A Dress and a Concert
This is Chapter 11 of Love Song by Julienne (ft Cancer). I’m not going to link to the others because I’m lazy, and also because it’s getting long, so if this is your first time here you might want to look at the other ones. Also, I apologize for the increasing delay between entries. It’s getting a little harder as we go, emotionally, but I’m going to try to do two a week going forward. We’ll see how long that lasts! Thanks for your patience.
There is a face and a noise that Julienne makes when she is absolutely 109% happy about something. If you’ve ever witnessed it, you know exactly what I’m referring to. If not, I’ll have to try to explain it to you. First, the face. The eyes are wide and beam with happiness, and are usually looking to the left. Her eyebrows are lifted as high as they will go, and Julienne has a master’s eyebrow raise. Her chin is lifted, her neck extends, and there is a big, delightfully goofy smile on her face. Next is the noise. It is hard to describe. Sort of a “ngh”, or maybe an “umh”, but it is a short, low noise. It is a gesture without intention or artifice, completely instinctive and reactionary on her part. It is, without question, my favorite thing in the universe, because it means that she is at the very height of pleased, contented, perfect happiness.
I’m lucky to have seen it many times. Julienne loves and expresses joy better than anyone I’ve ever seen, and that look was only one that appeared when she had something she really, truly, unabashedly adored. It is different than her surprised happy face, different than her one-the-verge-of-tears happy face, different than her fists-in-the-air-teeth-clenched-happy-rage face. It fills me with joy every time I see it. Happily, I have pictures that capture the moment, and I can fill in the sound, which I do every time I see them. But more on that later.
After Alantimes Day, we had to go back to our respective realities. Mine was a job that I didn’t really like all that much, that I had to work late way too often to keep afloat, with never a hint of catching up (although I did meet some great people there who I’m still in contact with, which is nice. And unusual for me). Hers was, of course, law school, graduate school, and concert production. The concert that she swore she would back off from became a huge part of her life again.
Knowing Julienne, it was no surprise. Event planning and production is a strength and love of hers, and her desire to do well – actually, not just well, that’s a complete understatement, her desire to knock something out of the motherfucking ballpark is more accurate – and to make a memorable concert were too strong to allow her to back away. She was using her contacts in LA to get some big names out there, so to her, it was her professional integrity on the line, and she needed to make sure that the event she was going to produce was as good as it could possibly be. So she threw herself into it with everything she had once again, along with her friend Taylor, the only other member of the Universal U team who seemed to give a shit.
Unfortunately, it was all a very large and dizzying array of plates that she had to keep spinning all at once, and she got stressed fast. I flew down the weekend after Valentine’s Day to be with her, as well as to try to get a sense of what I could do to help her. Like I’d done a little bit at Time for Three, I volunteered to come down and help her, but I wanted to be able to do more, especially as the scope of the project began to grow. And grow. And fucking GROW. Since Julienne was committed to this concert, she was going to make it as spectacular as it could be, because she was bound and determined to sell out Gusman Hall at the University of Miami with a classical music production.
So as the month of February progressed, she was becoming increasingly overwhelmed. It was becoming clear at that point that no one but she and Taylor seemed to give a shit about the concert, so she was trying to do more and more. Now, I’ve never seen anyone work as hard as Julienne when she was motivated. Her pride in her work, her desire to please, and her work ethic made her a freaking dynamo (last-minute panic also helped during the times when she procrastinated with one plate because she’d been focused on the other 7). She did take the occasional break to do something for herself, like stop by CVS to print every picture that she had of Lewis to put into a physical album (over 200 then – I have over 2,000 of him on my phone right now).
Another type of break she took was for wedding planning purposes. Pinteresting and online shopping from the bath helped keep her sane. She was still trying to get the perfect dress, the perfect décor, the perfect everything. At the end of the month I knew she had an appointment with a place that had the Reem Acra dress she’d loved online. I remember hoping that it wouldn’t be a disappointment, especially because sample sizes can be a real bitch to have to deal with. Apparently sample sizes are a very small range, and designers like to think that the ideal model for their clothing is an eleven-year-old boy, so, for someone like Julienne who was most decidedly not built like an eleven-year-old boy, trying on designer dresses could be a gutwrenching experience. I was hoping that the experience would go well, and was ready to console in case it didn’t.
