This is the tenth chapter of Love Song by Julienne (ft Cancer). The other ones are listed below if you haven’t read them yet and chronological continuity is your thing.
Prologue – Julienne
Chapter 1 – Meeting Julienne
Chapter 2 – Finding Julienne
Chapter 3 – A Kiss, and a Confession
Chapter 5 – Brioche French Toast
Chapter 6 – Halloween with Becca
Chapter 7 – A Ring, and a Conversation
Chapter 8 – Her Woods
Chapter 9 – Christmas, and a Chase
After our first race together, Julienne and I hurried back to the apartment, showered, scooped up Lewis, and headed to South Beach for a mini staycation. We got a hotel for the night and spent the day at the beach. That evening, Julienne wore the dress she’d gotten for our engagement photoshoot that she was still planning. There was a clock tower in Baltimore that she loved that was accessible from the inside, and it was a popular place for things of that nature. We were so giddy that day, just so happy to be together and in love. In the evening, we took a stroll on the beach and Julienne was so happy that she was literally leaping in the air. I had to get it on video so I made her do it again for me. It will always, to me, be the essence of Jules, so full of light and joy and exuberance.
(I loved that she didn’t think it was going to work)
It was a perfect weekend with my perfect match. We walked the beach with Lewis, relaxed in the room with the breeze coming through the open doors, had a glass of champagne at some super-swanky place that I can’t remember that was full of the most insufferably awful people in the world and the glasses of champagne cost $75 apiece and that was nowhere near perfect, as far as I was concerned, but lounging on a sunbed with her, sipping this ridiculously expensive and not-very-good champagne while making fun of the absolute tools all around us was most definitely perfect.
(Reconnecting to that memory now, as the time when our lives changed so completely comes closer and closer, is somewhat surreal. It was an oasis in what we thought would be one of our most difficult times, spending all those days apart and longing to be together. I can still feel a trace of the absolute lightness of spirit I had that weekend, the future so bright and the present so perfect, holding on to every moment of that weekend with her. It is beautiful, and wonderful, and absolutely fucking unbearable, all at once.)
Unfortunately, I had to go back to Delaware. Since it was the end of January, the weather was miserably cold. It made the reality of our situation feel even more absurd. I WAS ON A BEACH YESTERDAY, I texted her, as I drove to work half-frozen on Monday. We persevered, though, looking to the future and when we’d next see each other again. We made plans for the next half-marathons (yes, plural). Jules liked having long races on her schedule as a way to keep herself moving and motivated. We signed up for the Hollywood Half-Marathon in April and the Disneyland Half-Marathon in September. I was dubious about managing to go from 3.2 miles to 13.1 in the span of 3 months, but with Julienne at my side I believed that I could do just about anything.
(That race in January is the only one we did in 2015. Her hat for that year has just that solitary day and time on it. A concert changed the plans for the April trip, and by September everything had changed. The hat hangs on our bedroom dresser mirror, and I can see the lone entry on it and remember that weekend and the heartbreak of shattered dreams that lie unwritten on its brim, and the absence of words on it carries its own weight, like the absence of so much else all around me. I am surrounded and consumed every day by the things that are not there.)
Just after I returned, Julienne found a dress, one she thought would be the dress. She was excited but couldn’t show it to me, of course, no matter how much we wanted to exclaim over it together. It wasn’t very expensive and was available online and she bought it. (As she was telling me I was in the Apple Store because she’d convinced me to buy an iPhone. I’d had it for less than a week, and hadn’t gotten a chance to get a case yet, and as I got gas leaving the airport I dropped it and the screen shattered. Thus began my hate affair with iPhones. The second I had an upgrade available [2 years later] I left the world of Apple, very happily, and never shall I return.)
Unfortunately, it would turn out to be a drill after all. When it arrived, it turned out to be more gold than it looked on the website, so it was, as she put it, back to the drawing board (Julienne is a perfectionist, as I may have mentioned before. She has such a clarity of vision that anything that didn’t fit exactly into how she imagined it were simply not good enough. It caused her a great deal of stress trying to find the exact right things, but there has never been a more persistent person in the world. She demanded perfection and wouldn’t stop until she found it. And she nearly always found it). She wasn’t too upset about it though, since she considered it a long shot. In fact, a couple minutes after she let me know it didn’t work, she mentioned that she found the Reem Acra dress she’d loved online at a place near her. She made an appointment for the end of February to give it a try.
