(For those reading "The Complicated Geography of Alice", it may help to clarify the usage of Ashlie vs. Alice here.)
On my way the market today, I saw one of Ash's friends sitting on his mother's porch. I haven't seen him in person for more than three years, but he's kind of an unmistakable kid. Immediately I wanted to stop and talk to him, but I kept driving because that's what I do. What I ALWAYS do – avoid people, even people I like – even people I WANT to talk to. In part, it's because unexpected social interactions are usually awkward and I cringe at my own awkwardness.
I keep in contact with a number of Ashlie's closest friends through Facebook. We rarely talk, but I get random peeks into their lives and while it's hard to see them wrestling with young adulthood when she never will, it's also somehow good. One of her best friends became a father this year. Her Jr. High girlfriend is married and expecting.
But this kid – this particular kid with his perpetual deer-in-the-headlights expression, limbs always somehow akimbo and every teen-angst marker imaginable – I am never not going to love this kid. I am never not going to see a ghost of Ashlie in him.
And so, on the way back from the market, when I saw that he was still crouched in front of his mother's house, I pulled to the side of the road and waved him over. And yes, it was an awkward three minutes. Painfully so. Neither one of us knew what to say and we stumbled through that conversation until I blurted out, “Get in here and let me give you a hug.”.
“I'm all dirty.” he said, tugging at the bottom of his t-shirt.
“I couldn't care less.”
I reached over and swung open the passenger door. The kid leaned in and let me hug him. Hell, he even hugged me back. And maybe it was selfish to ask, but some part of me needed to do that and afterwards, as I drove away I could almost feel Ash twisting around in the seat beside me to wave goodbye.