Everyone one should have one John Ashley in their life. But only one…
One is a voyage of youthful self-discovery, more than one is a sign of self-destruction and co-dependency setting you up for an awkward intervention by your friends…..
I truly hope everyone has one Bad Boy in their past…Someone who was a youthful fascination that they had the good sense to not marry….
If you are young, my best advice is to read this and learn. If you are with a John Ashley, enjoy the moment, but keep your sense of perspective. Boys like this aren’t for the long haul of life. They aren’t built for sharing mortgages. They aren’t for building a life.
Boys like John Ashley are of a time and a place in your life. Remember that. It will save you a lot of emotional pain and money for divorce attorneys.
That said, let’s talk about John Ashley.
I met John Ashley through some of my friends at the University of Virginia when things were falling apart for me at college at my senior year at Washington and Lee University.
At first, I didn’t think much of him. Just another shallow party boy I met over cocktails at undergraduate parties with cheap wine in cheap, temporary apartments with cheap, temporary furniture at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville.
At that time and place in my life, most of my U.Va friends seemed a little more “bohemian” as opposed to my conventional, safe respectable W&L and Sweet Briar College friends. To draw a New York analogy, I always felt like I was playing in Greenwich Village while at U.Va and that W&L was the very safe, very proper Upper East Side.
One of my best, very Catholic, very repressed University of Virginia friends was obsessed with John Ashley. He had met him during High School at the Governor’s School for the Gifted in Virginia and they had reconnected at U.Va. He had John Ashley to all his parties and thought he was the wittiest man since Oscar Wilde and worshipped him as far as his Catholic guilt would allow. He always regretted introducing us and totally lost it when he found out later what happened…
John Ashley was bad news on a stick. Strawberry blond, with blue/grey eyes full of light and life, a knowing smile and with a body that only the devil would have allowed such a dissipated man to have. The boy never worked out, drank like a fish, smoked like a chimney and looked liked the second coming of Christ to a closeted W&L frat boy looking for an excuse to veer a little out of control….
He was brilliant, from an old Virginia family and at U. Va with all the family expectations of success. However, once there, he devoted all his time to cocktails and chasing Brazilian soccer players….
At first I derided him. He scared me. He was all I was raised and programmed to fear. He was openly and challengingly gay. Still, he was preppy to the core and seemed like “one of us”. He didn’t give a damn what anyone thought. He lived to be a little outrageous, in a well-bred way, and to cause a scene.
Looking back, it was inevitable we would end up together. For a while….
When I met him, I couldn’t show fear, so I showed condescension. I was the elitist Preppy W&L Boy and he was the drunken, wastrel Charlottesville bohemian. He reminded me, frequently, that he went to U.Va so he didn’t have to try as hard as a W&L boy. He infuriated me.
We teased and challenged each other with mutual contempt and witticisms at several parties.
Until one weekend, like the last cliché, we had too much to drink, ended up alone late at night at a party talking and went back to his place for a nightcap. We left a trail of Bass Weejuns, Khaki pants and Oxford shirts all the way to his bed…..
Neither of us saw what this meant….that one night turned into a 8 year off and on affair that neither of us took too seriously. Or so I thought, at first….
When I fell into John Ashley’s bed, I lost and found myself. He was my first great love– or at least my first great lust– and I had no idea there was a difference at the time. That’s one of the many things I learned from the John Ashley Experience….
I knew he was totally wrong for me. He had zero ambition and I wanted so much more than I had…but when you are very young, these things don’t seem to matter.
He was from just outside my home town. His family was a prominent “county” family as mine was a well-known “city” family….He used to tell me: “My family owns a big chunk of land covered in tobacco. I’ll probably end up back there one day and I plan to eventually stumble out and fall over dead with a bottle of Jack Black in my hands in those tobacco fields. But I have a lot to do first….”
He just wasn’t real clear on specifically what he had to do first. Besides drink bourbon, smoke cigarettes and have a good time. And chase Brazilian soccer players….
I would leave W&L as the uptight, confused preppy stereotype of the boy I tried so hard to be then, arrive in Charlottesville and meet John for cocktails. Many cocktails. And before the night was over, I would end up alone with this gorgeous, silly, irresponsible fool who made me feel, for the first time in my life, truly alive. At least for a few hours.
