Atheist Life Hacks: How To Say Goodbye
I swear that I had a week’s worth of funny, goofy posts for you this week, but then bullshit happened and then this morning I awoke to some awful news that an old friend had been killed in a freak accident. While I had never been particularly close to her, many of my friends were and are suffering a great deal right now. It brought back memories of losing my own close friend back in 2007 and since writing is my therapy, I thought I’d just get it all out.
I met her in a crappy bar, on a rainy night in my shitty hometown. Her husband knew my boyfriend from work and all four of us immediately hit it off. She was vulgar, which I consider an admirable trait, and hilarious. She was smart and thoughtful and breathtakingly stunning even at a hundred pounds overweight, which was a lot for her tiny 4 foot 11 frame. From the introductions, we were instant friends and spent that entire night in animated, excited conversation and from that day on, were rarely seen apart.
Her name was Ashleigh and she’d been a child star growing up. She was in one box office hit movie that you’d have to be living under a rock not to have heard of, so when we were out and about, she often had fans approach her for autographs and photos. Inevitably, she’d flash her calf, which was tattooed from top to bottom with a giant, flaming dildo with wings. The fans of an innocent child star would back off every time.
She never had to work because she made enough off royalties from her acting career. I had a home business at the time that made me a lot of money. We were two bored twenty-somethings with a lot of money to piss away, and we did piss it away.
To give you an example, one afternoon we were driving down the main stretch of the town we lived in. As we passed a gas station, a gorgeous, royal purple 1973 Monte Carlo came into view, the sun bouncing off it’s perfect chrome trim. I saw a sign on it that said, “for sale” and I jumped up in my seat.
“Squish! Squish!” That was my nickname for her, “Turn around! I need that car!”
We turned, tires squealing, and drove back to the beautiful purple vehicle, where I promptly bought it for $3000.
Ashleigh being Ashleigh
We used to create characters and commit to them for entire evenings out on the town. We would lurk in all-night establishments like Subway and Tim Hortons and take souvenirs. Once it was the fake bread display at Subway. Another time we took the, “Please wait to be seated” sign from a diner. And of course, our shining moment of glory was taking a chair from Tim Hortons. It’s amazing how all fear seems to just dissolve when you have money.
In getting to know Ashleigh, we realized that we had lived parallel lives up until we met. She had done a show with my cousin and knew him well, she lived around the corner from me, knew my best friend growing up, had been to many of the same parties and events throughout our lives. It was literally as though we had been within 30 feet of each other our entire lives, and were only now just meeting. It was a very strange feeling. Especially the moment we paused Happy Gilmore to reveal me sitting next to her husband as extras in one of the golf scenes. Of course, I didn’t know him then.
Ashleigh was sick. I just didn’t know that the sick she told me she was, was so not the sick she actually was. Ashleigh told me she had lupus. What she actually had, was Munchausen Syndrome.
Throughout our entire friendship, she lied. She lied about little things and big things. She lied about who she was, where she came from. She lied about her family, she lied about friends. She lied about so much that my own friends refused to be around her. I understood it. For me, Ashleigh’s goodness was not in the accuracy of the things she told me. I loved her, because she was one of the only people I ever knew who actually showed interest in me and my life as much as I showed in hers. She was one of the only people I have ever known who actually knew how to listen. I enjoyed being with her, even though I knew she lied, because she was the least self-centred person I ever knew. She made you feel, undeniably, like you had an ally, no matter what.
I knew her lying stemmed from insecurities. I was able to forgive her lying, because I knew she was beyond troubled.
Ashleigh would disappear for days at a time. Estranged from her family and eventually broken up with her husband, she told no one where she was and I would always worry. I would call her cell over and over, and she never answered. Then, she’d just show up one day and explain she’d had some illness due to her lupus and was in hospital. I would always get irritated that she didn’t call me so I could come see her.
Finally she listened and, one Friday night, past midnight, she called and said she was in the hospital. I had been drinking at a party, so I asked my roommate to take me to her. When I arrived, she was in the ER, hooked up to IVs. I called the doctor over and asked how she was.
“She has lupus, you know.” He told me.
“Yes, I know. Is she alright though? Can we take her home?” I asked. He said we could take her home as soon as he gave her some meds and a prescription.
Ashleigh had been hooked on heroin as a teen. She had 8 years sober under her belt. We would discuss often how she struggled with some of the meds she was required to take for lupus.
The two of us ended up living in condos in the same building eventually, and she would pad downstairs in her jammies at night and sit on my couch with me and watch Big Brother and Penn & Teller Bullshit! and Bill Moyers interviewing people. Some nights like this, she was clearly high. When I asked her what she was on, she said it was for lupus.
