Updated: Mar 6
Scribbles on a desk reveal a plot twist worthy of a Taylor Swift song
Bear with me while I give some background details of a recent crazily serendipitous moment.
Abby, our 23-year-old, and her friend were downtown several weeks ago planning to go to a trendy coffee shop. Once there, the cafe was so crammed there were no tables available. Back out on the sidewalk they contemplated going for bubble tea but ended up in another coffee shop. Coincidentally, a friend they hadn't seen in years was the barista behind the counter.
He follows our daughter on socials and knows she’s a singer-songwriter.
We’re having a house party with a couple of singers/bands in a few weeks, he mentions. Any chance you could come and sing a few songs?
Sure! Sounds fun, she replies.
I was NOT going to go to this gig even though I hadn’t missed any of her shows up to that point. I knew it would be a house full of twenty-somethings. I am not a twenty-something on the outside (on the inside, forever I will be). One of my forever-twenty-on-the-inside friends had bought a ticket even though I joked with her saying she’d look like an old maid in that crowd. Didn’t faze her, that’s why I love her. Turns out/not turns out that my hubby ended up on a last-minute business trip to BC. I had nothing to do that night so I bought a ticket — two old maids with fifty young ‘uns at a house party, here we go.
The afternoon of the gig, Abby was running late because of a shoot she’d booked on the same day and so she asked if I could please go early and bring her keyboard so it could be set up by the time she’d arrive.
Sure, no problem, I texted her. Such an accommodating mom I am. Just let the hosts know your mom will be hanging out with them for a bit before the crowd arrives.
I knocked on the front door and introduced myself to Hannah, the host and soul-pop singer who most of the peeps were gathering for. Understandable, her voice and music are exceptional.
One of the young guys took the keyboard in for me and I chatted with Hannah and her sister, Tobie, in the foyer. The three of us were total strangers for a moment. That changed fast.
They mentioned that they grew up in Ottawa.
I lived there for a year and a half when I was fifteen, I tell them.
They’re Dutch (I knew that ahead of time) and so I asked if they went to the church in Ottawa that we went to when we lived there. If you’re Dutch chances are pretty high that you go to or have been to a Reformed Church.
Yup, said Tobie (Hannah lives in Hamilton). Our parents still go there.
I’ll bet they know our family. Dutch bingo it’s called…a Dutchie will meet another Dutchie, we’ll exchange names, and nine times out of ten we can make some sort of connection.
My maiden name is known by a lot of people in that church. Relatives of mine have been in that community for years. And for anyone who has been attending since the late 80s, my last name is often remembered because of my parents’ deaths in 1986 — the ‘Neutel kids’ whose mom and dad died after a fatal car accident.
I tell this to Tobie and Hannah.
Tobie’s eyes turned to saucers. Did you live on Parkhurst Road?!?!
Random question. I’m flummoxed. Yeahhh…
My forehead wrinkles, eyebrows raised as I lean my head in a little closer…surely something else is coming? I’d already told her my name was Julie, and I can tell she is too intelligent a woman to have forgotten sooooo…
I bought the house you lived in on Parkhurst! I renovated it and there are two apartments in there now!!
I knew the story about your parents and that you had lived in that house when your parents had their accident. When I was gutting the bedrooms in the basement there was a built-in desk. It said ‘Julie was here’ on it.
A couple more beats — my eyes a little wider, my head cocked a little closer.
Yes, I’m Julie — the flabbergasted Julie standing mouth agape in a stranger-turned-instant-buddy’s sister’s foyer.
And I’m also Julie — the fifteen-year-old Julie wearing Coke-bottle-bottomed glasses etching her name on a desk at the deepest and darkest time in her short life.
We exclaim, we tell everyone around us what we’ve just figured out.
Later on, as I listened to the music through the night I kept coming back to what happened in the foyer. It must have looked like my neck was spasming as I sporadically shook my head totally off-beat through music sets trying to wrap my head around it all.
Had Abby gotten a table at the trendy coffee shop… had her old friend not worked at the next one… had she not booked that photoshoot… had my friend not bought a ticket… had my husband not been away… had Abby not needed her keyboard (which she did not end up using)… had I arrived with the rest of the crowd and not had extra time to chat in the foyer… yesterday’s Julie would not have connected with today’s Julie.
It’s been a crazy year. I was diagnosed with and have completed treatment for breast cancer. This led to lots of soul-searching about the story I’ve been wanting to tell, the words that have been sputtering their way out of me in short bursts over time. I’ve done some writing but just never kept at it. Easy to blame it on being distracted by homeschooling our kids, starting a business, life, and more life.
I’ve started journalling in the mornings and am also using that time to ask God (for me there is no doubt a Creator to whom we are all connected) to please nudge me toward telling my story if that’s where I’m to be nudged.
All the questions pinging from the back of my brain over the years: Who wants to read it? How is my story more engrossing than anyone else’s story? Do I write well enough? Will I offend anyone? What if all my memories aren’t ‘correct’?
If that conversation in the foyer wasn’t a shove in the direction of for crying out loud just start getting it all down, would you?, I don’t know what it was.
God. Coincidence. Synchronicity. Complete randomness. Everyone will have a different take on it.
Who was that fifteen-year-old writing her message for? For me. Thirty-seven years later. It was for me.
It was to nudge me further into what I’ve known for years I need to do — to write it all down for me. To start now. For real.
I don’t know what it will lead to. Despite my kids occasionally joking with me that I need therapy (it’s a joke, right guys?), for the most part, I feel healed and happy and whole. But the words, they have to come out. And already, right at the beginning it has been therapeutic. Let’s see where this goes. I hope my story can bring comfort and community to someone else who needs comfort and community when all things seem to be going completely off-kilter.
Ask out loud for mind-gaping synchronicities. If you’ve been feeling a nudge, go with it. Move fast or move slow, it doesn’t matter which, just move.
Let’s move together. One word/phone call/painting/course/conversation at a time.
I don’t remember writing my name on that desk all those years ago but I remember that girl. She’s just at the beginning of some really, really, really hard stuff. But she’ll make it.
And she’ll write a lot more than just her name on a desk.