Julie’s Tape


I had labeled it “Julie’s Tape.”

My teenage son had decided that it would be a fun (and useful) project to convert my ancient collection of cassette tapes (yes, young ‘uns, those used to be a thing :)) into digitized form, especially since we sort of no longer even have a tape player….

I cringed at the thought. Those tapes contain my childhood recordings, even me as a baby going “blah blah blah Aunt Looooshie blah blah Gwammie blah blah…”… but even more embarrassing, the mix tapes of songs I thought were “cool” in the late 1980’s. My children were gathered around, and I thought, “well, now it will be confirmed that I’m old and weird,” even though I was cool enough to keep up with them when every single Marvel movie came out (well, OK, we didn’t see them in order, but we are mostly caught up, now…) as well as at least watch them play the Nintendo Switch and pretend to be interested in Fortnite. (Where are the eyeroll emoji’s on my laptop?!)

I know there will always be somewhat of a generation gap with music. There always was, always will be, for the most part… except I was always that weird kid who kind of liked all music, except for country music (sorry! sorry!!! I tried!!) which fell to the bottom of my list, even though there are a few songs I think are decent…. so for me, I always liked most genres, including classical and death metal and chant and rap/hip hop and my favorite era for music, the 1970’s (Pink Floyd at the top of the list. No shame.) But I didn’t really want to “go back” and remember music from 8th grade. Those are just weird years. What memories would come back? And how ridiculously awful would these songs sound in front of my kids?

I hadn’t listened to “Julie’s Tape” since I was 13. Thirteen was a bad year for me. And I think if I took a poll across the world, it’s not a good year for anyone, really. Hormones are all over the place. Insecurity is dripping off the walls, even for that popular kid (which I was NOT at age 13, by any stretch). We were all baffled by what was happening (or not happening), and our minds were a mess…. and music, music seemed to emphasize our greatest fantasies in full dramatic detail. Everything and everyone was so focused and dramatic…. drama, yes, that’s the word I would use for the era of time, for me, and in what I observe even in my own children when they pass through those ages. Every sense is heightened. There’s energy, there’s change, there’s confusion, there’s going from child to not-child, there’s what feels like total love and commitment and parents who are so out of touch, but mainly it’s all a ton of emotion. You can cry at any moment, for no reason, but you are sure there’s a reason and don’t anyone dare challenge it….

Julie was my childhood best friend. I hope that everyone had or has a friend like Julie. She had the opposite temperament to mine, and was wise beyond her years. We were both painfully skinny, we both saw girl drama as ridiculous, and we both saw things through deeper lenses. There was nothing unusual or bad or extra good or different about Julie and her family… they seemed ordinary and lovely, polite, intelligent, didn’t stand out in a crowd, and weren’t over dramatic. I had sleep overs with Julie, and I remember playing (the original) computer Super Mario Brothers at 2:00 a.m. with her and talking through all hours of the night about whatever. While other girls were busy gossiping and creating cliques and obsessing over hair, neither of us really cared about that stuff. I just… I just loved her. I am sure I blabbed her ears off, and she was a good listener. We both shared who we had crushes on. We both dreamed of the future. We had fun together… I could be myself.

Until one day, it was all cut off. My father was in the military and we were being transferred to a different Air Force Base. Well into my 8th grade year, from the class I had spent all eight years with, at the age of 13. It was a nightmare. And since I would be going to another private school, the whole class would “graduate” after 8th grade, meaning I would leave my friends and go to be with some new class of 13/14 year old’s for a few months, those “new people” also having been with each other for eight or nine years.

Talk about utter loneliness.

We moved…. and Julie made a tape for me. It took a few weeks to arrive (I guess this was well before things like “Priority Mail”), but she had planned messages which she recorded in her sweet 13 year old voice in between each of the songs she recorded for me; songs she knew were our favorites that we would listen to (most likely on a “boombox”.)

