TITLE: Losing Julie
By lynn gipson
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I will never forget the first time I saw Julie Gelb. It was the in the fall of 1965 on the first day of junior high and we were standing in front of a bulletin board in the hallway frantically searching for a room directory. The homeroom bell had just rung and we both were both clueless as to where that room was. We looked at each other and expressed our fear of being late for class and an instant connection was made. We smiled, introduced ourselves and knew right away we were somehow meant to meet. That chance encounter led to two and a half years of a most beautiful friendship and ended in the most traumatic and devastating experience of my life.
Julie was a beautiful girl. Her dark brown, almost black hair was worn in a page boy. Her father was a large jovial Jewish man. Her mother died of cancer when Julie was three years old and had been Italian. The combination of both made for a most attractive daughter. She was an only child of that union, but at the time had a stepmother and stepsister who treated her like the proverbial step child.
As it turned out, Julie lived right down the street from me and as we walked home from school that day she told me she was afraid to go home. Her stepmother and stepsister were mean to her, she said. She asked if she could stay at my house until her father got in from work. I immediately said yes and we soon became inseparable.
Julie fit in with my family right away and soon it was like she was my sister. She spent most of her free time of my house and became one of the family. I lived with my aunt and uncle, and they fell in love with the little Jewish girl with the big brown puppy dog eyes. Julie had a hard go at home but also the most amazing sense of humor. She loved to play pranks and make others laugh and she was always welcome in our home. When her father found out how she was being treated, he allowed her to stay at our house after school and would pick her up on his way home from work.
It is fair to at that point I began to feel protective towards Julie. Kids at school would taunt her for her religion, although her she and her father weren't really practicing Jews. I recognized her to be a girl with the same self esteem issues I had and felt sorry for her living with people who verbally abused her. I knew she was somewhat different and her ideas about life were a little progressive for a girls our age, but it made no difference in our friendship.
The following summer I went to spend the summer with my mother in Biloxi, Mississippi and Julie and I would send letters to each other constantly. She wrote that her father had separated from her stepmother and stepsister and the two of them were temporarily living in a by-the-week motel. I was happy for her because she no longer had to live in a home with people who treated her so badly. I came back two weeks before school was to start and spent most of my time with Julie at the motel. We played badminton and swam in the pool there and I learned to love bagels and lochs. Mr. Gelb found an apartment for the two of them before school started and to my dismay it was too far away for Julie and I to go to the same high school together.
It was in her freshman year at high school when Julie met a boy named Jack. He was a wild one, and very popular in school. Julie always went for the one all the other girls wanted. I guess it made her feel special. Jack was taken in by Julie's good looks and personality and they began dating. Now I say dating, but Julie was only 15 at the time so dating meant sneaking around and going to parties together. Her dad was a little strict when it came to boys and said his daughter could not legitimately date until she was 16. Still, they managed to be alone at times and Jack pressured Julie into a sexual relationship. She was crazy about him and he told her if she wouldn't give in he would find a girl who would. Jack was not a nice guy but that seemed to make her want him even more. At times he would hit her, but she never thought of breaking up with him. Ultimately he did the breaking up and left her devastated.
We remained constant friends, but at her new school Julie started to fall in with a rougher crowd. She now lived in an area where the kids were, shall I say, somewhat more thrill seeking than the ones from mine. She started to change gradually and would tell me of some of the new experiences she was having. I was a little shocked at first, but I then between the two of us Julie had always been the bolder one. I was far too worried about what others thought to try some of the things she had. It didn't matter to me. Julie was my friend, and to be honest, although I pretended to scold her, I secretly enjoyed hearing about her latest exploits. I guess you could say I lived vicariously through her, because she was like the other half of me that wished I could be that courageous.
In the summer of 1965 Julie's father took us to New York City. It is fair to say by this time I had grown to love Mr. Gelb and he had taken to calling me his blonde headed daughter. He was humorous and kept us in stitches while driving us all the way to New York. What a great time all that was. We went to the beach. We saw the Statue of Liberty and climbed all the way to the top. We visited the Empire State building and went for a boat ride in New York Harbor. We stayed with Mr. Gelb's brother and his family. They were wonderful people and accepted me as one of the family, but teasing me about my blonde hair and southern accent. Julie's aunt took us to Macy's where we shopped for hours. I could go on forever about the wonderful and funny times we had on that trip.
In the spring of 1966 Julie went with me, my aunt and my uncle to Biloxi to see my mother and another we had a good time but it was at this time I began to notice a difference in Julie's attitude towards me. She didn't laugh with me as much and I sensed something was wrong. She seemed to resent me a little, I had no idea why ,and to this day I still don't. I can only imagine it was the difference in our attitudes towards boy friends and the fact I never let one treat me badly, and I told her so. This difference was to play out in our relationship soon over a boy named Buddy Mabrey.
Buddy Mabrey came into school as a new kid in town in junior high in the spring of 1965. He was absolutely the best looking boy I had ever seen. He had the most mesmerizing eyes. He was what was known as a bad boy in that era. He was two years older than the rest of the crowd because he had failed two grades in previous years. He first noticed me at the area skating rink and eventually asked for my phone number. I was shocked because he definitely had the reputation of being sexually active, and at that time I was still pure as the driven snow. I was not his kind of girl. I told him as much, and he said he still wanted my phone number. Against my better judgment I went out on one date with him. He was a gentlemen, but when he kissed me there was a passion to his kiss I had never known before. He asked me to go steady and I said yes but a week later I came to my senses and told him I would never be the kind of girl he was used to, and he would just end up hurting me. We broke up but remained friends, talking on the phone sometimes for hours about school and everyday life in general. I knew he cared for me in a deep way and I felt the same about him but we were as different in our morals night and day. Still, although he remained a serial dater and I had a nice boyfriend, I came to think of him as someone very special in my heart.
