I stood in the shabby third-floor corner office, the ill-fitting door creaking slowly shut, surrounded with boxes of books and file folders and office supplies, pretending to decide which books needed to be behind the desk for easy access, which could be nearer the door – and where any particular thing might be in the chaos. In reality, I was trying to calm a rapidly rising panic: new to the college, I had been hired as interim chair of the department, and had just found that the only continuing member had just bailed for another job, leaving me with four extra classes to fill, no network for adjuncts, and the only other department member, also new, not moving to town for another month.
But into that chaos stepped several junior and senior students to help us out, including a young woman with long fair hair and a welcoming smile. At every turn, Julie appeared: helping to move files from one office to another, explaining department policies and registrar’s rules, giving us inside scoops on colleagues and administrators, becoming a friendly and familiar face. She set a tone not always easy for older students with a new professor; they often feel they’ve been robbed of someone they’ve come to know and love, and, no matter what the reason for the change, that the new professor is a usurper, an interloper. And these young folk had lost not one but all the professors they had known; they had to become used to an entirely new department – and one run ragged with overloads and unfamiliar classes picked up at the last minute to fill the abandoned slots.
Julie did much to make that year bearable for us. I never knew her well, but I learned to depend on her wisdom and knowledge and smile, so freely offered to a stranger whom she had chosen to trust. I am sure she was in several of my classes that year, but the one I remember is creative writing – because she was an extraordinary poet for one so young. Her work was not pedestrian, not mere exercises; it was poetry born of a wisdom and maturity rarely seen in college students. I wish I had kept copies.
We didn’t stay in touch; I knew she had gone to another local college for graduate work, but nothing more. Yet when I heard that she was gone, I felt a void in my world, in the world at large. She has left behind an emptiness that cannot be filled – but she has also left behind a witness that cannot be erased. Rest in peace, Julie; you will rest in the hearts of your friends for all their lives.