bridesladies.jpg Kindergarten was a good year for me. I made some wonderful friends that year. And the one who has really stuck be me, remaining my best friend for seventeen years and counting, is Julie Michelle Vaughan (formerly Valent-Bolduc... far right in the photo).

Living so far from a friend is hard. In this age of email and cell phones communication is definitely easier, but prioritizing as a young wife and college student and employee is still tough! We don't talk nearly enough. But when we do it is just as if not a moment had passed. She's wearing pigtails and I'm sporting stretch pants. Children of the early nineties... that's us. Yet, we aren't playing house anymore. We have homes of our own. We work and learn and cook and clean and support and love like real women do. Aren't we lucky to be doing this at the same time?

We were in the same class but didn't get to know each other until recess. The story goes something like this:

Two little girls energetically playing separate games collided on the playground. In the nurse's office they shared a cot. From that moment on they were inseparable.

Julie and me, buddies always. She was sweeter than me. I was louder than her. We balanced one another out. I knew her whole family, too. Her mom, Debbie, worked at our school and I saw her daily. Julie's brothers and sister were all just a few grades above us. With my brothers also at the same school, occupying the grades below us, education was a family affair.

Soon she was spending lots of time at my house after school and on weekends. Playing "pretend" is so much better when you have a friend to do it with. As I thought up exotic locales, exciting characters for us to play and insanely intricate stories for us to act out (dogsledding orphan sisters in the yukon protecting our late father's gold mine from evil con men... singers advancing quickly from night club acts to broadway... friends on the oregon trail fighting off indians, bears and typhoid... descendents of egyptian royalty hunting for the treasures in the tombs of our ancestors... etc.), Jules put her heart into the game every time.

Our birthdays are a mere ten days apart; Julie is the oldest. So each year our parties landed withing a week of one another, and both usually included an Easter theme (to take advantage of the discounted candy, no doubt!). Not that we kids had any idea that our parents were seeking to cut down on the expense of our celebrations. We were too high on all the sugar! Julie's mom always managed to make up the best Easter egg hunts, too!

I remember our first "crushes", if you could call them that. Being aware that boys were indeed different, finding them cute, doesn't really count as anything. We didn't know these boys at all really. But Jules had the advantage of having an older sister. Connie liked boys and they liked her. She dated first, kissed first... and we took notes. While I was head over heels in love with Dennis Miller, Julie latched onto David Childers. Each of those affairs lasted a few months before we let our affections move on. Chris Gray, David Dickerson, Travis Armenio... we loved them all alternately.

Once she dated Matt. My Matt. I'd staked that claim so long before! But he and I were only friends. Oh, the intricacies of girlhood. Their "relationship" lasted three days and my friendship with both of them survived somehow. Aren't I dramatic? The boys we dated had almost nothing in common. Sometimes I did worry about her choices when it came to men, but everything worked itself out eventually. Most importantly we continued to value friendship above relationships always.

We did have a falling out once. Of the two of us I usually take on the leading role, and I immaturely resented it when anyone else swayed Julie's opinions. Over the summer after eighth grade I had embarked on my Christian walk, accepting Jesus Christ as my personal savior, and I was intent upon bringing everyone I knew and loved with me! They didn't have a choice... if you asked me. Julie didn't agree. She didn't like my new "holy roller attitude"... the limited selection of music I would listen to (I remember a particularly bitter feud over Alanis Morrisette), etc. In my haste to wash myself clean I almost lost a friend.

Thankfully we're bound at the heart, Julie and I. Even after I moved to Livermore we kept writing to each other. Unfortunately she didn't have email or even a very permanent address. But I was at her graduation ceremony and the party that followed! I beamed when she accepted her diploma. My sister had made it!

Julie's life has never been as easy as mine. Life has thrown her curve balls that even experienced adults would have trouble dealing with. And she was still a kid at heart. Over time she developed street smarts that I'll never understand. But they were necessary for her. Sometimes I worried that she had developed a hard exterior that blocked all her sweetness and light. Then she would visit me and all of that would melt away. Above all we found a common plane no matter what life situations we currently and separately occupied. We owe that to the magic of friendship.

That magic was something I often likened to Anne Shirley's relationship with her neighbor and "bosom friend" Diana. Julie and I were kindred spirits from the moment we met. I would have done anything for her, and vice versa.

She has always supported me. When I got engaged and began planning my wedding, I knew that it wouldn't be perfect unless Julie was at my side. My oldest friend. She knows me deeper than anyone else can understand. While the rest of the world sees what I am, Julie knows what I have become, all of my varied layers, my past. So much of my essence is caught up in her. Thankfully she made it to every event of the wedding planning process. At my wedding she walked down the aisle on my brother's arm, ready to help give me away to a man she'd grown to respect and love. Julie, too, gave her blessing to the union. She knows what is best for me and wants me to have it more than anything.

So when she called to tell me that she also had become engaged, I shrieked with joy! Her fiance, also named Jonathan (confusing... you don't even know!), is a good man, too. I felt blessed to be invited to reverse our roles. I became bridesmaid to her beautiful, blushing bride. Jon and I drove out to Boise, Idaho, where Julie now lives with her husband, to be at the wedding. It was a joyous event, full of fun and activity. I felt as she had felt mere months before for me. Lucky sisters.

I thank God that Jules found her Jon. He loves her so truly. At this point in time we're each in a good place, a thousand miles from each other though it is. I pray that this kinship lasts our lifetime, eternally strong no matter what we go through. The fact that it's lasted this long is a testament to us both. I miss her.