I talked to her just before she left, and a couple of hours later, we had this text exchange:
And, apparently, that was that. It would be available June of 2016, a good three months before the wedding. I absolutely couldn’t wait to see her in it. I’ve been lucky enough in life to have been present for the three dresses that Julienne absolutely adores more than any other pieces of clothing: her Versailles dress, her purple-and-gold Renaissance gown, and this Reem Acra wedding dress. I knew she had pictures, but I wasn’t allowed to see them. I won’t make you wait.
That is her Face of Joy. Now, look at it again and make a little low “ngh” or “umh” noise, and you will know what it is like to be in the presence of the happiest person who ever was and ever will be.
(Of all of the many, many things I miss, it is this face, that sound, that I miss the most, except for one thing. The sight of her the first time I walk through the door after work, the way she said “baby!” or “hi baybeh” – that, that is what I miss the absolute most, and I die a little more inside every day I come home and don’t get that greeting.)
This dress made Julienne incandescent with happiness. I love how clearly enchanted she is, how the dress moves, and how much she is obsessed with how the dress moves. It was in every way her dream wedding dress. It even incorporated leaf designs. She’d always wanted to truly feel like a princess, and this is the first of the three dresses that she would find that made her believe that she was.
She came up the following weekend for Spring Break and we celebrated her find, and it took everything I had not to see the pictures. She was going to be doing some more bridesmaid dress shopping with Savs, and we were more than happy to spend some extra-long time together instead of our usual weekend. It was during that time that I received an unexpected letter from an aunt on my father’s side that I’d never really met. The letter actually was a copy of a letter my mother had sent to my aunt, her sister-in-law, and in it my mother discussed the fact that she wasn’t sure that my father had committed suicide, that he might actually have been murdered, and that she thought she knew who had done it, or had it done.
It was a rather shocking letter to me. When I was a young kid, I was told that my father had accidentally shot himself while cleaning his gun. Later, when my mother felt like I could handle the truth, she told me that he’d killed himself, which is what the police report stated. I’d accepted that and come to terms with it over the course of my life (he was an actively bad father, an abuser both physically and emotionally, so I often said [and still do] that the best thing he’d ever done for his family was shoot himself) as best I could. Having this idea of his death being possibly a murder rocked me pretty good, 35 years after the fact.
Jules comforted me and talked to me about it that night, letting me talk through everything I was feeling. Now, this is the point where Julienne showed another dimension to her love. She is someone who, if she loves you, has a fierceness to it that is almost wild and feral. If someone she loves it beset by outside forces, Jules is immediately on the attack, even as she cradles her loved one close to keep them safe. Her devotion and love is boundless, and she showed it to me very vividly the next day. While I was at work, she spent the entire day talking to the police and central records, finding his case number, asking me for more information about who his friends were, things of that nature. Unfortunately, she found that the records had been destroyed just a year or so prior as they migrated from paper files to digital storage, and records more than thirty years old were just destroyed.
It didn’t matter, though, not to me. What it showed was that, unasked, she was willing to do whatever it took to try to ease my mind, or to bring me clarity, or to help me in whatever way she could. Already at that point I had no doubts about her love for me, or her devotion, but she always found a way to show just how intense and deep those emotions were. The outcome of her search wasn’t important. How she made me feel during that strange time was everything to me, and a sign of things to come. (She always knew how to take care of me, and she keeps doing it today. It is because of her that I am able to get up every day and function like a human being, even when the loss of her is something that makes me want to curl up and, well, stop functioning.)
I was also getting a lot of chances to help her. Between schoolwork and concert production, there was plenty of opportunity to lend a hand. As Julienne’s vision for the concert continued to expand and clarify all at once, grunt work was needed. For instance, she wanted screenshots from the different games that the music was coming from to display on a big screen behind the stage. She wanted each game to have its own color palette so that they were distinctive. Portal, for example, was going to be vivid blue. So I would spend evenings poring through screenshots, looking for interesting ones that fit the color she was looking for. She wasn’t just looking to produce a concert. She wanted an Event. And I tried to be her hands whenever I possibly could.