Meanwhile, in addition to all of her schoolwork, Julienne was still dealing with concert production. She’d decided to step back, to let someone else be president of the group, since the workload was too much. Instead of trying to do everything, she would just focus on getting the talent together. They’d decided to do a concert featuring music from video games, and with her contacts with classical composers and their representatives from her upcoming dream job, she was starting to get some pretty big names in that genre. At the end of January, she got the composer of Bioshock Infinite on board, already had the composer of Dragon Age: Inquisition, and had some more people as possibilities.
That was all Julienne wanted to do for it – in fact, we were planning on being in California the weekend of the concert – because the stress and aggravation of it was too much for her, on top of trying to finish her Masters and law school. She still had to do meetings about the concert and she was utterly frustrated and done with the outside people involved, especially since it seemed that only she and Taylor cared about the concert at all. Shelly Berg, the faculty chair in charge of the program, scheduled a retreat for them all to talk through the concert, which was promising to be a much bigger affair than the previous one already. She felt a little better afterwards, cautiously optimistic for the show, and we cancelled our trip to California in April.
Meanwhile, our first Valentine’s Day together was coming up. Now, I’d always taken a pretty dim view of Valentine’s Day. In fact, among the first things I told each new girlfriend shortly after our relationship started was that I didn’t really do Valentine’s Day. Setting aside one day to celebrate love was ridiculous to me, when it should be celebrated every day, rather than being pressured by card companies to pay a ludicrous amount of money for a folded piece of cardboard, flowers, and a reservation at an intensely crowded restaurant. This usually went over so well (I did not, in fact, date or have girlfriends very much. I’m sure it’s a coincidence).
When I told Julienne all of this, she tilted her head and said Huh. How’s that working out for you?
She did have a point.
So we were going to be celebrating Valentine’s Day, or, as she called it, Alantimes Day. It was not going to be something as clichéd as a dozen roses, a card, and a meal. Oh no. My girl had plans. The first part of the plan involved Lewis getting a red heart stenciled onto himself at the groomers, which led to a fun exchange via text.
But the real plan was this:
We were going to spend Valentine’s Day at Disneyworld.
Now, her woods may be her happy place, but Disneyworld was, as she put it, the most magical place on Earth. There were few other places that meant as much as Disneyworld did to her. I know a lot of people who shit on Disneyworld, who say it’s for kids and adults who like it are weird, that it’s terrible and overpriced and overcrowded. Those people need to find a little fucking joy inside themselves. Growing up in Florida, I went there quite a bit. I always loved it there, even when I got older. When I was 21 or 22, my mother and I took a trip there, just the two of us. We had a blast. It’s one of the best times we spent together, laughing and people watching and just having fun.
Julienne got us a hotel room at the Boardwalk, one of the Disney resorts. Despite having been to Disney probably a dozen times when I lived in Florida, I’d never stayed at an actual Disney resort. They aren’t cheap, and I am. But Julienne wanted to do it for something I’d never heard of before her – Magic Hours. I had no idea what she was referring to, and she needed to explain it to me. See, if you stay at a Disney resort, you get access to a park after it is normally closed. I had no idea. The park varied depending on the day, but while we were there, it would be Disneyworld itself that we could run around in until 2 am. That sounded amazing.
So clearly, my usual blasé attitude about V-Day wasn’t going to cut it, not with everything she had planned for us. I was going to need to come up with some good gifts that showed some creativity and flair. I finally came up with an idea for part of it. Lewis was going through a time where destroying clothes, especially yoga pants, was a big hobby of his. Like, more of an occupation than a hobby. If he could find them, he was going to destroy them. So he’d destroyed like five pairs in the last couple of months, and I had an idea. I wasn’t going to buy yoga pants for Jules, because I don’t ever want to get involved in asking for or guessing the size of someone else. A gift card was too easy, though. It needed panache. Then I got another idea. All it required was me being able to draw Lewis reasonably well. As a kid, I’d dabbled in some comic-book-style art, but I hadn’t done anything in years. So I grabbed a pen and the closest piece of paper, which was a Walgreen’s receipt. I found a picture of Lew, and sketched out this:
It was good enough for what I wanted to do so I was happy. I finished the little project and packed for our weekend together in Disney. I flew into Orlando while she drove up from Miami, jumped into her car, and away we went. First was a trip to the hotel to check in and change. They asked why we’d decided to celebrate with them, and we told the concierge that we were celebrating our engagement. They gave her a Happily Ever After pin and some free sparkling wine, to Julienne’s delight. Then we went to the room and exchanged gifts. I gave her the things I bought her, which I can’t remember now, and then I gave her the little project I had done:
(Julienne loved the Lewis Bucks so much, but it was the little practice sketch that I did of him that really made her the happiest. Later, she put it in a little frame and displayed it in our house. It’s still there, on the little shelf next to the front door. It made her so happy that Lewis and I quickly became so close. Even towards the end, seeing Lewis jump up next to me on the couch and put his head in my lap gave her so much joy. “He loves you so much” she would always say, so absolutely pleased that “her boys” had each other. Now, he sits on my lap when I ferry them back and forth from the farm, a lot of times with his head on my shoulder, and I hold him with one arm and a lot of times he just looks at me like he’s as lost as I am and he presses against me and it breaks my heart to wonder what it must be like for him to be without her and I hate that this is happening to us so much.)
