Thursday, January 2, 2014

january 2, 2003...or 1-2-3, a most surreal day i shan't ever forget.

i'd like to place a gentle warning here.  if you have googled ashana's name and found this blog, my hope is that you can read it knowing that it is written with love.  however, this blog may be very painful to read if you knew her, as it recounts the last moments of her life in detail from my perspective. 

11 years ago, on january 2 2003, i killed a young girl named ashana chenoa.

there.  i said it.

ashana chenoa.  young.  beautiful.  graduate of lewis and clark college magna cum laude.  yogi.

it was the day after new years day.  i'd spent new years day with friends visiting and eating black eyed peas.  i learned that day that eating black eyed peas on new years day was supposed to bring good luck.

i call total bullshit on that.

it was a typical january day in the pacific northwest.  cold, but not rainy.  i had received a beautiful coat for xmas from husband, but he'd gotten the wrong size.  days earlier i'd returned it to the store and they were locating the correct size for me.  i'd gotten a call from the bebe store that morning that my coat had finally arrived.  i got ready for work that morning,  allowing enough time to first go downtown to pick up my new coat.  i left my house early and i hadn't gotten but four blocks away when suddenly a little white car crossed the intersection in front of me.  i slammed on the brakes and in the moments before the impact, ashana's eyes met mine.  we stared at each other for what feels now like an eternity.  her eyes were dark and wide and i could tell she was scared.  those moments stretched out like a movie playing in slow-mo.  we collided.  so hard, in fact, that both our vehicles did 180's and every window in her car blew out. 

it took me a minute to get my bearings.  i was frozen.  my horn was blaring and i couldn't make it stop.  i pulled down my visor to look at myself in the mirror.  maybe i was looking for facial injuries.  maybe i was just checking to make sure it was really me in that car.  i'm not sure which.  i patted my torso down, checking for injuries.  physically, i felt ok.  it was then that i glanced out my front windshield to look for the other car.  spotting it, i couldn't see anyone inside.  i scanned the street for her.  had she already gotten out?  i tried opening my door and it wouldn't budge.  neither would my passenger door.  i searched the floor of the passenger side for my phone in my purse, the contents of which were scattered all over the car.  i couldn't find it and was beginning to panic.  making my way to the back seat, i climbed out the rear door and ran over to her car.  she was slumped over the middle console onto the passenger seat.  i reached my hand in and called to her.  "hey!!  wake up!  are you ok?"

no response.  no movement.

i remember getting agitated.  "HEY!!  YOU NEED TO WAKE UP!!"  when i saw blood pooling on her passenger floor under her head, i realized that this probably was not going to end well.  i backed away from her car and stood motionless in the intersection, staring at the glass in the street.  suddenly, it was as though i'd gone deaf.  i heard no noise.  total silence.  i stood there like a fucking zombie for i don't know how long, just staring at the ground.  the silence in my head was so loud and getting louder with each passing second.  it was deafening.  it wasn't until i heard a man on the sidewalk yelling at me that i snapped back to reality.

"i called 911" he was saying.  "please come sit down!!"

i heard the sirens.  ironically, we were right next to emanuel hospital.  not that it would have helped.  i ran back over to her car, the glass from her windows crunching under my shoes.  i reached in again and stroked her left arm.  "help is on the way."

the police and a firetruck arrived at the same time.  a woman police officer approached me and asked me to step away from ashana's car.  she led me back to my suv and opened up the tailgate.  "sit here" she said.  i kept turning around to see what the firemen were doing and the officer kept redirecting my eyes back to her.  she spoke to me in a really calm voice.  i have no recollection of what she said other than "don't look" and i kept disobeying her requests by turning my view back to ashana's car and the firemen.  eventually i noticed they were all just standing around and i leapt off my tailgate and angrily walked toward them.  i was yelling.  "why aren't you helping her??  get her out of that car, she needs help!!!"  the woman officer grabbed my arm gently and pulled me back.  i asked her why they were just standing around doing nothing and she looked away.  i asked her if the driver was dead.  she said yes.  ashana was only 24.

i cried so hard that i almost threw up.  how do you live with yourself after something like that?  she called jack who ran across the street to our neighbors house for a ride.  he showed up with our jaymes who was just shy of her 2nd birthday.  while i was vacillating between some crazy dream state and reality, the police were doing their jobs, measuring skid marks and talking to witnesses.  apparently, as ashana waited at the stop sign before crossing the intersection, a tall truck was making a turn next to me, blocking her view.  she pulled out to cross, unaware that my truck was tucked slightly behind that tall truck in the next lane.  i was told that she didn't suffer, it happened so quickly.  i am so grateful for that.

her mother reached out to me in the following days.  she was calm during our phone conversations.  she was loving and sweet and said that the family held no ill feelings.  i don't know that i could have been so kind to someone who took my daughter's life.  even though the police reassured me that the accident wasn't my fault, i couldn't shake the feeling that it most certainly was.  did i really need to go pick up my coat that morning?  i mean really?  i could have easily waited until after work, but noooo!  i just had to have it now.  i've never been very patient.