Julienne was going to go all out for this thing. I flew down the same night she found her dress and helped her make a cake (by eating the leftover batter). She wanted to help market the event, so she and Taylor took a ton of flyers and a cake to campus on Saturday to give out free food and talk about the concert. She could bake one hell of a cake, too. It had been a long-time love of hers. Once as a teen, she’d attempted to make a pirate ship out of cake. It was ambitious and impressive, but it also didn’t work (she also never forgave the people who gave her shit about it afterwards. It’s a valuable lesson: do 100 things exactly right, and then try something ambitious and fail, and people just want to talk about the failure. She took it to heart, which is why she gave anything everything she had. I’m happy she never dimmed her ambition for greatness).
Julienne was not going to let this concert fail.
She wanted to sell out all 600 seats at UM Maurice Gusman Concert Hall at the Frost School of Music in the University of Miami. In spring. At a college campus. With classical music. The reason why the Universal U program existed in the first place was because none of the students gave a shit. So Julienne was going to make them give a shit, if it took everything out of her. Unfortunately, with the way things were shaping up and how much pushback she was getting from everyone from the sound guy to the person in charge of getting the signed contracts and the people in the group who were supposed to be doing this with her and Taylor, it was looking like it was going to try to take more out of her than she had to give.
Look at the scope of this thing. This is what she wanted to happen:
Saturday afternoon she wanted to hold a Super Smash Bros tournament, with the finals live-streamed at the intermission of the concert. In the evening, she wanted a free panel discussion with the guest composers, Gerard Marino (God of War), Trevor Morris (Dragon Age: Inquisition), Christopher Tin (Grammy Award-winning “Baba Yetu” for Civilization IV) and Garry Schyman (Bioshock). Then, in the lobby, she envisioned a bunch of old-school consoles in the lobby that people could sit and play with, along with a photo booth. She wanted a choreographed fight scene against a dragon in the middle of the show. She wanted Lara Croft to show up and beat up the emcee. She wanted to make something that no one would forget.
Oh, and not spend much money on it.
Julienne had 100% belief that she could make it happen, and I had utter and total faith in her. Where was she going to find old consoles? She made a few phone calls and got a guy who owned a video game store to loan them out to her, for free, including games like Zelda for every Nintendo platform. Lara Croft? No problem, found a cosplayer. Stream a concert on Twitch? Easy, just make the sound people understand what she needed them to do. There was nothing that could stand in her way, and no was just a waypoint on the way to yes (years later, I got to watch this with her doctors. Get on a plane after suffering a collapsed lung four days ago? No. Two days later, she was on the plane with her doctor’s blessing).
Of course, the stress on her was taking its toll. I did everything I could to mitigate it. I’d be down for the concert and volunteered to work as a production assistant (I am good at picking things up, moving them to a place I am told to move them, and putting them down). Jules’ cousin Laura would be down to help her stage manage, too, since almost every other member of the Universal U organization was unwilling to do much. Mostly the only thing I could do was tell her that I love her, that everything was going to be OK, and I’d be with her every step of the way, no matter what. That helped.
Of course, in the meantime, she’s still doing things like finding her bridesmaids’ and flower girl dresses, going to class, being Becca, and flying up for Easter. Now, Easter was never really a thing for me growing up. The Witnesses don’t celebrate it, and atheists don’t either, so I don’t remember doing anything but dyeing eggs every year as a kid because I love hard-boiled eggs. Easter dinner at the Gede’s, though, was a big thing. The family varies from mildly religious to atheistic, so I wasn’t too worried about an overly-God-filled event. It quickly became one of my favorite holidays. Julienne’s mother would make lamb every year, and lamb is very, very high on my list of delicious things that I want (and none of that mint jelly crap, neither). The food was always phenomenal, and there was wine and punch and wine and laughs and wine. It was like a true spring celebration; the long winter was over and everyone came over to eat, drink, and have a good time. We always loved Easter with the family so much.
After Easter, she had less than a week to finish the concert prep. She threw herself into it, making sure everything was ready. I flew down Thursday night and helped organize the schedule sheets and clipboards for every member of the production staff. We went through Gusman on Friday, making sure everything was ready, doing sound checks, all that jazz (music school joke!). It was amazing to see her in action. I’d mostly only seen Julienne as her social, everyday self, as well as her inner vulnerable self. Now, I was seeing Julienne as her professional self. And Working Jules is a force of fucking nature.
