just go away on their own.)
On Saturday, I got my first chance to fly with the redoubtable Spaniel Day Lewis, Master of the Skies and Mustachioed Wonder of the World. He sprawled across our laps and slept the whole flight and it made me realize that flying without a dog on your lap is just doing it all wrong. We already felt like a family, traveling together like that, and it was such a happy time.
A little stressful, though, as well. See, Julienne had been working on a concert for the last month or so. It wasn’t enough for Julienne to be getting her law degree. While also pursuing her Masters degree. And being part of the law school’s LGBTQ organization. And having a long-distance boyfriend. No, none of that was enough. She also was the head of a student-run group at the Frost School of Music. Their job was to produce two concerts a year, including finding the talent, working out a budget with the school and outside organizations co-sponsoring it, marketing the event, finding production staff, making sure everything ran smoothly, and essentially doing everything.
So, on Sunday, the first of the two concerts was on. It featured Time for Three, a very cool act that is hard for me to describe. Essentially, they are a classically-trained string trio that plays a wide variety of music, “from Vivaldi to Kanye” as Jules put it, as part of her and the School’s effort to bring a wider audience to “classical” music forms. I’d be there as her arm candy during the happy hour and show, and I was a little nervous. The Head of the Frost Music School was Shelly Berg, and he also oversaw the student-run productions, and I’d be expected to make casual conversation with this Grammy-nominated artist during the happy hour and afterwards. She was nervous for her concert, I was nervous about yet another opportunity to look like an idiot in front of people Julienne respected.
But before that, we landed at our third home, the Ft Lauderdale Airport, and drove to her apartment. We got Lewis situated, then went to Whole Foods in South Miami by her apartment for some wine and dinner fixings and something for breakfast. Even doing the mundane things together was a blast for us, and we never got over our love for grocery shopping together (we really did love it. Even now, I can’t go to our local Grauls without crying because of how many times we goofed around and talked and just enjoyed being with each other every time we went. Usually I make it to the car before it starts, but not always. Sometimes it’s the littlest things that get you the most).
On that day, we were passing through the bakery section, talking about what might be good for breakfast. Julienne stopped the cart in front of a display and said, “How does brioche French toast sound?”
Now, for some reason, this was too much for me. I’m deliriously happy, I’m with the woman I already love more than anyone who lived, and as far as I am concerned things cannot possibly be better. Then this notion of having brioche French toast just sounds so over-the-top incredible to me, like a thing you get at a fancy restaurant I don’t go to. You don’t just make brioche French toast. That’s not a thing normal people do. It’s absurd, like too good to be true, like how she is too good to be true, and the fact that she’s with me is obviously way too good to be true. I was just completely overwhelmed at that second by the feeling of just how incredible Julienne is, and how beautiful, and caring, and all of these things, and the idea that this person is my girlfriend is just too much for me to bear. It was like someone had injected pure 100% uncut joy straight into my veins.
So I laughed, a mix of disbelief and complete happiness, and I responded to her suggestion of brioche French toast with the only acceptable answer:
“Will you marry me?”
I said it with a laugh, as a joke, like my life is so perfect right now that there is only one thing that could make it better and the idea is ridiculous and absurd so it has to be a joke, right?
And Julienne turned to me (and I hope I never forget this moment, no matter how many years pass, the sight of it in the Whole Foods bread section, the look on her face, everything) and she says to me, this guy she’s been in contact with for 41 days, who she kissed for the first time exactly one month ago, this perfect, gorgeous, angel of a woman just turns around, looks me in the eye with a little smile and tilt of her head and she says to me
And it just hangs there, in the air between us, and we knew I proposed as a joke, and she accepted as a joke, but we weren’t joking either, and at that moment it became clear that we both knew we weren’t joking, and for all intents and purposes we are engaged, because we know exactly who we want to spend the rest of our lives with and we want the rest of our lives to start as soon as humanly possible.
Everything after that just felt electric. My hands shook a little as we picked out wine, and we’d just look at each other and smile, and it felt like all the love in my heart was ready to explode out of my chest and devastate a city block in its power, like Iron Man’s unibeam.
We went home, made dinner, and talked about marriage. We had already talked about the main life plans by that point: wedding (she’d been planning that in her head for years), kids (yes), careers (sorted), all that stuff. Now we talked about how serious we were, and it was clear that it could only be described as Very. We were going to get married. It was just a fact.
