"You don't seem like yourself," they say.
"I don't have one right now," I don't answer.
The first draft of this post was a funny Ashley story of a night at the theater, of the two hardcore old lady ushers who banded together to try to force my best friend and I to behave and follow the rules, and how irritated I was at their audacity until I realized that would be her and I one day. Enforcing shit no matter how mundane, no fucks given, together against the world.
But then the bullhorn in my head keeps saying, "No! Announce your disappearance" since that's the real news.
It feels like there's a need to show you regular Ashley, to promise that I am okay, bleeding out and all. A friend once said that it was funny my social media was so beautiful when my life was in shambles, and I pointed out that there was no duplicity in that, I'm just good at finding the beautiful.
I am, too. I still have that. I swear to you that I could be dying in a gutter and I'd still stop to admire the sunset before drawing my last breath.
And maybe put that shit on Instagram if I could manage.
Friends are worried about me. And I hate that. I need it right now, to know that I'm loved when I feel that I'm utterly unlovable, but I feel it happening towards and around me, can sense quiet conversations of what to do about Ashley when there's really nothing to be done but to lean in and prop me up a little as I find my feet.
(A little. Not too much.)
And don't take it personally if I stand here staring blankly back at you as you try. And I won't blame you for not trying. I don't want anyone to worry.
But there is less of me. I've been disappearing for a long time, in bits and pieces of willing sacrifice, but I'm finally getting to the parts people can see.
My bright is dim. My career uncertain. My time with my loves about to be halved. My tongue rests in the place my lost crown stood. My car is most likely on its way to the junkyard with a bad transmission. My house might be someone else's guest room every other weekend. My breasts strain to reach the cups of my bra and my legs are long bleached bones lost in the skinniest of skinny jeans.
Sometimes I think my skeleton is finally trying to work its way out so there's no more hiding. I can see it there in my mind, encased in denim instead of skin, tricking people into thinking I'm like them until I undress for the day and reveal my monstrousness to the night.
BUT DON'T WORRY.
And I totally see why you would. The skeleton thing is morbid as fuck. I'm dramatic, okay? You like that about me when it's funny.
But the reality of the loss of me is that I would not have room to grow without all of this new space. Now is the time to meet the challenge of sprouting in this foreign environment, like a weed through the cracks of a sidewalk.
I saw an abandoned concrete factory that had been transformed into a house the other day and as I was admiring its cavernous rooms, I thought that it would always feel empty and never like a real home.
And then I remembered that you could ride a bike, or do cartwheels, or keep a pony in there; that laughter would echo and a million people would fit inside. That you could keep every book you ever loved or wanted to read. That you could devote an entire area to the most kickass pillow fort in existence and leave it up forever.
Right now the empty space growing around me feels as vast and unfamiliar as the galaxy. But it also allows that much room for exploration and discovery and expansion and wonder, and so many fucking cartwheels.
So I am disappearing.
It's okay to worry but I will be back and I'll have a self with me again. There will be room in the new fort for you too.
And one day my best friend and I will lock arms at our volunteer jobs as senior citizens because we'll have the wisdom and experience to know that you'll survive not getting what you want.
Together forever against the world, you and me and everyone we know.