How To Say Goodbye

How To Say Goodbye July 10, 2018

I met her in a crappy bar, on a rainy night in my dumpy 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. When I met her, she was a hundred pounds overweight, which was a lot for her tiny 4 foot 11 frame (this becomes relevant later on). 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.

You know her as Chrissy from the film Now & Then:

I knew her as my friend, Ashleigh Aston-Moore. When we were out and about, she often had fans approach her for autographs and photos. Towards the end, 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. It led to some interesting… adventures.

My purple Monte Carlo – photo taken on a 2005 cell phone does not do it justice.

To give you an example, one afternoon we were driving down #3 Road in Richmond, BC. As we passed the Domo gas station, a gorgeous, royal purple 1973 Monte Carlo came into view, the sun bouncing off its 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 boat, which, I found out promptly, had a 383 Stroker Performance engine in it. I didn’t think much about it before I bought it and drove the rumbling machine home. On my birthday, she took it from my driveway while I worked and had a loud stereo system installed. The look on people’s faces when all 5 ft. 4 of me pulled up to a traffic light, blaring Neighbourhood #3 by the Arcade Fire in a car built to race was always priceless.

We used to create characters and commit to them for entire evenings out on the town. She’d be Amelia from England and I’d be Lisa from Australia. She sold it, I couldn’t. We’d camp up at Lillooet Lake and go skinny dipping in the glacier-cold waters. Well, she would. I’d always be appropriately dressed. We’d get up early on Saturday mornings and go “garaging”, hitting all the garage sales in town and lugging back ridiculous items to the mansion I was renting; items like the cooper challenge. It was a basketball arcade game that became the centre of attention at all our parties, lineups forming into the sunroom where we’d parked it. Once, we bought an Alvin and the Chipmunks phone and Ashleigh took it with us to the bar that night convincing everyone it was her new cell phone.

Ashleigh on the Alvin phone.

In getting to know Ashleigh, we realized that we had lived parallel lives up until we met. She had been in the Odyssey 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 thirty feet of each other our entire existence 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 during filming.

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 I think 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, knowing it was somewhere close to her, playing Snoop’s “Drop It Like It’s Hot” which was her ringtone, and she would never answer. Then, she’d just show up one day and explain she’d had some illness due to her lupus and was in the hospital. I would always get irritated that she didn’t call me so I could come to see her.

Finally, 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 spoke to the doctor 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 being Ashleigh

Ashleigh had been hooked on heroin as a teen. She had eight 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 and she would pad downstairs to my ground floor two-bedroom in her jammies. We’d cozy up on the couch under blankets and watch Big Brother and Penn & Teller Bullshit! and Bill Moyers interviewing Joseph Campbell at Skywalker Ranch. 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. She’d drift off mid-sentence or standing up. 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 messed up. She was vanishing all the time and photos of her in Virginia and Kentucky and Georgia with random men I didn’t know about would surface on her MySpace profile. She would show up covered in new, nonsensical tattoos and elaborate piercings like the ribboned 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 life together. I couldn’t watch her kill herself. I think I blew up at her one final time after she picked up myself and a friend from an Elton John concert. I told her I’d had enough but when she was ready to get help, I’d be there.

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 a sketchy street.

I didn’t say anything. I just told her to get in the car. I took her home in silence, gave her a bed and let her sleep.

When she woke up, she told me she was on heroin again as though I hadn’t already known. She told me she wanted to stop. She said she brought someone else’s prescription 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 learned that week that methadone is just as powerful as heroin in high doses. 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.

Beautiful Squish.

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 that it was true, though. 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 information, and we were told, to our utter shock, that she was otherwise perfectly healthy; that she had gotten pneumonia due to a weakened immune system from drug use and detox.

Was it possible she didn’t have lupus? She’d convinced me, her other friends, her husband, and piles upon piles of doctors that she was a lupus patient, and she may never have had it. Reading led me to understand that what she may have 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 three days after I learned of her passing, that I found out I was having my son. In the ten years since, I think often about how much she would have loved him. She was troubled and tortured and lost, but she was one of the most beautiful, fun and loving humans I ever knew. There are a whole ton of people who miss her every day like I do. She made the world more tolerable and I only wish I could have done the same for her.

This post is part of a series called Atheist Life Hacks – they are all stories from my life. You can read more of them here.

If you like what I do here and want to support my work, you can donate here or become a patron here.

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What Are Your Thoughts?leave a comment
  • That’s a terrific tribute. You’re a real writer!

  • Annerdr

    This is a wonderful tribute to a complicated individual.

  • Miss_Beara

    I watched Now & Then a lot as a kid and had no idea she died 10 years ago. That was a beautiful tribute to her.

  • wannabe

    For twelve years, Dr. Gabor Maté practiced medicine in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside, North America’s most concentrated area of drug use.

    His book, In the Realm of Hungry Ghosts: Close Encounters with Addiction, tells many stories and outlines the understanding he acquired; see here.

    A possibly legit .pdf of the whole book is here.

    The first few chapters at least are very very sad. It was recommended to me but I could not finish it. Ms. Heard, maybe it could help you better understand the loss of your friend.

  • John Simmonds

    We had a lot of fun with Ashleigh. She was….. unique, that’s for sure. I’ve never met anyone like here before or since. Good post.

  • Illithid

    Holy shit. That hurt. Powerful stuff. Thanks for writing it.

  • Thank you for reading!

  • Thank you so much!

  • Thank you!

  • Thank you so much!

  • Thank you, I’ll take a look. I have since worked in addiction recovery places so I’ve done a lot of my own exploring.

  • Morgan Lefaye

    I’m sorry for your loss.

  • DannyC

    I absolutely love your writing. I lost my own son ten short weeks ago to a similar, downward spiral of drug abuse. Your story painted a raw and very realistic image of your friend and I find myself wanting to FIND my son in his own mess of a life and scream from the rafters that he had worth and meaning. Keep up the great work, Courtney.