Julie, of course, knew of my relationship with Buddy Mabrey and how much I cared about him. I would talk to her for hours about how I wished he was a different sort of guy, because I thought at the time I was in love with him, but I was in love with the Buddy I talked to on phone, and knew a different side of him.
Then came the call of betrayal. Julie had never met Buddy in person but had seen him before and one night she spotted him at a teen dance hall and went up to him and introduced herself. As Buddy told it, she requested his presence at a party she was going to the next night. Buddy called me the Sunday afterward and said he and Julie had been intimate and were now an item. I couldn't believe his words but I had no right to say anything about their relationship, as I had a boyfriend of my own. Julie avoided me for several weeks and then finally called to say she hoped none of this would ruin our friendship. I assured her I would always be her friend no matter what and nothing or no one could ever come between us. I can't say I wasn't hurt, but I honestly felt that way. I guess I was still being protective of her because I couldn't tell her how much she hurt had me.
Late in the year of 1966 Buddy decided school wasn't for him and he joined the Navy. He left in January of 1967 for boot camp. During the previous two months I had seen and talked to Julie only two or three times. She was still avoiding me. Buddy would still call me several times during the week and talk about his relationship with my ex-best friend. I would listen and comment vaguely because I didn't want him to know my real feelings about what I felt was a betrayal. The few times Julie did call she would always ask if I had talked to Buddy. She seemed to resent the fact he and I were still friends of a sort.
In march of 1967 I went to see Julie and at this writing I can't remember what the reason was. She told me jubilantly Buddy was coming home in two weeks and added while he was away at boot camp she had been seeing someone else. By that time nothing she did shocked me, so I just listened to her without comment. That was the last time I saw Julie Gelb alive.
I didn't talk to Julie for several weeks except once. She called me to tell me Buddy was home and they had been fighting because she had been seeing someone else, then asked me why I had told him of her dating another guy. It seemed in order to protect the identity of the person who actually went to him, Buddy made her to think I was the one who told him of her betrayal while he was away. I was lived at Buddy, but managed to convince her I had had no contact with Buddy since before he left for boot camp, and that was true. He didn't call me when he got home and I didn't call him. He was with her now and I was beginning to be happy with my own boyfriend. That was the last time I ever spoke to Julie Gelb.
Two weeks later Julie was dead. I was at school when Buddy called my aunt to say he had gone to her apartment to pick her up so she could go to the airport and see him off. He had to return to the Navy to receive his orders as to where he would be stationed. He had been calling her for the two previous days and got no answer but she had insisted she would go and watch him board his plane. He and several friends finally convinced the landlord of the apartment building she lived in to unlock the door. Buddy walked into Julie's bedroom and froze. I cannot even fathom what he must have seen. He said he couldn't move or speak. Julie was in the bed with a bullet wound in her forehead. Julie's dad was laying across the foot of her bed with a bullet in his right temple. Father and daughter were both dead. Julie's dad, the man I had come to love, had shot and killed Julie and himself. It was a murder suicide and it had happened two days before.
My aunt picked me up at school to tell me the news. I was devastated. I couldn't speak. I couldn't think or barely move.
I rode home in a state of shock and turned on the tv to watch it play out on the news. It was on all stations and they wouldn't stop talking about it. This kind of thing was almost unheard of in 1967, at least in our community. I got angry at the people on tv talking about it. I wanted them to shut up and they just kept talking about my friend Julie. For the very first time in my life I thought I would lose my mind. I went to the funeral home to see her one last time. She looked beautiful in a pale green dressing gown and although her face was swollen she looked just like an angel lying there. The people at the funeral home had managed to make her almost as pretty in death as she was in life. I couldn't look at Mr. Gelb, I just couldn't. At that point in time I hated him.
Then a girl whose name I can't remember came over to me and said Buddy wanted to see me in the other room and I completely lost it. I started crying the word "no!" over and over again and started screaming like something inside was killing me. I had never reacted to anything like that in my life, nor have I since.
Finally, after I had pulled myself together, Buddy came over to me and hugged my neck. I can't tell you of the emotions I felt when he did that. My heart went out to him because he looked so distraught and completely devastated, and I felt guilty because I knew in that moment how very much I loved him. It seemed sharing that moment with him made me loved him all the more. A strange sort of bonding took place. We both loved her and as I cried on his shoulder I knew he and I would never be anything more than two people who loved each other from a distance and never together. I also knew in that moment that he loved me. You just sense those things when you're sixteen years old.
I saw Buddy Mabrey four times after this tragedy rocked our world. The last time was when I was nineteen years old and he was out of the Navy. This was our chance to be together if we wanted to, but neither of us had the heart to even try. He said he loved me and the pain in his voice told me how much he meant it, but at that very moment I knew it was the end for us.
Julie had betrayed me but I couldn't betray her and I felt guilty because I was alive and she was dead. It was time to let Buddy Mabrey go.
Julie is another matter. I've never let her go. It has been forty five years and I still have dreams about her. In these dreams she tells me she and her dad did not die but simply moved away. This tells I have never accepted her death. After all this time I still can't believe what happened nor understand why it happened. No one knew how disturbed her father was, least of all me. He was gentle, he was kind, and always smiling. Try as I have over the past four decades I still can't understand why he took a gun and shot the person he loved most in this world, and then turned the gun on himself. If I just knew why, maybe I could accept it all. I think now of the man I loved like a father and I know in my heart whatever the reason was, I have forgiven him.
Writing this has been most theraputic for me. I have finally, after all this time, put my feelings into words as I type away. Maybe now I can put the precious friend I always felt I had to protect to rest.
Rest in peace, Julie my friend, rest in peace.
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