For a few years of my life, I thought of Ashley as my best friend. And I believed that we would always remain the best of friends… but, sadly, I was wrong.
I first encountered Ashley during our seventh grade year at Cheney Junior High. We saw each other in the halls and knew about each other, but that was as far as it went. Things changed, however, when we ended up in the same social studies class during spring trimester of eighth grade. We sat next to each other and worked on a couple of group assignments together. Over the course of that trimester, we became good friends. However, at the same time, some of Ashley’s other friends turned against her; I know of at least one occasion where physical harm had been threatened against Ashley. The stress of the situation caused Ashley to decide that for ninth grade, she would transfer to a high school in the neighboring city of Spokane. At the end of eighth grade, Ashley signed my yearbook and included her address so we could stay in touch.
That summer, Ashley and I started writing letters to each other. We continued writing letters back and forth over that fall and winter; Ashley shared a lot about the stress she went through with her classes, as well as about boys she liked who either didn’t return those feelings or who ended up using her. One day that spring, I got a letter from Ashley, saying she was at the hospital; she tried to overdose on pills, but the doctors pumped her stomach and kept her in the hospital for a couple of weeks for psychiatric help.
When Ashley was released, we continued writing back and forth to each other, and life seemed to return to some sense of normalcy. For about the next two years, we would talk about the stresses we went through in high school, whether it was about academics or about whatever boy we had a crush on at any given moment; however, I never saw anything in those letters that indicated that she felt suicidal again.
But on one February afternoon in 1992, I walked home from school like I usually did; the only thing out of the ordinary was the warmer than average temperature. When I got home and opened the door, I only expected my mother to be home… but, to my surprise, my father was home, too. When I saw him, I knew something wasn’t right, because I knew that my father hadn’t scheduled any time off from work. My mother told me she had gotten a call from Ashley’s father that morning, saying that Ashley was dead. Ashley had killed herself the night before, with a self-inflicted gunshot wound to the head. Apparently, the last letter I sent to Ashley had arrived in her family’s mailbox that morning, and upset Ashley’s mother terribly. After getting the phone call from Ashley’s father, my mother called my father at work; he came home to be with my mother to help her break the news to me. My parents had also talked with my guidance counselor at school, and she recommended that they were to stay at the house with me, and that I was not to be left alone. My parents had tickets to see a show at the Spokane Opera House that night, and I tried to convince them to go, since they rarely got to go out. But my parents firmly refused, saying they needed to stay home with me.
Ashley’s death came as a sudden blow to me. I spent the next day in a fog, trying to sort out my feelings of denial, anger, confusion, and sadness. The guidance counselor sent a pass to my fifth period class, so I could go talk to her. While I waited to see her, I saw a copy of the newspaper sitting in the lobby area; it just happened that sitting right there in plain view was the obituary section, and I read Ashley’s obituary. That definitely added more to all the emotions I had felt that day. When I finally saw the guidance counselor, she helped me to talk about and work through my feelings. By the end of our session, the pain of the loss was still there; however, being able to talk about it with someone did help to some extent.
But, as I hit various milestones over the rest of my high school years, I would always think about what Ashley was missing out on. This hit the most when I hit high school graduation; a kind of anger briefly boiled back up inside me, as I thought about how Ashley should’ve been graduating and getting ready for college, just like I was.
Since then, I’ve thought of Ashley off and on over the past fourteen years. Sometimes, I wonder what her life would be like now if she hadn’t killed herself, and I wonder if perhaps we still would have been close friends…