This is perhaps the only real surprise of the entire countdown. You have seen the name so you know that Ashley Woodin is ranked number two, but you still don’t know exactly why. As it turns out, I have plenty of reasons and this is a story I love telling. It shows that true friendship can be found with the tiniest of gestures and that one person can pop into your mind even at the most random of times.
I like to say that the very first time I ever saw Ashley was also the very first time she ever saw me. This happened one day during my sophomore year of high school, towards the end of the year. I was going to my friend Jim’s house on his bus and we had gotten to the bus early and were sitting there conversing when Ashley got onto his bus. The thing that immediately stuck out to me was the fact that I had been on Jim’s bus many times before and knew that she was not on his route. As she walked past me I noticed her (then) long brown hair. The bus left school and went it’s usual way and soon we got to Jim’s stop. I went to stand up and looked towards the back of the bus and locked eyes with Ashley (didn’t know her name at that time) for a second, taking in her absolutely beautiful hazel eyes. I got off of the bus and that was that.
That night as I sat in Jim’s room on the computer, that girl I had seen on the bus crossed my mind. I wanted to, if nothing else, know who she was. I contacted my friend Dylan Young and asked if he could help me figure out who she was. He said that he would and started showing me various people’s Myspace account pictures based on my description of her to see if I recognized any of them. Eventually, I did and at that moment I learned that I had locked eyes with a girl named Ashley Woodin and that she was in 8th grade. Dylan went a step further and offered to give me her screen name so I could talk to her and get to know her. I accepted and thanked him.
I entered her screen name into my buddy list and began talking to her, notifying her that in case she was wondering, I had gotten her screen name from Dylan Young. She said that it was fine and we commenced. I explained that I had seen her on Jim’s bus and that I was a sophomore. She actually said that she didn’t remember seeing me, but we became acquainted nontheless. Before our conversation ended that night I decided to walk out on a ledge, so to speak. I knew that at our high school when you graduated from 8th grade, there was a dance to commemorate it. I asked Ashley if she had a date to that dance and, if not, could I be her date (upperclassmen were allowed to go with special permission, which was easy to obtain.) Unfortunately, the deadline to sign up upperclassmen ended Wednesday and it was now Friday, I was two days late, nothing I could do. Turns out I had a backup plan. The high school held monthly dances and the very last one of the year, the graduating 8th graders were permitted to go. The idea was that this would acclimate them, at least a little bit, to high school life. I asked Ashley to go to this and she accepted.
My father dropped me off early and I walked to the middle school and sat on one of the newly added benches. As I waited, I wondered how I would handle myself that night, what I would say, and other things of that nature. I watched as Mrs. Lawson-Boice and her husband loaded her belongings into his truck, putting the finishing touches on her teaching career at Dover High School. She had retired and given a speech at that years’ 8th grade graduation to which she received a tearful goodbye from Tori Bondi and a standing ovation from some members of the crowd, myself included. She had been my social studies teacher only two years prior and that night, watching that graduation, I had been teary eyed and can admit it without shame.
She greeted me with a “hello” and a “goodbye” accordingly, and she was gone. Amazing what goes through your mind as you see something like that. Soon after, Ashley got dropped off by her mom and saw me on the bench. We talked a bit then headed to the high school entrance to wait for the doors to open for the dance.
There isn’t much to report from the actual dance night itself really, only one instance. I was in the gym playing basketball with perhaps four or five other people and Ashley decided to watch. The game went on for a relatively long time and I kept looking over at her sitting there. At one point, she was laying down on the bleachers, possibly annoyed or bored. I felt extremely bad for not spending my time with her and felt that I had wasted her time by inviting her. We left that night after exchanging “goodbyes” and that entire car ride consisted of me thinking about her. I still felt badly and vowed to treat her better in the future, both as a friend and as a person. To say it now, if there were ever a “missed chance” so to speak involving a girl, that was it. I’m not saying I would have “made a move” or anything of that nature, but for someone who prides myself on and strives to be a nice guy, that was out of character and unacceptable.
After that night, we actually did become closer as friends, close enough to the point where I absolutely loved just sitting and talking to her for hours on end. It was around this time that she had given me her cell phone number and permission to call her whenever I wanted to. This was around the end of the school year so seeing each other in school would soon be over. During those last few days, I developed the habit that I still have to this day, that being listening to music that relates to my situation. In those days, I came to school every morning listening to my Breaking Benjamin cd. I chose to listen to the songs that easily fit into what I was feeling. Surprisingly, many of the tracks could fit into my life at that point. This act of listening to music also encompassed my bus ride home from school. I still remember my last day of 10th grade, also her last day of 8th grade, and how we had nothing to do so we walked around the school just talking. When the buses arrived at the school early because it was a half day, it was time to go, summer break awaited. Before I boarded my bus, Ashley and I shared “goodbyes,” “happy summers,” and a hug. She walked to her bus, I got on mine, turned on my Breaking Benjamin cd, and smiled.