It became more and more often. She’d come to my place, sit down and start dozing off. It wasn’t a tired doze though, it was clearly a drug-induced one. It got to the point where I had to ask if she was using again. She denied it, but with her complete inability to tell the truth at the best of times, I was pretty sure she was lying.
The disappearing became more frequent. When I did see her, she would be fucked up. She was vanishing and photos of her in Virginia and Kentucky and Georgia with random men I didn’t know about would surface on her MySpace. She would show up covered in new, nonsensical tattoos and elaborate piercings like the corset on her back. She was hiding so much from me and so clearly using again, that I finally told her that I couldn’t be around her anymore until she got her shit together. I couldn’t watch her kill herself.
Ashleigh looking ill
A year passed and I got a phone call. It was the middle of the night, and all I could hear was a hushed, “help” on the other end. I recognized her voice, and asked her where she was. She told me, and I got in the car, drove to East Vancouver and found a 90lb version of my friend staggering on the side of the street.
I didn’t say anything. I just told her to get in the car. I took her home, gave her a bed and let her sleep.
When she woke up, she told me she was on heroin again. She told me she wanted to stop. She said she brought methadone with her to get off of it, but she needed detox. I immediately got on the phone, trying to find her a bed in detox. I was told there was a wait list. A week long wait list. Somehow, I had to keep her with me for a week. This was no easy task, as she was in the throes of an addiction to several drugs, including crack and heroin. She had more methadone with her than could kill a herd of elephants. She would leave to go to NA meetings and come back high on crack. I couldn’t stop her, but at least she came back.
She was in awful shape, with open sores on her skin and the complete inability to stay awake for longer than 10 minutes at a time. I would find her passed out in the middle of putting on her clothes, or passed out with her head resting on a bowl of soup, or on my porch with a lit cigarette in her hand. She was going to die if she didn’t clean up, ASAP.
I finally got the call that she had a bed in detox. I was told quite specifically that if she didn’t make it to their facility by a certain time, they would have no choice but to give her bed to someone else. So, somehow I had to get this unrecognizable creature dressed, packed and out the door on time, when she was barely ever able to do that sober. It was not an easy task, and what ensued was the most horrific experience of my life.
I told her she had a bed in detox and we had to get going. She panicked and downed the remainder of a bottle of methadone. I freaked out at her, knowing this was going to make the task ahead of me even harder. Sure enough, she began to nod off at every turn, while she stood, while she walked, in the middle of incoherent sentences. She would nod off and lean on a wall, or crumple to the ground. While getting her dressed, she stalled and began to wander, drooling, my entire home in the nude. Ugly, scabby, and unbathed, I had to manhandle her limp, naked body covered in drool and a year’s worth of street crud, to get her dressed and in the car. I honestly can’t explain to you how I did it, but somehow I did. I drove her completely wasted body to detox, got her there on time, told her I loved her and left. I sat in my car and sobbed.
Something broke between us that day. She got clean, and we hung out a couple of times, but it was never the same. A few months later, I moved to Mexico.
Three days after I arrived in Mexico, I got a message on Facebook from a friend of Ashleigh’s. He told me she’d passed away. My very first thought was that she’d faked her own death. She’d lied about big things before, and in connecting with other friends we shared, they had all had the same thought. We got word from the coroner’s office though that it was true. My next guess was that she had begun to use again. Again, the coroner let us know she’d died of pneumonia. This is a pretty common illness for a lupus patient, so I assumed lupus was the ultimate reason she passed. Another friend of hers prodded the coroner for more info, and we were told, to our utter shock, that she had never had lupus; that she had gotten pneumonia due to a weakened immune system from drug use and detox.
She didn’t have lupus. She never had lupus. She’d convinced me, her other friends, her husband, and piles upon piles of doctors that she was a lupus patient, and she never had it. I wasn’t even mad. I was more amazed. Reading led me to understand that what she suffered from was Munchausen Syndrome. You can read more about that here.
In some way or another, I had been preparing myself for her death since we first became friends. At first, she would tell me that she would die early due to lupus and eventually, I expected to hear about her death due to drugs. I cried and shared stories with her other friends and got a tattoo. I asked a friend to film her wake for me, because I couldn’t make it back to be there. I read emails and looked at old pics. Nothing really made me feel better though, except time.
It was about 3 days after I learned of her passing, that I found out I was having my son. It just goes to prove that no matter how low you feel now, in 3 days, you could get the best news of your life. I said goodbye to Ashleigh. I moved on, and I celebrated the news like I knew she would have wanted me to. Her tortured mind was finally at rest and it was time for a whole new, amazing chapter in my life.