Friend #51: Julia

This post is one of the main reasons that I have been delayed in blogging (in addition to the aforementioned issue of time).  I didn’t know how to write about this visit, mostly because I screwed up.  A wonderfully lovely visit was tarnished by a slip of my tongue and a dent in my character.  So I’ve been putting it off because that’s what I do sometimes–avoid uncomfortable circumstances.

I left Chicago on Monday, July 11th, and headed west to Des Moines, Iowa to spend time with Julia.  I met Julia in Los Angeles when she and I were both interns in different programs at the same organization.  She was recently coming out of an intensive urban immersion program and moved to Los Angeles ready to get her hands dirty in the life of the city.  She and I connected quickly and easily over creativity and social justice and what ways the two could be combined to transform people’s lives.  Her particular passion involved building a fashion line and starting a boutique in a neighborhood where the economic development would benefit the community, hopefully spawning other small businesses.

After several years in Los Angeles, Julia moved back to Iowa to pursue building her fashion business there, where it also happens to be a lot greener in the middle of the summer.  My grandma, who grew up on a farm, and you’ll meet via blog after I visit St. Louis, always used to say that corn should be “knee high by the 4th of July,” and you can see that this corn is almost as big as we are!  So much for knee high!

Julia and me in Des Moines' international garden at dusk.

When I arrived, the house where Julia is staying was bustling with family members celebrating a cousin’s birthday.  Julia has been staying with family since her move back in a room that is part bedroom, part design studio and sewing space, part entrepreneurial headquarters.  Several in-process garments were splayed out on her hand-made bedspread.  I had seen an inspirational rock formation when driving through northern Arizona that made me think of Julia because I thought it could somehow be made into a really neat skirt, both in form and in coloration.  Here are some glimpses of the billowy form and the gradation of the rocks up close.

Julia suggested we try to make a skirt the next morning before I left, to which I whole-heartedly agreed.  I’d recently made some curtains for my roommate, but that was the first I’d sewn since making my senior prom dress and a few throw pillows for high school graduation presents, so it would be fun to get back into it.

Julia showed me around Des Moines, and I have to tell you, I was pretty impressed with the capitol of Iowa.  We drove downtown and stopped by the international gardens that she is helping to administrate.  A friend of hers owned a plot of land that wasn’t being used, and now there are about 12 plots of vegetable gardens each adopted and cultivated by groups of people from different countries.  There’s a Burmese plot, a plot tended by people from the Philippines (had to look that one up–one “L”, two “P’s”).   My perception of Des Moines did not include such international diversity.  Julia helps out with the American plot, and the garden is doing quite well, as indicated by the zucchini squash below.

Julia and the fruits of her labor.

From the garden, Julia and I grabbed some dinner from a restaurant that served local beef (apparently Iowa cows have quite a good reputation) then headed into the heart of town where there’s a beautiful sculpture garden, the Pappajohn Sculpture Park.  Check out the link for a couple of images.  I wish I’d taken a few of my own.  My favorite was a giant hollow sitting person made out of interlocking letters.  Oh good, I found an image online of “Nomade.”  Julia and I had a lot of fun finding words and names embedded in the structure.

Julia and I walked around the garden while tunes from a band playing at a nearby bar floated onto the square.  It was such an enjoyable, authentic, creative, exploratory time together.  From there, we went to a party to celebrate a friend of Julia’s first arrest–due to protesting, so it was noble.  I think it was my first “Woohoo you got arrested!” party.  Again, I didn’t necessarily expect to find socially active and engaged people in Des Moines, but soon I was surrounded by them, just like when I was in Billings, Montana with Olivia and Joe.  These were fun and interesting people, and I was glad that Julia had found them to connect with and also that there was a group of people who could appreciate the full spectrum of Julia’s awesomeness.

But it was getting late.  I was exhausted from a month of traveling, from dealing with my broken down car, and from the busy schedule I kept in Chicago the day before.  Julia and I exchanged “Hey, I can go whenever,” “Oh sure, whenever you want” comments.  I think we were both ready to go, but neither of us were saying it.  I didn’t feel comfortable asking her to leave time with her friends, and she thought I was having a good time, which I was, and so didn’t want to ask me to leave.  The entire time, Julia was an exceptional hostess, ensuring that I would have a wonderful experience during our visit.  And it was absolutely wonderful.  Until the ride home.

We finally did leave at about 2am.  We ended up talking about the fact that we both were ready to leave long before we did.  I told Julia that she should speak up and be more assertive about what she wanted, if indeed, she had wanted to leave.  Basically, I criticized her for the very thing I wasn’t able to do myself: ask for what I needed.  In the conversation that followed, Julia was remarkably assertive about expressing her thoughts and needs. But the damage was done. With about 3 sentences.  And I proceeded to dig a deeper hole, not handling the rest of the conversation well either.

Needless to say, staying at Julia’s house that night was more than a little awkward.  The next morning, the words exchanged were still too fresh to reach any resolution.  And I had to leave to continue onto Kansas City.  I left that morning with my head hung and my soul sunk.  I didn’t anticipate the possibility of actually damaging friendships on this trip.  By the longest long shot, this was my biggest mistake in 8 weeks, 12,000 miles, and 113 friends.

I truly am sorry, Julia.  And I think that what you are doing with your life is so courageous and beautiful.

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One Response

  1. We make mistakes. Make your best apology when you can. I don’t know what you said, but be the first to make amends. (Does that kind of rhyme?)

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