As I stated earlier and want to get back to, we spoke on the phone alot. I would get bored at my house, get on my bike, ride up the street to the train station, call Ashley, and talk for any amount of time. After awhile, I gave her my house number so she could call me as well. I remember at one point, she was going on a mini vacation to Maine for a few days and kept telling me how she would be bored the entire time. I decided that I could probably, in a small way, save her some of the boredom by calling her on some of those days, so I did. During those calls we discussed everything from her jumping off of a dock into the water to the possibility of seeing a moose. We talked about everything.
After that trip of hers, I’m left with only one more phone story. It was during that summer and I had called her at around 9:30 or 10:00 at night. Without it being planned or even acknowledged, we conversed until shortly after 5 o’clock in the morning. Thinking back now, that is the longest phone call I have ever had and probably will ever have in my entire life.
Before discussing Ashley’s greatest positive impact on my life, I just want to insert one more small anecdote. Her and I attended a birthday party at Austin Gonzales’s house that included other friends as well. Somewhere around halfway through that party, we were all sitting downstairs in the basement eating and Ashley and a couple of her friends wanted to hear some music, so they started using the big stereo to do so. The only song I remember being played was one that they referred to as the “Deer Song.” It was a song that I had never heard before but I enjoyed it nontheless. The song’s real name is “Sugar, We’re Goin’ Down” and it is by Fall Out Boy. I know why they called it the “Deer Song” but if anyone reading this doesn’t, simply watch the music video and it’ll all fall into place. Now every time I hear that song, the first and only thing that pops into my head is Ashley Woodin.
Now for the finale, if you will. The number one positive influence that Ashley had and has on me was not one of her own doing. It is something that I learned and still take with me to this day as a personal message. Some close friends may have even heard me quote that belief. Before I say it, I want to show how I came to believe it.
Everyone that knows me closely knows that I absolutely love biking. Growing up, and even now, it is my source of transportation to so many places. I’ve biked to Dutchess Community College to take a final exam at eight in the morning (61.52 miles round trip.) I’ve biked from New York to Connecticut in the pouring rain (22.82 miles.) I’ve biked to my old bus stop and left my bike there until the bus dropped me off later that afternoon after my parents selfishly moved our family out of the district (11.98 miles every day for 2 months.) I even take part in an annual bike marathon race for chairty that takes place in Pleasant Valley, both of these times a section of the race was in pouring rain. That marathon is 26.2 miles and I finished 5th out of 20 in 2007 and 4th out of 30 in 2008 and led a large portion of the race, maybe 7 or 8 miles. This year I’ll try to do even better. If you know that I bike, you’ve probably called me crazy for doing it. I have just come to adopt the idea that everyone my age drives everywhere so me biking equal or greater distance is against the norm, therefore “crazy.” Either way, odds are if I have been to a friends house, at least one of those visits was via bike. Ashley is no exception to this rule.
One day during a phone conversation, she gave me semi-directions to her house from mine and I set out to get there on bike. This was really when I started biking great distances (my house to hers and back totalled 23.54 miles.) I left one Saturday morning and biked to the road that she lived on but as it turns out, the road is very long and contains many houses. I didn’t make it to the house so when I got back home I called her and asked if the house that I had arrived at was hers. She told me that it wasn’t and that she lived further down that road. I said “okay” and told her I would make it next time.
The second time I once again didn’t make it far enough and she gave me more detailed instructions. The third time proved to be the charm and I rode back feeling accomplished for actually finding the proper location this time. I got home and called her and explained my success. We discussed that I should notify her the next time I was going to take that trip so that she could be outside and we could talk. This offer I accepted.
My next trip there came a few weeks later. I told Ashley early that morning that I would be coming but hadn’t given her a time. Truth be told, I didn’t even know when I would leave because I was at a friend’s house. I got home around noon that day and left on my journey.
When I arrived at her house, I looked up her driveway and saw her standing there doing something with a skateboard. I was surprised that at random, she was outside when I got there. She saw me and came down the hill and we spoke for a few minutes until I rode back home.
Since that bike ride, I have only taken one more bike ride to Ashley’s house, that being on June 21st, 2009. This is the date mentioned in my earlier post as being the worst day of my life thus far. I rode there for reasons unknown, but probably because, for me, that destination held happiness for me on a day that I had been torn in so many ways. That part of the trip was in pouring rain, but well worth it. After that, I ended up at Clayton’s.
These bike rides to Ashley’s, as stated, have helped me live by my own mantra. I developed it based on those rides and my connection with her.
I thank you, Ashley, for being such a large part of my life, even if you don’t think you are or were. I thank you for being my friend and giving me someone to talk to about everything. I still remember what you said to me when I graduated from high school. “Congratulations Rob. I know you will be successful in all that you do and remember, you’ll always be my bro.” That meant alot. It still does. And for what you have given me that means the most, my quote for every bike ride that I have ever taken and still have yet to take:
“The destination is always, always, worth the journey.”