Have you ever tried to think back to the time you’ve met someone you’ve been friends with for a long time? It’s much harder than you might anticipate.
I recently tried remembering without positive results. However, I decided that I met my friend Ashley probably the first day of seventh grade in homeroom, because we both happened to have last names that started with the letter “G”.
Mostly what I remember is being drawn to her because of our shared love of books and reading. She was the only person for a long time who I loaned books and her vice versa because we’d keep each other’s tomes in pristine condition, or at least in the same condition that they’d been given to us. I knew and liked that her favorite Disney character was Belle because she felt connected to her and also secretly wanted a giant library.
I felt the same way. We probably also talked, at some point in middle school, about our love for Matilda when we were growing up, and how she had an impact on our budding nerdiness through her love of books.
As we grew older and our tastes expanded, we started talking more about the Harry Potter series, and how kick-ass Hermione was, and how we wanted to be like her. Ashley was a Ravenclaw and I at the time believed myself to be a Gryffindor. While my House has since changed firmly to Slytherin, Ashley’s always remained the same. But I also commended her when we got into our twenties about how much like a Hufflepuff she was, always loyal and calm in situations, and forever helpful to her friends. Toward the end of her life, she was braver than any Gryffindor in the books.
We loved Lord of the Rings and Pirates of the Caribbean, and I remember a party where other high school friends of ours and we discovered the ridiculous sound Johnny Depp makes when Orlando Bloom cuts him down from the gallows. We rewound and watched it at least 10 times, and it was never not funny.
I made fun of her for her Legolas/Orlando Bloom cardboard cutout that she had in her room. At a sleepover, we were watching a movie when she sneaked over to where it stood in the corner of her room and moved it enough so that it would fall on top of me. From where I was sitting, it looked like a murderer was coming in through her window, and I was his target. She never let me live that down. I never let her live down that fact that she broke her toe when she heard Orlando Bloom’s name on TV and ran to see what was going on, catching her toe on her parents’ sofa in the process.
I read the Twilight books at her insistence, because this was before they got popular and she wanted someone to discuss them with, and none of our other friends wanted to read them at the time. She was way more jazzed about them than I was, but I still read them and talked about them with her through high school, even after they got popular.
She got me my first job at the movie theater, where we collected movie posters and saw midnight premieres of the Potter films before they were released to the general public.
In our twenties, we groaned over the long wait times for the next Sherlock series, and she tried to get me to watch Dr. Who. Unfortunately for me, I couldn’t get into it, though I wanted to for her sake. We talked about how much we loved the Jacksonville Jaguars despite their less-than-stellar performances in recent years, and how she couldn’t wait for the 2015-2016 season to see how much they had improved.
After she had brain surgery to remove the tumors there, I got in touch with a friend, who helped arrange for her meet Coach Gus Bradley and the rest of the team, including her favorite quarterback, Blake Bortles, simply because I knew it would help to keep her strong and happy. I knitted her a Tardis hat, a Jaguars hat, and a Ravenclaw hat to cover up her newly shaved head.
The Jaguars won their first preseason game. That same week she passed away.
My point is: sometimes you don’t really know when a friendship begins, but it grows and changes through the years with the help of your fandoms that you’re a part of. Your friendship may have begun with something as simple as a shared favorite Disney princess, or over a conversation about your favorite sports team. No matter what, the shared love of these fandoms positive affect a friendship to help it grow.
You learn much about another person by way of how they talk about certain things. Through our conversations about the books we’d lend or recommend to one another, we learned more about each other in a short amount than if we’d played 20 Questions. And in our case, the friendship I had with Ashley lasted because we found in each other kindred spirits after learning so much about one another.
Because her favorite movie of all time was Beauty and the Beast, three of her friends (myself included) and her mom all went to the same tattoo parlor at the same time to get similar memorial tattoos. Mine is pictured below.
What this tattoo symbolizes is so much more than just our friendship of 14 years. It is a reminder of her every day, and when I look at it, I smile at all of our fond memories. But it is also a conversation starter. Whenever someone comments on my tattoo, I tell them its backstory. Because Ashley could not finish her job of talking to people about melanoma—a passion of hers before she passed—it is my duty as her friend to continue that conversation with everyone that I can.
Melanoma can strike anyone, either due to terrible genetics or because they’ve spent too much without sunscreen. It is very difficult to stop once it has spread, and can create tumors even in your brain, as it did with Ashley. Do not go into the sun for long periods of time without wearing your sunscreen. Re-apply religiously, especially when swimming or with a high heat index. Slather your children in sunscreen when they go outside. All it takes sometimes is one bad sunburn, and your risk for melanoma increases astronomically.
Every person has that one friend who is inherently special, and for many of our mutual friends, that person was Ashley. Everyone reading this right now is potentially thinking of their friend who has made an impact on them. But I also want you to think about your friends, your family, even your co-workers and acquaintances.
I want you to help them, to remind them about the importance of taking care of their skin in any way that you can, especially getting to a dermatologist if you see a suspicious bump or skin lesion. If it’s through a shared love of something, or through your fandom, then you have the perfect conversation starter. If not, think of the rose from Beauty and the Beast. Help the spread of awareness even outside of a disease’s particular month.
Your health, and the health of those you love, is important at all times.