Julia and I can’t pinpoint exactly when we first met, although she thinks she remembers hearing my name when she was the new kid in sixth grade at James Lane Allen Elementary School in Lexington, Ky. That would’ve been in 1981, and she had just moved with her family from Arlington, Virginia. Ten years earlier, my family had moved south from Philadelphia into our first tiny house in Lexington’s Gardenside neighborhood when I was two years old, and I had attended James Lane Allen’s first-ever kindergarten class. After I finished second grade there, however, my parents found us a roomier home a few blocks away in a different elementary school district. Although Julia was quickly becoming friends with some of my former classmates, I was long gone, so I don’t remember Julia coming into my consciousness until we met up later in seventh grade.
My earliest visual of Julia is in the hallways at Beaumont Junior High School. Floating by in a Kelly-green, cable-knit wool sweater and navy blue chino pencil skirt, Julia’s long chestnut brown hair was curled to perfection. In her arms, she cradled a stack of textbooks, while the wooden handles of a purse with a matching cloth, button-on cover dangled from one hand at the bottom of the pile. I am sure we must have had classes together, because I knew who she was, but what I remember most from that time is her style. I have never been much of fashionista, but The Official Preppy Handbook was all the rage at that time, and Julia clearly impressed me with her interpretation of the look.
My high school memories of Julia are much more robust. We both walked on to Lafayette Senior High School’s first women’s soccer team, which started up our sophomore year as the Title IX accommodation for axing the gymnastics team. Soccer is so widespread now that it’s hard to imagine so few girls playing at that time that tryouts were unnecessary. Before high school, I had grown up immersed in gymnastics, and I was devastated to leave those days behind. Starting a brand-new sport at that age was not easy, but it helped that as a team we were all finding our way together. As reasonably strong athletes with limited knowledge of the game, Julia and I both ended up playing on the defensive end of the field with moderate success.
Off the soccer field, Julia and I frequently found ourselves rotating among the advanced classes together, and she was a natural leader in both the academic and social scenes. Where I was more comfortable on the academic side of the aisle and dabbling in the party circuit, Julia jumped right into both. She was firmly ensconced within the popular crowd, famously hosting a massive party intended for soccer friends that became so large that even her dad heard about it while he was out buying gas that evening. Ever the take-charge problem-solver, Julia ended up calling the police on her own party that night to restore order in her neighborhood.
Julia was elected president of Student Council our senior year, and I served on her executive board. This meant we were assigned lockers right next to each other, so we were together often in school that year. We were also hanging out on weekends together more frequently by then, and our bond strengthened as we began to realize how much we had in common. We were both Kentucky transplants, with New-England-based grandparents and mothers with embarrassingly strong Yankee accents despite decades of living south of the Mason-Dixon.
After high school graduation, most of our classmates scattered to various colleges and universities in and around Kentucky or further south. Julia and I were among the few who ventured far away in the opposite direction. We launched ourselves into college life at separate top-tier universities in very cold climates more than 1,000 miles away from each other and from home. The transition was tough for both of us, but we each scraped along and found our way.
When I came home from college for winter break in late December 1987, I felt I had been through the wringer. I had embarked on a new level of academic rigor, with peers who’d challenged me in ways I’d never imagined, and I had survived. I felt good about it, but I was also feeling beaten down and exhausted from the experience.
That’s when Julia picked up the phone at her house and dialed my home number. We hadn’t spoken since graduation, but Julia wanted me to accompany her at a house party hosted by a high school friend from her crowd. I agreed to go, and that night we isolated ourselves in a quiet corner at that party, talking for hours. We compared experiences at our far-away colleges, full of big city and prep school kids who’d judged us and underestimated us for being from Kentucky, which we both considered a point of pride and still do. That December, we were relieved to be home but excited to go back to school, and we were overjoyed to find a friend who understood exactly how we each felt in that moment. We were truly each speaking one another’s language, and that’s the night that I think our enduring friendship started to sprout deeper roots.
Top photo shows Sara and Julia at soccer practice at Lafayette High School, 1986.