I clearly remember when I was 13. I remember sneaking out with Lynnetta for the first time and getting caught. I remember meeting Kendall for the first time and how I felt so smug for ‘going with’ a boy four years older than myself. I remember being absent from school for a week with the flu and when I went back a rumor had gone all around the school. Apparently I was very promiscuous with my best friend’s brother and my boyfriend, Patrick Swinford broke up with me in Mr. Hefflefinger’s first period class in front of everyone. I can still feel the sting of embarrassment and the betrayal and hurt that my friend would have said this. Now don’t get me wrong, I wasn’t an angel, I did make out with a LOT of boys when I was going with Patrick, but Jeff Hudson wasn’t one of them!
My parents got a divorce that year. I remember feeling like I had been let out of jail. I was free. I remember all these things with a clarity of having just experienced them. Don’t ever tell your children that they will ‘get over’ something that, at the time, was heartbreaking.
My daughter is 13. She is so ornery. She is loud and has an oddball sence of humor, that sometimes gets her into trouble. She is a cheerleader and a good student. She loves the water and she loves animals. She isn’t afraid of anything. Well, except people in white vans, she is sure she will eventually be kidnapped. I’m serious. She also has a best friend.
On March 16, Belle got a phone call as she was climbing out of the shower. Her best friend’s house had caught fire. Everyone got out except Ashlynn. In just a moment, her whole world changed.
As she stood there, wet, trembling and crying, I called my husband to come back home. Having just left minutes before, he said he would be right here. Belle and I paced and prayed and wondered aloud if this was a HUGE mistake. We lived about a quarter of a mile as the crow flies from Ashlynn. We hadn’t heard any sirens, we couldn’t smell any smoke. This was obviously a mistake.
Minutes later, Ken called us back. There was no mistake. There was a fire. Ashlynn’s parents, brother and three others had escaped. Ashlynn didn’t. She was gone.
How do you comfort your child at a time like this. I was as raw as she was. We cried and felt sick and prayed for comfort. Any comfort. Anything to take the pain away. She was just lost.
Over the next two days, we heard so many stories. So many variations on what happened. People love to share gruesome details and they delighted in sharing them with my daughter. Belle was frightened and confused and horrified. We told her that unless she heard it from Ash’s parents, to ignore it.
Ashlynn and Belle met the summer before their 5th grade year. They became fast friends. For the next four years, these girls were inseparable. Ashlynn became ours and Belle became theirs. Holidays, hospital stays, rough times, sweet times, birthdays, broken heart days. All days. They were there for each other.They didn’t quarrel and fight. They got into a bit of trouble once in a while. They simply enjoyed each other and each depended on the other to be there no matter what.
In a second, it was gone. One phone call and it was over.
It’s been a very hard couple of weeks. Belle spoke at Ashlynn’s funeral. She told stories of their friendship and got to have a few minutes of joy in the middle of the darkest cloud. She shared with everyone her love, friendship and grief.
She has spent time with Ashlynn’s family. That seems to be the one thing that comforts her the most. Being with people who also have a hole. She and Ashlynn’s parents seem to cling to one another to keep from drowning. No one has had any time to even begin the healing process. Right now everyone is just hanging on.
I posted on Facebook about this tragedy several times. On one of the posts, someone said, “She’s young, she will get over it quickly and forget she even went through this”. That person has been throughly cussed and deleted. Forget? Why would you even want to forget?? All the precious memories and the sweet times and the orneriness? My daughter is so much bigger than that. She will always remember. I did. I remember my pain at that age. She will too. She won’t forget. Her pain will lesson and she will remember the good. She will never forget the pain of the last weeks. I don’t want her to. Pain helps us grow. Would I do anything in the world to take everything back? Erase and rewind? Have our Ash still with us? In a New York minute. I can’t do that. What I can do is help this to make my daughter a better person. Make something good out of something bad.
We will all celebrate Ashlynn now. We will tell funny stories, make fun of that dumb song she listened to and keep her secret crush a secret. We will love her and miss her and cry for her. That won’t ever go away. She will always be here. As she should be. She will always be my Belle’s best friend.