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The Life and Death(s) of Julie Barnes

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Chapter 1 Julia Estelle Barnes

Julie had always been a nice girl. When she was eight she could have been accurately described as a perfectly normal, nice girl who wanted to be a ballerina. By the time she was sixteen she could accurately be described as a perfectly nice girl, who wanted to be a ballerina. And now; a nice girl who hadn’t become a ballerina. The mundane changes in Julie’s life started small. Then they get bigger.

The fantastical changes too.

Julie always felt like somebody living in-between the lines. In between places anyways. Her young life did not have much stability outside of dance. Her parents moved states every few years for her father’s job. This meant ballet class was one of the few constants she had. Julie coped with the ever changing social life through her dedication to her sport and her infectious friendliness. She did have to move schools every few years and being especially nice helped her make friends.

It got harder as she got older. There’s a fine line between nice and being accommodating to your own detriment. When she was thirteen her parents divorced and her mother moved back to Canada to be with her family. Then Julie was pulled in even more directions. Her whole life had been a negotiation between her parents; when they’d move for her father’s work, what school she’d go to, when she’d visit her mom’s family in Canada. Even her name had been a negotiation. Her father wanted to name her Julia, after his late aunt. But Julia Barnes was more Anglophone than her mother’s Québécois pride could stand. So they compromised.

Her mother had told that story many times: how her parents had decided her name while vacationing at a resort in California. They has been sitting under the stars on the terrace of their suite when they finally found their daughter’s name. It had all sounded so romantic. Too bad it didn’t last.

“Only if we call her Julie. She’s got to have a name my relatives can pronounce” her mother had said to her father while he pressed his hands on his wife’s stomach.

“Julie Barnes,” Jim said out loud. “I like it, anything else?”

“If we are naming her after your aunt, I’d like her middle name to be Estelle, after my grandmother.”

And so Julia Estelle Barnes was born under the stars on the mountains of California two weeks earlier than expected, cutting her parent’s holiday short.


But this was different. Now Julie was being included in the compromise; where did she want to live? Or more truthfully, who did she want to live with? Choosing between her parents was the hardest thing she’d ever done. She wanted so desperately to make them both happy. Justine was as icy as her daughter was warm. And when Julie choose to stay in Wisconsin with her father, Justine’s ensuing cold shoulder was almost more than Julie could bear. It wasn’t that she didn’t like her mother, or Canada. But she’d spent more time in the states and she didn’t think her French was good enough to attend school in Montréal.

They compromised, and her mother did eventually forgive her. It wasn’t all that different. She’d been going to Quebec for vacations and family reunions since she was six. Now she’d spend the school year with her father and the summers with her mother. The first winter after her parent’s separation she took her first solo plane ride to Montréal to go to the Winter Carnival with her mother and cousins. And of course, Justine was sure to find her daughter the best summer training programs for aspiring ballerinas. It wasn’t always the most comfortable family dynamic but they coped.

Julie still felt spread too thin. Like she lived in too many places. And isolated like she didn’t quite belong in any of the places she did live. She was too American for all the Canadians she knew, and too Canadian for all the Americans she knew. Of course, neither of her countrymen actually said that. It was more people found her strange in little ways they couldn’t place. Only Julie recognized the way her disjointed life across two vast, culturally distinct countries made her into a slightly disjointed person. And she only noticed after she’d grown up and reflected on how she became a nice girl from nowhere.  

No. When she was fourteen she was mostly preoccupied with the fantastical ways she was a bit odd.

After her mother moved home and her father started to settle into their new routine Julie added a Saturday gymnastic class to her work out regiment. Jim tried not to compromise his daughter’s career ambitions with the learning curb of single parenting. He suggested Saturday so he could run errands around town while Julie was in class. On the drive they take turns picking music. Jim likes Bill Whithers and Curtis Mayfield. Julie has a soft spot for The Cure, and a bunch of French language music. She doesn’t play those since it might remind him of her mother.

Every Saturday Jim drove her to the gymnastic studio then did most of the grocery shopping. Sometimes he doubled back so they can finish the shopping together. Sometimes Julie waits in the studio and does her homework.

The purpose of gymnastics is flexibility and strength training to compliment Julie’s ballet skills. However she discovers she loves the feeling of flying in mid air. She’d done it before in dance during pirouettes and jumps. But there was something so exhilarating about moving through the air when on a trampoline or doing a flyaway. Julie adores it. It’s like soaring through the air even if it’s just for a moment. She keeps trying to jump higher and higher. It’s how she gets herself in trouble.

One day Julie is distracted. She’s worrying about her dance exams, and some conversation with her mother, and maybe something her father said about Christmas. She jumps too far forward on the trampoline. But she’s busy worrying about all those things and trying to focus on that feeling of flying. She doesn’t notice until it’s too late.

She hits the ground unprepared. Fumbles the landing and feels her left leg break under her. That part is memorable. Everything gets blurry after that. It must have been near the end of class because her father helps her limp to the car and drives her to the nearest hospital. Julie cries the whole way. They aren’t tears of pain thou. The brutality of dance has prepared her for that sensation. They are tears of fear; Julie fears she will never recover from this injury. That it will keep her from adequately preforming as a professional. Julie rubs her hands on her shin feeling the fracture. She knows it’s broken.

Julie doesn’t recall how long they wait. It feels like hours and it probably was. But then the doctor is chastising Jim; “You are wasting my time and your money, this is barely a sprained ankle, if anything.” Julie feels her shin. It doesn’t feel broken.


She wiggles her toes in the air later that night. She feels just fine. It’s not even a sprain. She was so sure it was broken.

At least she has an uncomplicated dance career ahead of her.