Ashley | Age: 27 | Sales and Marketing Manager
What has been the toughest lesson you’ve learned?
No one owes you anything. So basic right? But it was really hard for me to figure this out when I graduated college and moved to New York City. I grew up in a tiny town, where I was the best singer and dancer and actress. Everyone told me I was going to get out and I was going to be famous; someone actually told me that I was going to put Seymour, TN on the map. Then I went to a small performing arts college where I was one of the best. So much so that the president of the University came to my recitals (I don’t think I remember him being at anyone else’s) and hugged me at graduation on stage in front of everyone. He started referring to me as “The Voice” when he would see me on campus; “There she goes! That’s the voice!” I would hear him yell and wave.
I would read US Weekly or various other tabloids by the pool and think “I’ll be in here one day… ‘Broadway star Ashley walks dog in park!’” Only I moved to New York … and started working as a waitress, bottle girl, door girl, bartender, promo model, and was no more a star than I was a unicorn. The closest I got to stardom was burning chicken pasta at the apartment of one of the more famous cast-offs of Top Chef (humiliating). I lasted there for nearly a year and came home and immediately got pregnant with my oldest son, Maddox, very unintentionally. I spent a year or so being bitter and mad that I was never going to be a star. I would make up this whole fantasy world in my head where I would randomly get discovered and boom! I would be an overnight star.
Then my mom got addicted to prescription pain medication. She stole from nearly everyone in my family including me. She will most likely never work as a nurse again, although she has currently passed several drug screenings and has a full time job again. She didn’t understand why she had to work. She didn’t want to work. She wanted someone other than herself to take care of her. I saw a lot of her attitude in me. I wasn’t in US Weekly, but I had a full time job with a 401-K and benefits and a house and a new car and a nice life. I began to define success differently. I swore that I would never again wish for magic to fall from the sky and make me a celebrity. I knew that I got where I was not by chance, but by working really hard; something that she couldn’t wrap her head around. I spent so long wishing for something to happen to me that I totally neglected the fact that I most likely could have just made it happen myself had I realized sooner that I had to actually work to get that Broadway headline not just dream it. The things I have in my life now mean so much more to me because I worked hard for them, not because they were owed to me from some cosmic karma pool to be bestowed on the lucky ones.
What insecurity has plagued your life the most?
Not being “enough.” Not being thin enough, fit enough, good enough, strong enough, smart enough, etc. I am very stubborn and it is hard for me to admit that I want or need help, and I find myself constantly trying to spread myself dollar-store-one-ply-wet-toilet-paper thin, in an effort to be all the things for all the people.
When do you feel vulnerable?
When I have an opinion, but I know that opinion is going to cause conflict ... I try to stifle myself and not say anything. And then my inner voice starts to fester and my insides feel hot and my face gets red and I just want to scream whatever I’m holding in as loud as I can. Generally, I look down and whatever is plaguing me comes out as a meek whisper.
And in those few seconds, that tiny gap of silence as the other person is trying to formulate something back to say to me, I want to shrink so small that I could just vanish into thin air. And in that same moment, I hate myself for opening my mouth and rewind my words 100 times in my own brain. And in that silence I feel tiny and awful and naked and I hate it.
What do you fear the most?
I fear death, because I like to control everything and because I don’t know what death will “be like.” It’s a tie between that and losing my relationship with my boyfriend.
I told him last week that dating each other seems like a “fucking burden” and he didn’t offer up any contradiction. A few nights later he asked me if I remembered when I “used to be fun” while we were in a heated discussion. I love him more than I have ever loved anyone, but sometimes I feel like I am forcing something that will never actually be there.
My boss told me that from his perspective, it's like watching someone who’s trying to put a square peg in a round hole. But honestly, I feel more like the captain of a sinking ship, just sitting there, watching everything fall apart; knowing that I’m not going to get out alive, but feeling like its my duty, my obligation, to see it through until the end.
If you could change one thing in everybody’s mind – what would it be?
That happily ever after looks really different for everyone. And that we don’t need to judge or rank anyone’s happiness, rather just let them have it, even if its different than our own. I think everyone would be truly, deeply happy if we just celebrated each other instead of trying to fit life decisions on a scale of 1-10 fulfillment.
What are you thankful for?
This is the weirdest thing, but every time I see it I get emotional, so naturally it is the first thing that I thought of. When one of my kids gets sick, I am so thankful for the humidifier… but not for the obvious reason that it helps them, for something else…
When I left my oldest son Maddox’s father I had no job, nowhere to live, no car, a 3 month old, and $80 to my name. I lived with my grandparents until I could save enough to get an apartment of my own for Maddox and I. Over the winter, Maddox got sick; nothing serious, just a sinus infection/cold type thing. I took him to the doctor and she told me to go buy a humidifier and that would make him feel better faster than just antibiotics alone.