The concert went great and we were going to get married. I got to meet a couple of her friends, like Taylor, who was her concert-producing right hand, marketing master, and person who helped keep her sane during concert shenanigans and we were going to get married. I managed to not be too much of a moron in front of Shelly Berg and we were going to get married. I sat next to Julienne, holding her hand in the concert hall, seeing an incredible performance, and we were going to get married.
It was heady and powerful and nearly all-consuming. It would also make being separated even harder than it already was, because we wanted the future to be the present. I even considered moving to Miami to be with her more often (and I lived in Florida for 22 years and hate the state with a fiery passion) before cooler heads (hers) prevailed. We didn’t exchange jewelry, so for us it didn’t quite count as a proposal exactly. But we always considered that the day we got engaged, because I proposed, and she accepted.
In the daze of promise of a life fulfilled ahead of us, something else of note happened. She’d been talking about writing, a place to put her feelings down or to share ideas, for a while. By this point, I’d been blogging here for a bunch of years, mostly doing nonsense to get back into writing, a place to exercise my brain and fingers, then gradually exorcise my demons from my failing first marriage, then just a place I updated sporadically. Blogging helped me, and she didn’t like forcing long Facebook posts down everyone’s throat (or getting them forced down her throat, for that matter). I remember her telling me what she was going to call it: Whimsy (because she was whimsical as hell, with a billion different interests) and Warpaint (which is what she called her makeup. She was already amazing at that point with the different looks and guises she could adopt using her warpaint, but she’d only get better every year that went by. Also, she hated when people would say “but you look so beautiful without makeup.” Bitch, warpaint isn’t just about beauty. It’s a message. And it’s for me, not you).
And Whimsy and Warpaint was born.
You’ve probably been there before. After she was diagnosed, it was where she put many of her longform thoughts about cancer and how it made her feel. Julienne is an incredible writer, one that puts me to shame, and she taught me a lot of things that I still do, like the pictures interspersed with (usually) funny captions beneath, but the most important thing she taught me was the ability to write completely openly about ideas and feelings. Her writing is pure Jules, straight from her amazing heart and brain. She does pull punches, sometimes, because she was afraid that someone might think it was about them when it wasn’t and she didn’t want to hurt feelings. But Julienne was fearless about putting herself out there. Without her writing, this post I’m writing now doesn’t exist, or it exists in a lame neutered state without any of the love and passion and sorrow and despair and joy and wonder that I try to put into it. From her very first full post, about unsolicited fitness advice, there is raw honesty and truth. Just like in all things, she only got better as time passed.
(It’s hard reading her posts now. Her last blog post about buying a calendar is almost more than I can bear. But it’s hard in a good way, like running is hard. Doing it is good for me, because her voice is right there in every word and I can read them at any time I want, or am ready for. There are many that she never published; Julienne is a perfectionist, especially in her writing, and where I will sit down and type, scan for errors, then publish for the world to see, Jules would tinker with the sentences, dropping in a new word, swapping out a phrase, trying to make it match the picture she has in her head. The unpublished ones were never perfect enough to publish, or she wrote them more for herself than for others. One day, if I can finish our love story, I would like to compile her writings about cancer, give them a little editorial glue, and publish them in book form, so if some young woman like Jules gets a similar diagnosis there is a place for her to go and see that she isn’t alone, her feelings are valid, and that hope is the thing with feathers. If I can put those two things into the world for posterity, then I will feel like I did something worthy of her. I couldn’t keep her alive, or cure her cancer, but I can try to give her a measure of the immortality she deserves.)
It broke my heart to leave on Monday, worse than I’d ever felt before. The longing for us was suddenly sharper and more intense. I looked back at her every second I could as she got further and further from me. When she was out of sight, we had this exchange:
This was going to be hard, because we’d be apart for 10 days (which doesn’t sound like much, but to us that was beyond imagining; 10 minutes was bad enough), so our craving for each other would have to wait. But the wait would be worth it (she was always worth waiting for, and there was a not-insubstantial amount of waiting), because coming up was our favorite time of year, the time that for us would beat Christmas as the absolute best part of the year.
Our first Halloween.