ashana's memorial was awkward.  i'd been invited by a handful of her friends.  should i go?  would it be too weird?  did i have any business being there?  at the last minute i decided to go because the thought of NOT going seemed weirder to me than actually going.  maybe it was my imagination or maybe they all knew, but in the sea of her many, many friends, i felt like the elephant in the room that no one was acknowledging.  i felt judged, stared at,  whispered about.  maybe it was all in my head, i don't know.  i'd brought baguettes and brie.  i wanted to contribute something but it felt contrived, as if to say, "sorry i killed your friend, but, look!  i have delicious french cheese!"  it became too much and i asked jack to take me home.

months later, ashana's mother, brother and aunt came to portland and asked to come meet me.  they showed up at my house and as soon as i met them, they felt like family to me.  we had a bottle of wine and walked the few blocks to the scene of the accident.  we cried and hugged and after returning to my house, we vowed to keep in touch.  we did for a little while, but eventually we lost touch.

flash forward seven years...

so there i was in my yoga teachers training and we were almost at the end of our 200 hour, months long training.  one of my fellow students, krystyn, asked me out for brunch.  we met to eat and after an hour of chatting, she asked me if i'd been in a bad accident in 2003.  i was taken aback and asked her why she would ask me that.  she told me ashana was her best friend.  she'd recently figured this out because the anniversary had just passed and she had googled ashana's name, like she did every year on the anniversary of her death.  only this time, the name of the other driver was now familiar to her. 

no joke.  too fucking weird, right?!

and if that wasn't strange enough, she told me that ashana was a yogi and getting ready to do her teachers training.  at the time of the accident, i'd heard through the grapevine that ashana did yoga, but i was not even close to starting my yoga journey, so it didn't resonate with me.  but now, here i was, years later, sitting in a cafe with ashana's best friend, my friend, and my and ashana's paths were crossing again.  it was at that moment that i knew i'd made the right choice to become a yoga teacher.  i wasn't doing it just for me,  i was continuing ashana's journey.  and every single class i teach, i think of that beautiful, young girl and wonder what her life may have been like if she'd lived.  maybe she would have been one of my teachers.  who knows.  as it turns out, krystyn is one of my favorite yoga teachers and one of my favorite people.  i've gotten past the feeling of guilt every time i see krystyn and finally gotten to a place where i can just enjoy our friendship.  it has an extra sweetness because there's a little part of ashana that we both have in us, that we can share without talking about it.  it's our bond, no matter how ironic or crazy it happened, and i am grateful for it.

it's gotten easier over the years to think about ashana.  i don't cry as often as i used to.  i don't wake up screaming in the middle of the night anymore.  i don't stare at the bubbly dishwater in the sink and see blood like i did for so long after.  and while i try not to think about the fact that she would be 35 now and maybe she would have kids, i instead, try to think about our yoga bond, me and ashana.  i think was she probably just as in love with yoga as i am, and that is a pretty awesome thing! 

Yoga (योग), a Sanskrit word with a general meaning of "connection, conjunction, attachment, union"


  1. You are a beautiful lady with a big beautiful heart. We cannot undo the events that have come our way but we can use them as a way to move closer to one another. Thanks for walking with me in this crazy life D. Love you always.

  2. I cried when I read this.You are beautifully brave.I miss you.

  3. I love you to bits. Always have, always will.
    This made my heart swell to bursting with pain, love and pride to call you my friend. On our next date night, I will loan you a book written by a friend of mine that will speak to you. It is one of my prized posessions, and I dont generally lend it, but I trust you to get it back to me, and believe that you will understand it on a level beyond the general population.
    Love you, sweet lady. You are brave and amazing! Live, sara texas

  4. Thanks for sharing your story! I went to school with her and she was a very nice sweet girl! Intelligent and funny. We would both get invited to "Drug or Drinking Party's". But me being the straight laced comedian would never drink or smoke and Ashana just being the cool straight laced girl would never smoke or drink. She would hang out and talk with people and just enjoy the company of everyone.

    I remember one time I showed her how I could imitate a salmon swimming up stream. I lay down on the floor and there I went. She had a big smile on her face and laughed so hard it made me smile. She watched my crazy video about how mathematics work and she laughed with joy. She was great at math actually. Meanwhile I was the guy copying off others and making silly videos for a project. Ashana peer rated my project and gave me an A+ that made my day!

    Thanks for telling us what happened...I knew she was in an accident but the article was vague on what exactly happened and the time of day. I'm glad you met with her parents they really adored her specially her mother. I remember seeing her mother pick her up from school every day and chauffeur her and friends around...waiting on her because she so adored her daughter. You meeting her and helping her through this probably meant a lot. It sounds like you helped each other through it. But that sort of relationship drawn together by sorrow only can last so long, so don't feel bad.

    I'm glad you wrote this. She will forever be remembered by all of us that knew her.

    1. thank you so much for commenting! keep her memory going strong! it sounds like she was pretty special!

  5. Thank you for your story.I light a candle every year on Jan. 2 in memory of my Ashana Chenoa.We were very close and i miss her dearly. I still remember her face everytime she walked into the house.Such a beautiful soul. It's bitter sweet to hear about Ashana's final day but I'm thankful you can also understand what she meant to all around her. Stay Strong.

  6. thank you for your words. today will be a hard day for us all. peace and love.