We left for our reservations at the French restaurant in Epcot, and here was where it first hit me that staying at a Disney resort was worth it. We strolled out of our hotel, down along the little lake where the Boardwalk was, along a sidewalk, across a bridge, and we were in Epcot. It was incredible. Arm in arm we strolled, and everywhere we went people saw her pin and congratulated us. Everyone assumed we were on our honeymoon. After correcting the first few, we said to hell with it, and started making up stories about our wedding.
We had a wonderful romantic dinner together. I can remember how we held hands across the table almost the entire time. The way she looked at me, in probably her favorite place in the world, was all the evidence I needed of how deeply she was in love with me, and even now I can scarcely believe what I could have done to deserve her love. We drank kir royales and talked and laughed and knew that soon this would be something we could do regularly. But a big part of it was us counting down the minutes, because soon, our Magic Hours were starting.
Finally it was time, and we were off.
We’d have a few extra hours in the park after it closed, and we were stoked. The place was practically empty. We beelined for the Haunted Mansion, because it was our favorite place in the entire park. We went through, then ran to the new Seven Dwarfs Mine Cart ride, then ran back to the Haunted Mansion, then Pirates, then Dwarfs, then the Haunted Mansion. We were like demented kids having the time of our lives. We actually got yelled at by park staff for running (why, I have no idea. There was nobody within 100 feet of us but them), then we walked until we turned a corner, then took off running again. It was absolutely, by far, the most fun I’d ever had at Disneyworld. I’ve said before that no one could radiate joy out of every pore like Julienne, and there is no place on Earth that gave her as much joy to radiate. I’ll never forget the look on her face, her ringing laugh, the way she squeezed my hand as we ran together through the night. It was as magical a time as I’ve had, up there with our wedding, the Dothraki Love Nest, anything. Her and I, hand in hand, arm in arm, feeling exhilarated and free and happy. We were like kids, kids deeply in love with the world, and magic, and each other.
We went back to Hollywood Studios the next morning, briefly, so I could experience the Tower of Terror and some Aerosmith roller coaster that I dreaded because I do not like anything but their early stuff. Julienne insisted though, saying it would be worth it. As always, she turned out to be right. The ride was awesome even if the music was shit (seriously, Love in an Elevator should be buried in a landfill somewhere, never to be seen again). I think we did a couple of other things before heading back to Disneyworld. Having a ton of people around us wasn’t as great, especially since we couldn’t run and had to wait in lines again, but it was just as wonderful being with her. She bought bridal Minnie ears, and the non-stop congratulations from everyone just made us even happier.
The next morning was for Mickey waffles and shopping along the Boardwalk until we had to go to the airport. And let me tell you, there isn’t much in the world that brought more joy to Julienne more than Mickey waffles. I mean, look at this face:
That kind of happiness just doesn’t come every day.
(It was, without question, the greatest Valentine’s Day of my life. I’ve never experienced anything quite like it. We had more spectacular trips afterwards, more luxurious hotels, more fanciful locations, but it was really the only vacation we had together before everything in our life changed. It was love without sorrow or fear, joy unblemished by doubt or worry, wonder unsullied by perspective or harsh reality. It was innocence, it was beauty, and it was perfect.
It’s really hard, now, thinking about Disney. We got to go back once, in 2018, shortly before she would be placed on oxygen. I bought her a Disneyland video game in late 2018, a silly kids’ game where you run around the park and collect autographs and go on the rides, sort of. She loved it, a way for her to see the California park she wanted to see but never got a chance. After our Versailles trip, we were trying to figure out one last journey down to see it again, the place we unabashedly and unashamedly loved, but time ran out on us. I don’t think I can ever go back, not without her. The magic wouldn’t be the same, and I chase enough ghosts every day.)
I don’t want to end this on a real bummer note, so here are some more pictures of the trip. Enjoy our silliness.