After the charade of “meeting for cocktails” those first few weekends, we gave up the illusion of spontaneity and would meet for at his place in Charlottesville and spend the weekend together going out on the town, having witty conversation, smoking cigarettes, drinking Jack Daniels… and falling into bed in the early hours of the morning. Sometimes, I wouldn’t make it back to W&L until Tuesday….
He was my first oasis of freedom and I drank it-and him– up.
God, I enjoyed being with that man back then…. For the first time in my life, while I was with him, I wasn’t worried about status, role-playing or pretense. With him, I found a place I belonged-if only for a few hours and for a limited time. I didn’t realize it then, but for the first time in my life I, myself, was truly living in the moment– and it was wondrous.
And he was wondrous….witty, funny, sexy, smart. I thought he was perfect…
And he was for that time and place…just not for the long run.
Eventually, I would come to look at him as my “Halfway House” to the life I have now. But not then….
I’ll never forget one Sunday, having drinks at brunch at a Chinese restaurant in Charlottesville. Don’t ask me why we are having brunch at a Chinese restaurant, it was just one of the things one did then…
Anyway, they served a drink called the”Blue Hawaii” that was served in a miniature punch bowl with straws meant for several people to share. John had about 3 of these by himself and passed out, face down, in the last one. I saved him from drowning. I pulled his head out of the punch bowl and pushed him back in his chair and let him sleep until the rest of us finished our meal.
One of my not so “bohemian” Charlottesville friends who was with us that day turned to me and said: “I hope you know what you are doing; that boy is the poster child for sorriness.”
And he was….but he was the Peter Pan to my Lost Boy.
After I moved back home, I would still see him on the occasional weekend in Charlottesville or pick him up and head to Washington, DC for the weekend. Eventually, I only saw him on holidays or other times when he came home to visit his family. I would drop everything when he hit town. The last time I saw him was one Christmas when I was living in my late Grandmother’s house and he stayed with me for a few days….
The luster was growing dim and I knew it had gone during that last visit. We both did. We somehow knew it was time to say good-bye and move on with our lives. Neither of us said anything, but we knew.
I wanted something more, something better and different, something permanent. I wasn’t quite sure what yet, but I knew we had gone as far as we could go. John had never really, fully integrated into my “real” life after college. He had become a sideline and I was trying to survive the small town games. I was ready to stop playing the games and trying to be someone I really wasn’t. He couldn’t get serious about life and had no direction…and we were rapidly approaching 30.
I was starting to know what I wanted and to know, at least, it couldn’t be with him.
Back then, in those days in the late 1980’s, most gay men in small towns didn’t see how long-term relationships could be a possibility. We didn’t really have any role models. We didn’t yet think clearly in those long range terms ourselves. We grabbed the “here and now” with the gusto of someone on a sinking ship.
And John Ashley and I were on the Titanic….
We just got in different lifeboats and drifted away in different directions….
My partner, Steve, knows all about John Ashley– even though they have never met. I think he may have had one or two boys like this in his own, pre-me life….long ago and far away. I find many of us have….
Our times with boys like John Ashley are like buying training bras for relationships. You eventually either out grow them and get the real thing or make the decision to do without. They aren’t meant to be a permanent solution.
Last I heard, many years ago, John Ashley had found an older, rich, closeted Gay man and they were spending their time drinking and playing “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf” nightly at that man’s big house outside Charlottesville.
I hope that rumor wasn’t true. I hope he got his act together and moved on, too….
I don’t know where he is or how he ended up. Sometimes I wonder. But, not too often..
John Ashley taught me to live in the moment even if the moment wouldn’t, couldn’t and shouldn’t last. In some strange way, my time with him taught me to not fear life, but to embrace it….
I’ll always be grateful our paths crossed along the way…and I’ll always remember him fondly.
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Ah I miss Chinese restaurant brunch, and Chinese restaurant discos. There was a Chinese place in D.C. that converted into the Chinese disco after hours. We helped move the tables and chairs out of the way. Good times, good times. Old times.
Your friend’s comment — the “sorry” part — was hilarious. The rest a little sad, but in a wistful way, only because many young people go through this and some get damaged rather than grow from it. But the good side of that coin is: no need for a mid-life crisis when the period of youth is wild.
Thanks, Doug….and Amen to the no need for a mid-life crisis part! I would never want to go back to that time. As the song says, the best of times is now…..
John Ashley, thanks for the nice and funny note that came in the mail yesterday-with no return address! It was great to hear from you after all these years. I do hope all is well with you and yours and that our paths will cross again one day.