Always difficult to know where to start writing so I just have to pick a spot. I was reading some of my journal entries from ten years ago when we were trying to pick up the pieces from the fire. Why do I go back to this?
I believe it is part of our story. We cannot say for sure that Ashley’s addiction would not have happened if there had been no fire. Yet, I think this is a part of it. Here are some journal entries from then. She was on fentanyl and pain medics were already looking at weaning her from this powerful drug, percocet was on the menu, not breathing on her own yet, insulin, had a boxing glove on her right hand, ankle contracture boots on both feet, lungs were black from smoke inhalation, and the burns full thickness.
We had lost Brett. I still cry when I think back to this day. His mom said he was in a better place. I know that but I wanted him here. For his parents. For Ashley. For us and his friends and family and all those who would never know this wonderful young man.
Day 5 after the fire: “Ry and Rach are going to see Brett today. I want you to know that I wrote him a letter. I cut off your funky little Ashley braid last night for Brett to take. I figured that was more you than a lock of hair.”
Day 7 (on way to Brett’s funeral): “Hey Smash uh lee. It’s about 7:30 AM and we are on our way towards Blacksburg. LWood and Rach are behind us. Rach had a tough night. She has been with us since day 1 and has taken such good care of your Boo Mama and family and friends.
Pretty sun rise today. Steve just said so and it is.
I talked with LWood yesterday about how she thinks you will do as you begin recovering. It’s not that I don’t have faith but let’s face it, I am your Mamacita and really trust your friend’s judgment. LWood agrees that you’ll come out okay. I know you will always be a bit shattered. But most of your pieces will come back together. It’s like that last piece of the jigsaw puzzle that you can’t find to finish the puzzle. We’ll have to find a way to hold on to the missing piece.
Anyway, LWood told me how you helped her wade through the bog when her friend died. You listened to her, had your profound Ashley insights, and really helped her. I know how you felt about the tragedies some of your friends had been through. Now, they want to be there for you.
Steve wants me to tell you that we could not have imagined in our wildest dreams that we would be doing this today. He said we are taking you with us. In our hearts. Ry stayed back as someone needed to be by your side and he was here last night.
I hope you still like elephants. I remember the last time we shopped you seemed to still like them. I have a scarf on today that symbolizes you being with me and this will be the only time I wear it. Then I will give it to you. It looks like a baby elephant following her momma around.
Trusting that mom knows the way.
That mom will protect her.
Take care of her.
And at night, the baby elephant will snuggle in with her mom and gently rock in her trunk.
The mom will sing softly to the baby elephant.
And stroke the baby’s trunk.
Eventually, the momma will nudge the baby elephant on to her own life so that the baby can bring joy, love, hope, and peanuts to others.
That’s it for now. I’ll just keep this handy as we continue the drive to tell Brett we will all see him later. I know he will somehow be with you every day.”
LATER: “Ash, you know how it is when you spin round and round in circles until you are so dizzy you can’t spin anymore? Then you stop and try to focus and get yourself stabilized but can’t figure out which way to go, even though you are where you started? Everything is the same but nothing is as it was. Some moments are like that.”
LATER IN THE AFTERNOON: ” Ashley, we just left the church after saying by to Brett. I wanted you to know how it went.
I had a few moments with Brett and talked to him for awhile. I told him how much you loved him and what a change he made in your life. I told him I was so very sorry you guys would not be able to be together yet. That I knew how much he loved and adored you. That I loved him too. I brushed his lips, stroked his face, and did the finger thing to his hair like you like.
I spent some time with your friends. Everyone was asking about you. Quite a few people at the church remember meeting you and how sweet you were. One woman told me she let you know that she had a lot of Brett stories she could tell you. I guess Brett said you couldn’t hear them The minister remembered meeting you too.
I met his Grandpa that you told me Brett was so close to. He said to tell you he loves you. Told me about what good friends he was with Brett. I told him I remembered you saying Grandpa was Brett’s best friend. I met his grandmother too.
Everyone wants you to come back. We have talked to the minister about doing a memorial service for you to come to. I think people agree, it would be helpful.
The minister talked about how he has known Brett for so long. He told the story of church camp. He and his wife were going to sleep and they heard all the boys laughing. they went to check and make sure that the building was still intact and found Brett doing his Roscoe! Said Brett had always been so quiet, just never expected it of Brett.
Then there was the frog story. Brett’s grandpa had taken him to look for frogs. Grandpa told Brett to be real quiet and they would find a frog. Brett waited and waited and waited. No frogs. Finally Brett said, ‘It’s okay Paw Paw. Frogs are a lot like Jesus. Even though you can’t see them, you know they are there.’
We sat with Brett’s family. Later, his dad was telling people how the four of us bonded the moment we met. And we did. They are incredible people and I can see how Brett became the person he is.
Outside, as things began winding down, Brett’s mom had the idea to send balloons up. So all of Brett’s family and friends had Virginia Tech colored balloons and let them go up!
We called and Ry said you were getting a bit fidgety. Who could blame you? They had to refrain your left arm and give you some more “happy” juice. You are starting to take more breaths on your own.
And so the anxiety comes in about telling you about Brett. I am so so sorry. There are just some things I can’t change or make go away. I prayed so hard and everyone did to keep Brett here. He just couldn’t stay.
Now, we will just continue taking things hour by hour, then day by day. My life is yours for awhile. Take from me whatever you need.”
Why do I go back to this time? I feel it has had such an impact on our lives and on the life of my daughter. When I write about a one on one session we had at Betty Ford, it will make even more sense. Maybe you can get an idea of what kind of person Ash is that so many cared about her and loved her. How much she loved her friends and family. She is not perfect at all. None of us are. She is a human being with many who love and support her as she struggles with addiction. The addicted in this world deserve a chance for a fulfilling life as much as any of us. To dismiss them seems cruel. To say they want this is wrong. Addicts will take the responsibility of their recovery. Just know that if we have never experienced addiction, we have no right to judge or withhold treatment. My wish to all struggling with addiction is that you can find your way to recovery. You are worth saving.
Love my recovering addict.