It was 2006.
I was a pasty, pubescent giantess in the throes of what I was working up the badassery to call my goth phase, and Ashley was petite, tan, popular, and sporty. I knew her as the cool girl who took my sophomore-level English and biology as a freshman, and as someone who would smile in the hall at everyone, and I didn’t know anything else about her. I didn’t know that ten years after we became classmates, we would become family.
Ashley started dating my brother David when I was a senior, she was a junior, and he was a freshman. Sometimes at night, David would call her and put her on speakerphone when she got sleepy, because that was when she’d start saying loopy things. He’d listen, doe-eyed, and I’d listen with my hand over my mouth, giggling. I still have videos of this somewhere.
I went to college out of state, and when I was home for breaks, Ashley’s stuff would be all over the house, because she had (and has) a habit of leaving things everywhere. She would come in the front door without knocking after some sports practice, with or without David, and say hello, and run upstairs to take a shower and come back down wearing my brother’s massive sweatpants, and then make herself comfortable on an unoccupied piece of furniture with a bowl of leftovers from the fridge. She was wonderful.
In late 2013 or 2014, I don’t remember, my parents and I visited Spokane, where David and Ashley went to college. I stayed with Ashley and her best friend Megan. Their apartment building was dumpy and the cold was brutal and ugly, but inside, they had a big sofa and a soft shaggy rug. It was warm and this was the first time I drank a generous pour of red wine from the heavy wine glasses with the sloped rims and faux cracks that I now know so well. Ashley and I shared a bed. Megan brought me breakfast in the morning. They took me to Lululemon for the first time and I got leggings. They took me to their favorite coffee shop and I got a latte. We had to perform intricate choreography to keep Ashley’s cat Benry from attacking the new kitten Penny, whom Ashley’s dad had just saved from a dumpster. I didn’t know it then, but those were the first of many hours I would spend with those cats.
For years, Ashley had been coming on family vacations, even when David couldn’t. She came with our family to Orcas Island one year, and she, my sister Kate, and I spent a night wearing matching wrap pants and gorging ourselves on a chocolate chip cookie the size of a baking sheet. We sat on the same sofa and ate that cookie and drank milk and applied massive temporary tattoos of Chinese symbols with English words like “Valor” and “Dignity” printed underneath and laughed really, really hard.
David and Ashley got engaged at the waterfront in Tacoma, and came back to our house where our two families had assembled for a surprise party.
Benry and Penny got over their differences. More or less.
David and Ashley got married and it was one of the happiest days of our family’s life. The two high school sweethearts married one week shy of their seventh anniversary. It was a cold, overcast January day. Megan and I carried the train of Ashley’s wedding dress down a gravel path to the dock on the lake where she and David saw each other for the first time that day. David gave her a letter, and the letter said, “It’s about damn time.”
They moved to Fremont, where I lived, and it made me happy, because I after you move out of your parents’ house, there’s no guarantee you get to live near your siblings again. And yet, it happened to us, and I could walk down a hill to hang out with these fine people I enjoyed and loved and shared a name with.
I don’t know when Ashley went, in my mind, from David’s girl to my friend. It must have happened surreptitiously, as small talk and pleasantries and inside jokes and hugs and vacations and dinners accumulated over the years. And now we’re sisters-in-law.
Ashley is wonderful. She can infuse any food or drink with lavender. She can dye her hair any color and it looks perfect. She is no-nonsense, straightforward, and open. She runs a preschool and it’s the perfect job for her, because she loves children deeply and has the sense of humor and immune system to handle all the nasty things they do. When I’m near their house, she always insists I drop by. She and I do puzzles. She and I get our nails done.
She is a brilliant person to just be with. She’s one of those very rare people you can get lost talking to for hours.
Sometimes we sit facing each other on their big leather sofa, a big blanket over our folded legs, and amble from thought to memory to feeling to rant to idea to complaint to dream. She listens a lot, and speaks a lot, and asks questions of stunning depth and delightful frivolity, and we talk until we’re slumped and hungry and David comes back from the climbing gym. This has happened many times, and how beautiful that we will keep getting older and life will keep changing, and the talks will keep happening hundreds and hundreds of times more in the century to come.