For all the stress and self-doubt Julienne felt, there was never a trace of it in front of anyone else. She was still her normal, friendly self, since that is who she is, but she also needed to have things done in a certain way at a certain time. In her professional life, Julienne has a velvet glove over a steel gauntlet, and anyone who mistook her easy demeanor as a way to dismiss or diminish her soon learned a valuable lesson. Julienne Gede Edwards is not someone to fuck with.
I walked along as she breezed down hallways, asking questions to the sound engineers, tweaking things, making sure things were set up exactly as she wanted. Observing her in action that day only added to the already astronomical respect I had for her. Julienne played hard, she could procrastinate and drag her feet from time to time, but when it was time to work, she worked. She worked harder than anyone I’ve ever known. I’m not impressed by people who work extra-long hours, because half the time they’re doing it for the optics of it (my god this coach sleeps in his office – he’s so dedicated!), or they aren’t good at time management, or, and this to me is the most important, they have no fucking idea what work-life balance is, or worse, they don’t care about having one. I don’t find that particularly impressive. But someone who can have a life, as joy-filled and magical as Julienne did, and then become a consummate professional in the blink of an eye – more, at the exact same time – that I do find impressive. It is something that is somewhat underreported about Jules, but it’s the simple truth. She worked hard at everything she ever did, whether it was for school, work, or magical fairy tea parties and Dothraki love nests.
The day of the show came, and I just scurried in her wake trying to keep up. She was everywhere doing everything. I helped set up chairs while she worked with the stage managers, went to pick up the donated consoles with Taylor (we ended up waiting at the game store for like 2 hours which felt like an eternity), set up the tables where the consoles would go, carried the luggage for Trevor Morris and other guests, and would spend the evening supervising the console area as the night went on. She, meanwhile, was all over the hall, making sure everything went smoothly.
I’ve never been as proud for someone as I am of her, for many reasons. How she carried herself, and all of us, through her whole devastating cancer experience. How magical she made so many experiences for her niece, and for everyone else. How she studied and took the bar exam right after finishing chemotherapy. There are a million instances where I’ve felt such pride on her behalf. This concert, though, was the first time that I felt that way. It was pride for her, but also just pure awe of how she could visualize and execute a project of that scope.
The concert was a smash success. They sold out the hall, and having a concert hall full of students to watch an orchestra perform classical music is an incredible achievement. The tournament was a blast. The old-school console area was buzzing until people were forced to leave because the concert was over. It was an extraordinary experience, and there is no way it happened like that without Julienne. She worked so fucking hard to make this everything it had the potential to be, and she absolutely killed it. It streamed on Twitch, and can still be seen there:
(I really can’t do her performance justice with my description. I can still see her, all in black, clipboard in hand, seemingly everywhere at once, dealing with every problem smoothly and quickly. I can’t reconcile that Julienne, the force of naturem with the fact that she’s gone. She was just here, doing all of these things at the age of 26, and now she isn’t here, and I can never understand that fact and I don’t think I ever will. This was just 4 and a half years ago. That’s all. It tears me apart to think about. There was a lifetime that happened somewhere between those 5 years, and I miss it with everything I have inside me because it’s like the only time in my life that I was actually alive and now I’m just back to being what I was without her, only worse, because I remember what it was like to be so alive, and so full of love and passion and hope and excitement and life and FUCK)
(Sorry – this is hard)
This concert was an experience I’ll never forget. Seeing the work that Julienne and others put into this event pay off so well, with a fantastic show that sold out, and seeing her produce it was such a unique and incredible thing. For all of her childlike whimsy, she knows her shit, she knows what needs to be done, and she knows how to do it right. I’m happy I was able to do some things to make life a little easier on her that day. It was a pretty good metaphor for what we both wanted out of life. She wanted to use her talents and education to accomplish great things, to make things that are magical, and to count on those she loves to support her. I wanted to do everything in my power to help bring her magical ideas to life, preferably in the background. And we both just wanted to have each other at every step of the way.
We celebrated that night and the next day in South Beach, hanging out with her parents and Laura (and Lewis, of course). It was a great chance for her to take a beat before finals. She had less than a month before graduation, and everything that Frost Plays had distracted her from was looming on the horizon. She had a lot of schoolwork to do, but she also had to practice something she hadn’t done in quite a while.
Sing in front of an audience.