Ashley is a big man. Seeing Ashley in pictures, or standing still, doesn't do justice to how big he is, because Ashley's bigness is this whirling, bearded, knife-twirling kind of bigness that explodes at you, bellowing and waving a cigarette. Ashley started shaving in fifth grade, started smoking in sixth grade, began wrestling bears the summer after seventh grade. Recently, he also began tossing out drunks from restaurants, reported admirably by Katherine Voluntine.
Ashley's bigness, strength, and general destructiveness are always more than anyone anticipates, least alone Ashley himself. Bodies hit the ground, bed frames shatter, and when the dust clears Ashley is the most surprised of anyone to see what he hath wrought. He just doesn't know his own strength.
After school one day, Ashley and I stood in the Pleasant Hill Rec Center parking lot (before there was a skate park there). Ashley was at rest, arms above his head, leaning on a large tree branch. It was an imposing branch, strong and thick, a branch that some might call a "limb" or even "trunk junior." I don't remember what Ashley and I were talking about, but whatever it was cause Ashley to laugh with such force that he ripped the branch right off the tree. He literally tore the tree limb from limb.
Bear in mind, this wasn't an old, dead tree. The branch still had green leaves on it, maybe even a bird's nest. And it was big. The limb was so big Ashley could barely grip it, as he held it in his arms, severed from the trunk, in shocked disbelief. Ashley stared at the branch, like Lenny from Of Mice and Men contemplating a mangled mouse. For a moment, he lifted the limb back up to where he'd torn it off, as if he could somehow put it back and make things right. Then he put it down, whispering an awed "Ohmygod!"
Younger kids at the bus stop across the street began yelling. "What'd you do to the tree?" "Hey, that guy broke the tree!" We were both scared, and we walked away very quickly, neither of us wanting to acknowledge his destruction of the tree nor his superhuman strength. Then Ashley went and bought a pack of Camel Reds from 7-11 using his military ID.