My world stopped turning. Up until that moment, 2020 seemed like a sick dream that I was just on the cusp of waking up from. I could see the blue skies and the maskless faces just beyond my present reality, and I knew that there—right there—was where we all belonged. Not here, amidst the social distancing, and the social unrest, and the hurricane damage, the flooding, debris and the smell of gasoline from the generators. No, this is not real. This is a nightmare. This is a sick joke.
And then, when things couldn’t get worse, my very best friend died.
I met Julia Reed at the Madeira School, an all-girls boarding school in McLean, Virginia, where “Function in disaster, finish in style” is one of their mottos. I smoked cigarettes with her, and I tried her beloved scotch (although I prefer a gin and tonic), and I weaseled my way into many of her celebrated parties from New York to New Orleans as well as to her hometown in the Delta of Mississippi. Julia was always up for a road trip, and she loved to stop at the dingiest, grimiest, most-rural joint along the way to sample everything from hot tamales to Cajun boudin and make nice with the locals. Everyone loved her and her gravelly voice. Not only did she know how to party, but she was savvy enough to throw a party impeccably. She appreciated great food, and she knew exactly where to put the silver fork and knife when setting the table. She collected fine china, fine stories and fine friends. Julia restored a Greek Revival-style house in the Garden District of New Orleans and she built her cottage “dream home” in Greenville, Mississippi. She made me laugh so hard that I once coughed up red wine all over my rug and my dog. She was that kind of best friend.
And truth be told, she hadn’t met me yet.
That’s right, my future reality always involved meeting and immediately befriending author Julia Reed. After all, I felt that I knew everything about her, and I loved what I knew. Her stories kept me laughing, her recipes were mouth-watering, and her interior designs were worth emulating. She was cool, she was crafty and she was always ready for a cocktail.
Plus, she would love me! (Who wouldn’t?) I’m funny, I’m fun, I like boudin and I love writing. I have plenty of Southern stories of my own to tell, and I like getting in a ball gown for Mardi Gras as much as I like wearing cut-off shorts at a crawfish boil. I don’t mind telling the truth when I write—which is very hard on our Southern mothers who would rather we “leave well enough alone.” I get her! I love you, Julia!
And yet these words will never come out of my mouth. My best friend Julia Reed died, forever cementing 2020 as the very worst year ever, bar none. We’ve been through a lot as a country. And here in Louisiana, I’m wearing waders and helping clean out houses damaged by the strongest hurricane to ever hit our state. But it is the loss of iconic Julia Reed that will forever seal 2020 in my mind as catastrophic. I might learn to drink scotch and water after all.
Ashley Gordon is a freelance writer and the former publisher and editor of inRegister. Read her musings in the new “Long Story Short” column, found in the magazine each month.