When the tape started, the kids (especially the teens) and myself all chuckled. Oh my gosh, that was the music in 1988?! Hahaha!!! Each of her sweet little messages would come between each song, and I listened intently…. because I hadn’t heard her 13 year old voice for 30 years. It was surreal and like a chunk of history in a time capsule long forgotten.

Song after song and message after message went on…. and then we reached almost the end of the tape that my son was turning into a digital memory. One of the last songs came on: Hold On to the Nights by Richard Marx. I groaned as it started because that song was seriously in every awkward slow dance even when I was in high school. The song brought back memories, but I was glad when it was done. She then gave her last message to me. In it, she says, “I’m sure you’ll have no trouble getting guys, Shal… me, I’m not sure because, well, you know (which I didn’t)… but before I play this song, I want to tell you to have courage. You know, Stephanie and Ethel and Christina, they don’t bother me anymore. You know why? Because I have courage. I want you to have courage, too, Shal. Have courage.”

I stopped in my tracks. It was like my mind and heart was no longer hearing a 13 year old talking about three girls I hardly remember or what the 8th grade issue even was… but it was like the tape player was talking directly to me, 30 years later, right now. Have courage. Right now.

Julie accidentally recorded the same song (Hold on to the Nights) again… and suddenly I was listening to every word. “Hold on to the nights….. hold on to the memories… I wish that I could give you something more, that I could be yours…”

I never liked that song much, but it was like God was reading poetry to me. Our times right now are dark, and have been for over four years. Unusually dark. Mysterious…. it’s like we made a decision to follow God instead of beautiful scenery and money, and that we landed right near the most amazing hidden place of spiritual beauty, but everything else was ripped out from under our feet. I have felt afraid, I have felt happier in my dreams where I’m young and there are no worries, I have felt guilty for not being more grateful for the most amazing family in the world that the Lord has blessed me with… and yet illness and poverty have attacked with a fierceness, a fierceness that causes us to hold on to every speck of hope available. But…. hold on to the nights? The NIGHTS?! Yes…. I realized, hold on to those dark places even, because that is precisely where God shows His wonders. Hold on to the memories? Yes. No one can take away the memories that make us smile from the inside….. I wish that I could give you something more… He is suffering right alongside me…. and, that I could be yours…. this points to my lack of faith. It’s a love song. I haven’t let myself be His, His completely, even with all my warts and brokenness….

I can assure you that I was crying by the end of the second playing of that song. I am blown away at the timelessness of truth. I needed that message NOW, more than I needed it at 13. Somehow, it’s like she knew.

Julie became a religious sister, her brother became a priest, and the last time I saw her, I was engaged to be married. I’m sure I was painfully annoying as a goofy fiance.

My dearest childhood and eternal friend, I had no idea you had a call to the religious life, as well as your brother. But I want to thank you….. I love you more than words can say, for not only being there for me during those rough young years, but for being there for me still, today…. and to quote the true last song on that tape that you recorded for me:

I Know You’re Out There Somewhere
The mist is lifting slowly
I can see the way ahead
And I’ve left behind the empty streets
That once inspired my life
And the strength of the emotion
Is like thunder in the air
‘Cause the promise that we made each other
Haunts me to the end
I know you’re out there somewhere
Somewhere, somewhere
I know you’re out there somewhere
Somewhere you can hear my voice
I know I’ll find you somehow
Somehow, somehow
I know I’ll find you somehow
And somehow I’ll return again to you
The secret of your beauty and the mystery of your soul
I’ve been searching for in everyone I meet
And the times I’ve been mistaken, it’s impossible to say
And the grass is growing underneath our feet
Yes, I know it’s going to happen
I can feel you getting near
And soon we’ll be returning
To the fountain of our youth
And if you wake up wondering
In the darkness I’ll be there
My arms will close around you
And protect you with the truth
I know you’re out there somewhere
Somewhere, somewhere
I know you’re out there somewhere
Somewhere you can hear my voice
I know I’ll find you somehow
Somehow, somehow
I know I’ll find you somehow
And somehow I’ll return again to you
Songwriters: Justin Hayward
I Know You’re Out There Somewhere lyrics © Fintage House Publishing


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