Published in The Tyee | November 9, 2011 | Circulation: 200,000 unique monthly readers
Ashlie Gough was always the first to take a leap.
That’s how her loved ones remember the 23-year-old Victoria artist, traveller and body-piercer, who died in her sleep Saturday morning at Occupy Vancouver of an overdose, her partner said. Whether being the first up a tree as a kid, or ripping a ligament in her knee jumping off a moving train while riding the rails last year, Gough’s friends and family said she was not currently homeless, an activist or a drug addict, as some have portrayed her. And they want to set the record straight.
Her partner, Kegan Munro, remembers her knee injury — a torn anterior cruciate ligament, normally associated with sports injuries — which happened on a train-hopping journey last autumn from Alberta to B.C. Gough told him later that friends rushed her to hospital — in a shopping cart.
“She was such a fucking trooper,” said Munro, 26, recalling a hike in the San Juan Ridge on Vancouver Island they took soon after, saying he felt bad when she insisted on hiking despite her injury. “I’d drag her through these nasty three-day hikes with backpacks, and her knee would swell up. I was so tired, but here she is with a crippled knee refusing to sit down.”
Injury aside, Gough loved riding the rails, said her older sister, Tiffany Woodward, 27. Perhaps it’s fitting, then, that it led to a sports-type injury.
“She rode the rails because she enjoyed it. Not because she was homeless, but because she felt free out there,” Woodward told The Tyee. “As a kid, she was always adventurous and loved to try anything new — she was always the first kid to do something nobody else would do.”
In a society that often judges punks and misfits as freaky — multiple piercings, chest tattoos and body modifications like Gough’s can make it hard to find a career — she completed a body-piercing apprenticeship several years ago, and recently studied with Fakir Musafar, a renowned American body modification guru. In fact, the shirt Gough wore when she died was one she received after her 10-day intensive training with Musafar.
“She was so proud of having done that,” Munro said. “She wanted to work at a piercing or branding shop.”
“She didn’t have any shame for her alternative lifestyle. She was beautiful and spunky and passionate about the few things she was passionate about. She couldn’t have cared what people thought, you know?”
‘She’s not an addict’
At the time of her death — which Woodward confirmed was due to a drug overdose, although her toxicology report has not yet been released by the coroner — Gough was living in Victoria with Munro and her four-year old dog, Xavier. Last weekend, she came to Vancouver to visit friends, who were staying at the Occupy Vancouver encampment. It is suspected that she died several hours before volunteer camp medics found her and attempted first aid until paramedics arrived.
Her sister expressed gratitude that Gough was surrounded by a “tight-knit community” at Occupy Vancouver the weekend she died — one that cared for her.
“It’s all still a shock,” Woodward said, adding that she last spoke on the phone with Gough on Nov. 2. “She was there because her friends were there.”
“The way she died is sad, but she’s not an addict. She’s not one of the people who (uses) every day. Every once in a while she’d party with friends and unfortunately this was the last time she did it.”
Although Gough had struggled with addictions in her past, she had not used in several years, Munro said.
“When I watch the media circus, it hurts me to see people judging,” he said. “She had really high hopes for the future. She did not want to die.”
‘People just loved her’
Munro said that the couple, who met while they were living on the streets of Victoria eight years ago but had been dating for a year and a half, were planning their lives and “grounding.”
“It was like, ‘Okay, we’re going to settle down a little bit, travel, get some structure and progress in doing things we wanted to do,'” he told The Tyee. “Her death was a tragic accident and a heartbreaking mistake.
“(Gough believed) it’s not the things that happen in your life that matter. It’s the choices you make and how you deal with them that makes you who you are. The people she cared about were so important to her.”
In January, Gough, Munro and several friends traveled to Tulum, Mexico to scuba dive in its famous “cenotes” — deep natural sinkholes in the earth connected by an underground network of waterways. The couple stayed on after and traveled throughout Central America. Munro said that Gough had a gift for connecting with new people.
“People were just drawn to us — like we were magnetic,” he said. “It wasn’t me, it was her. She had a magnetic thing — people just loved her.”
“People were drawn to her beauty and kindness and spunkiness and playfulness.”
Her frequently changing hair colour, large chest tattoo of three women’s faces and an array of facial piercings projected a sense of confidence — but Munro said she struggled with insecurity.
“When I talked about high school, she’d sometimes get sensitive about it,” he said. “She had a fucking rough time with people before she fell into a circle of friends.”
A death filtered through political lenses
Munro said he was disgusted to see Gough’s death politicized in the media. Because it happened on the Occupy Vancouver site, commentators and politicians reacted to her death with calls to shut down the camp, while activists have used it as a springboard to discuss addictions and homelessness.
Her father, Tom Gough, told media at the encampment he did not want his daughter turned into a “poster-child for the occupation,” and said her death had nothing to do with Occupy Vancouver.
“She couldn’t have given a flying fuck about any of this,” Munro agreed. “I want some acknowledgment of who she actually was.”
Describing the painter, graffiti artist, musician and poet as one who “walked to the beat of her own drum,” Woodward said her little sister had a sense of humour that verged on the absurd. One time, she remembered, Gough, Woodward and their mother Darlene passed a restaurant sign in Vancouver featuring Foghorn Leghorn, the rooster from Loonie Tunes.
“She turned around and started acting weird and saying ‘I’m a fried chicken’ over and over again,” Woodward said. “It was the most random and funny thing I can remember. But that was Ashlie for you.”