I had this really awesome friend Ashton once. Like all of my super awesome friends, I met him in rehab, where I spent the better part of my 20s. Who can I compare Ashton to that you would know? If I had to pick a celebrity it would be Ryan Reynolds. Ash was sarcastic, funny in a dark way, and really fucking vicious if you got on his bad side.
Naturally, he was good looking and came from money. His father was a prominent attorney, and his mother was gorgeous. We are talking he may have had a hard time in high school because of how hot Deirdre was. I should have made myself a permanent fixture in his family by marrying his cool aunt Katie, alas this was during my Denny obsession, and I missed the opportunity. They all met Denny at my birthday dinner one year and said almost in unison after he left “we don’t get it”. See, they were perfect. If only I’d listened.
Luckily Ashton thought I was just as awesome, and after rehab in Ohio we moved into the same recovery house. We soaked up each other’s awesomeness for a good six months before I moved to Squirrel Hill to focus on being affluent again.
Now I can’t blame myself for what happened next because nothing is ever really my fault, but I do feel partially responsible for abandoning him. Especially around so many sick and delusional people. When I moved out of the sober trap house, someone convinced Ash to move into one of Ollie’s houses. I KNOW. For those of you not familiar with Ollie, see ‘The Exorcism of Nicholas’ article on the home page. I should have stepped in or called his parents, but I didn’t know how far things would go! Forgive me Deidre.
Because he was good looking and educated, Ollie immediately started calling him a ‘fucking homo’ and mocked him relentlessly. (God, we get it Ollie, you’re gay, stop embarrassing yourself and just come out). Like I said, I wasn’t around as much since I had an actual life again, but I can only assume Ollie broke his self esteem down enough with his hate speech to account for what happened next. Why else would Ashton have picked such a disgusting person to sponsor him?
Alan was my age, and up until he ruined my friend, I’d dismissed him as just another glassy-eyed AA follower who’d grown up without a dad and now loved to hear the sound of his own voice. He once cried at the Cathedral of Learning meeting after talking about the special relationship he had with his higher power. “I’m just lost without Him” repeated three times followed by big fat tears.
He and Ollie’s son (don’t get me started) single handedly ruined the meeting at Pitt for me, which was a shame considering I went to school there at the time. The sad thing about all of this is that all of his AA ‘friends’ called him a homo behind his back. (I honestly couldn’t tell you why there is so much anti-gay rehtoric in AA but eventually you just get used to it). Probably because he was attending college and didn’t plan on hanging dry wall for the next 40 years of his life.
I was still trying to hangout with Ashton, and every Friday he’d pick me up from work downtown and drag me and a mutual friend Billy to his AA home group. Billy and I were on the same page as far as meetings were concerned, so we’d hide in the chapel upstairs and nap or talk about something that actually mattered.
“Dude, Ash has really been getting on my nerves lately” Billy said one night.
“Yeah, he seems different” I replied, staring at the church ceiling.
“All he does is talk about Alan”
Hearing this, I sit up in the pew I was laying on. “What could he possibly have to say about that watery turd?”
“Well Alan is his sponsor now…”
Again, I’ll take some responsibility here. I should have stepped in and done something – had Alan deported or at least called a rich Italian relative and had them mercy kill Ashton. All I can say in my defense is that I was distracted, trying to figure out why my classes at Pitt were so easy, or why Ollie refused to come out of the closet.
“That’s really surprising” I said, laying back down, truly stunned.
A few things happened in rapid succession that ultimately forced me to remove myself from the whole situation. It just became too hard to watch, feeling helpless, as Alan ruined my once awesome friend.
Shortly after I heard the terrible news, Ashton made me and Billy go to 51 Wings with him and Alan after his AA home group. We were all sitting at a table, and Billy pointed out some hot blonde girl to Ash, who got all weird and shifty. He nervously glanced at Alan and said “My Sponsor told me I shouldn’t be dating because I have nothing to offer anyone right now”.
Alan smiled and nodded his head in approval, almost making me barf up my Coke and shitty wings. Later in the car, Billy couldn’t let the exchange go and kept impersonating Ashton. “I can’t date because I’m a piece of shit, right Alan? Right Alan?”. I couldn’t stop laughing but Ash got really mad. That was the last time Billy came to the meeting with us because apparently he’s smarter than me and knows when to hit the eject button.
A week later we were walking into an AA meeting and Alan was standing near the door, tapping his foot impatiently, a look of anger on his face. “Oh no” Ash says.
“Right, I don’t want to talk to him” I whisper.
We get to Alan and he starts SCREAMING at Ash. If memory serves it was something about a girl or missing a meeting, who cares. Halfway into this very public tirade, Alan looks at me and says “I need you to leave for a couple of minutes so I can talk to my sponsee”. I give him the same look his mom probably gave the doctor when he told her the abortion didn’t take and walked inside.
A couple of months pass and Alan works Ash through all 12 steps. I saw this as a positive thing because Ash was kind of immature, and maybe this would actually help him. I realized that this was wishful thinking when Ashton took me to Primantis in the South Side before a meeting one evening.
“Dude, isn’t this the Primantis that you quit by walking out during dinner rush?”
“Yeah, but I made my amends to them already, and Alan taught me that once you’re rid of guilt and shame, you are free to go places you would once avoid”.
I didn’t know how to even begin to respond to this statement, so I sat with Ash at the bar and tried to keep a low profile. An old woman shuffles up to us and asks Ash what he’s doing there.
“Stop it Linda!” He turns to me and says “this was my boss, the one I called last week and made my amends to”.
My eyes keep getting bigger as I finally realize the full gravity of the situation. Linda keeps glaring at us while she takes our orders from behind the bar. Ashton pretends that a heavy fog of disgust isn’t being directed at us by this old woman who clearly still hates him.
He tells me that he needs to call Alan, so I excuse myself to the restroom where I prescribe myself an extra anti-anxiety pill. When I get back to the bar Linda throws our sandwiches in front of us and huffs away. Ashton digs in, but I pick around my Pastrami and Rye (I mean who knows what Linda put in these things?) and count down the minutes until we can leave.
That last one was the final straw, the day I lost hope that I would ever see my awesome friend Ashton again. He could do whatever he wanted in his spare time, but as soon as my life feels threatened by a crusty old hag at Primantis, it’s time to say goodbye.
I’ve seen Alan a couple of times since he ruined my friend – same smug look and same small friends who call him a ‘homo’ behind his back. I want to be angry when I run into him but always just end up feeling pity, which is an unusual feeling for me, so I try my hardest to avoid it.
For once, one of my stories does have a happy ending. Ashton finally escaped Alan, Ollie, and AA entirely a couple of years ago. He now lives a happy and fulfilling life in the city where people don’t abuse him or force him to abuse himself.
We haven’t talked in awhile, so I’m not sure what motivated him to seek out a better life, but my guess is that he finally decided to grow up.