Julie Riso remembers being born, the light and noise. It was her first escape. She grew up in small towns in Michigan, the oldest of 5 kids, and she always knew she was different. For instance, her young artwork had talking flowers, which her Catholic schoolteachers found unacceptable. Also, Julie wanted to be an archeologist and she escaped her loneliness by going on expeditions in her backyard (which turned into Egypt, China, Easter Island). In 3rd grade, her teacher repeatedly verbally abused her, leading to a nervous breakdown, but Julie didn’t tell anybody about it. After that, her dad quit drinking, thinking that was the problem, and her parents bought her a guinea pig. Her dad started going to church again, which made the family happy, but then he turned zealous and thought himself a prophet (and believed God gave him permission to kill people). After that, Julie’s parents separated. Julie’s mom got a job as a waitress and Julie watched her brothers and sisters after school. Julie went to a big public high school, which felt like a do-over after the tiny Catholic school. In 9th grade, Julie started smoking pot, but the stoner girls didn't like her because she was too thin, and they started rumors that she was a slut, so the rest of high school was pretty difficult. After Julie’s mother tried to kill herself, Julie stole sedatives from her mother and did a lot more drugs. She barely remembers her senior year. Julie left home after high school. Then she drove out to Los Angeles alone, but it was overwhelming, so she moved to Palm Springs, worked as a waitress, and went to junior college. Julie was doing great, but began to feel suffocated, and then things got worse and stayed that way for years. She kept moving around Southern California, but could not escape her bad memories. Julie became exhausted from trying and moved back to Michigan, but felt like a failure. Not long after that, her dad died from lymphoma. After that, she had a nervous breakdown and tried to kill herself. Luckily, Julie got herself back together and moved back to LA. At 24, she went back to college to become an anthropologist. She didn’t have any money, so she became a stripper. She was a terrible stripper and mostly hid in the back, but the other strippers accepted her, and that was the first time Julie felt like part of a group of women. Then Julie left college again, worked in Guam a few months, then lived with Stone Age tribes in Papua New Guinea for a few weeks (where few female travelers had been before). That was how Julie realized she mostly liked anthropology in an armchair way. What she really wanted was to travel. At 27, Julie moved back to Michigan, worked in a big travel agency, and traveled the world. But the agency closed and her boyfriend became a copy of her dad, so she left Michigan again. She went back to Guam and this time she met Pascal, a Frenchman from New Caledonia. Julie married Pascal and they lived on the island for 7 years, which was when she wrote her first novel, which is about strippers. Julie still felt claustrophobic, though, so they moved to Poland. After 2 years there, they moved to Hungary. Julie has been to 39 countries so far, and, for the first time, she is content. Now, Julie is writing her memoir and it will be a relief when she can stop writing it.
J.D. Riso @ Goodreads
A piece of travel writing by J.D. Riso
Flash fiction by J.D. Riso