I went to Target and stood in the aisle, looking at all the different kinds: Vicks, Grayco, Target brand, and I knew I couldn’t buy one; not even an off brand one. I had no money. If I bought the humidifier, I knew that meant sacrificing a utility bill, formula, or something else that I had to pay. So I left with my sick 8 month old and no humidifier. He slept and I cried the whole way home, and on that drive I swore to myself that I would never ever ever again feel that feeling.
A few years later, I stopped at a Walgreens and bought 2 humidifiers because both my kids were sick. And I bought the vapor stuff that goes in the water. And I thought of me, earlier in Target and just thanked God that I could provide for my sick babies. Even now, when I venture into the laundry room and pull that white contraption off the shelf, fumbling with the top and the cord and all the million different things you aren’t actually supposed to get wet while filling this thing with water (oh… okay) I get a little emotional.
What are you (as an individual – children and marriage aside) most proud of?
Someone once described me as a romantic masquerading as a cynic with a mean shoe game.
That is something that I have always held onto; that even though I am a huge smart ass, I still really do try to and want to see the good in people; in all people. I really do think that true, mind-numbing, heart-stopping true love is out there. I really do think there is someone out there who will make you feel like you are living in a country song.
And also yes, I have really good taste in shoes.
What is, has, or will stop you from pursuing your dreams?
Having to be responsible. So many times I think “what if I didn’t have a full time job or kids or a house or a serious relationship? I could just go jump on an airplane and travel the world … Or audition in New York … Or disappear to a desert island and write a book.” But with all the above mentioned things and more, that isn’t an option, nor will it ever be.
What keeps you motivated to keep going – when the going gets tough?
Knowing that I have to be the main provider for my kiddos. They are 2 and 4. Yes, they have dads, but I am the main provider for them. If I can’t get my shit together and get on with it, that will directly impact them. They literally depend on me for everything. So I always let that fact govern my life.
Describe what love feels like to you.
Love feels like fireworks in my insides. Love is the voice of a tiny little boy yelling “mommy!” when I come home from work. Love feels like a wet toddler kiss that makes everything else fade away. Love is a small voice asking you to hold his hand in his car seat (even if it means you will probably kill someone in your soccer mom SUV because you are literally stretching your entire body across the vehicle in order to do so). Love feels like going to bed angry and feeling him wrap himself around you so tightly at some point in the night that you know everything will eventually be fine. Love feels like puppy snuggles and kittens who think they’re dogs. Love is the $20 your 88 year old grandma slips you even though you tell her 100 times she is drawing social security and you have an actual job and don’t need her money. Love feels like watching the Claymation Christmas movies no matter how old you are, and feeling that wonderment all over again. Love is sand and ocean and smelling salt (and having hot sexy beach hair).
And coffee. Love is also coffee.
What is something about yourself that you’ve always tried to hide?
My grandparents, aunt, uncles, even my mom are all pretty upper middle class, but my dad has always been flat broke. I lived with him from my tween years until I graduated high school and moved to Nashville. We lived in a single wide trailer with furniture that my dad’s parents bought us because he couldn’t afford to. Sometimes he couldn’t afford to go to the grocery store and we would pretend we were “camping” and had to make a well-rounded dinner out of random things that we found in the cabinets. Almost none of my friends have ever been to his house. My boyfriend of nearly a year doesn’t even know this about me.
If you could share one piece of advice with the world, what would it be?
Don’t be scared. Try to be nice. Find the one person you’re willing to die for every day and don’t stop loving when it gets hard.
What is your heaviest burden?
Knowing that there are two little humans for whom I am responsible for until I die.
Even when they are in college and using my credit card to buy drinks at a bar, and lying to me that “The Basement” or some other name on my statement over and over again is a coffee shop and not a bar, I am still responsible for them. Even when they are married and I become obsessed with their babies and become “that grandma” I am still going to be somewhat responsible for them.
It isn’t a burden that is bad, I love my kids and I love being a mom. But it is a pretty heavy load when you think that you, with all your quirks and flaws and imperfections and misguided wisdom are shaping the next generation of human beings. And that you don’t really get a mulligan on it; you have one shot to raise good people who aren’t ax murderers or hoarders or have the emotional depth of a saucer.
That’s a pretty big deal you guys.