I know a lot of people and I consider a lot of people friends. Some people are particularly special though. One year ago today I met one of those people. One year ago today I arrived in Chicoutimi, Quebec and when I got to my host family's home, I realized that there would be two other students living there with me. What I didn't know was how much and how deeply one of them would impact my life and in how short of a time. I met a lot of people during my time in Quebec but Ashley Gibson and I formed the deepest bond of all. As someone who only had brothers and who hadn't had much success with roommates, I never knew the intimacy that could develop when you live with someone, especially when you are sharing the experience of the Explore Program. It is very intense and without Ashley and the other friends I made, I don't think I would have made it though.
Ashley and I initially connected because we were so close in age (she only had six months on me). Our other housemate, Museb was much younger and good was a good sport about taking on the role of "little brother". In the five weeks that I was in Chicoutimi Ashley and I were pretty much always by each others sides. She was in a different classroom but we often ate lunch together and sought each other out at break times and for group events. Most evenings we either had dinner at the school or with our host family and then she and I (and sometimes Museb) would go out. I spent more time in pubs and bars in that time than all the rest of
my life combined (well...it felt like it anyway ;)) But really, that's what we did. Ashley drank, I drove, we were a fabulous pair. Then on weekends we'd go exploring. It was generally someone different in the back seat. Victoria joined us a few times, Beth, Vita, Steve, Adam, Connor, the list goes on but it was always, ALWAYS, Ashley and I together in the front. We covered the Saguenay Region in the sun, rain and fog and sampled every cheese curd, ice cream and beer (for her) that we could find. It was around the fourth week that I had to go out quickly. I was driving away from the house when I realized "this is the first time I've been alone in my car since I arrived!!!"
I wouldn't have had it any other way. We shared so much in such a short time
I saw Ashley twice after Quebec. Once on July 8th when I was passing through Toronto and managed to meet up with her for dinner (I met her mom that night too) and once on August 31st when we met up for lunch at a restaurant just down the street from her house. Once school started our lives both got so busy it was hard to coordinate our schedules. Even so we BBM'd frequently and stayed in touch on Facebook. Over Christmas we made plans to get together for her birthday on January 6th. My return was delayed by the death of my grandfather and her party was postponed due to the death of her grandmother. A few days after our last exchange which was "I'll let you know when we reschedule" I received a phone call from Ashley's mother telling me that Ashley had died. As far as I know her death was caused by a bad mix of new prescription drugs and just like that her young life was ended. She had just had her 32nd birthday. I did make it up to Collingwood for the funeral. That was one of the hardest drives I've ever had to make but it was also therapeutic in it's own way. It seemed like a long drive was a good way to pay homage to someone who I got to know so well in my car. I still miss her like crazy and think of her often. I've lost other friends and acquaintances but never one whom I was so close with. Even if she was only in my life for a little over seven months.