Our journey takes us down many different types of roads. Some smooth and level, others twisting or rocky. Up hills, down steep grades. Wide and narrow. At times we will come across detours we had not expected or planned for and our course will be changed forever. This is such a tale; a detour that lead to a rough, near impassable path or perhaps the path was so difficult because the detour signs were misread or just ignored. As I am unsure I will let you, the reader, decide and hopefully give me your insight.
If just one word is allowed to describe her I would choose “sunshine”. She has an abundance of bright copper curls, deep horizon blue eyes, and fair skin. For good measure the angels dusted her nose and cheeks with a fine sprinkle of golden freckles. The shape and structure of her face would have inspired Raphael and Vermeer to start grinding and mixing colors, with the hopes of not only capturing her image, but also the essence of who she is, for sunshine not only fits her physical appearance but also her spirit. She is sentimental and caring, lighthearted and quick to laugh, tender-hearted and loving so is easily brought to tears as well. I love her dearly and unconditionally so this is a painful endeavor but one I have needed to do for quite sometime. I will try my best to be unbiased and honest in this telling.
Little sunshine girl grew up in our small town. Like way too many children in today’s world she was raised for the most part by a single mom. Her father, who will be referred to as the “jerk” did a disappearing act when she was six months old and did not rear his head again until she was graduating from high-school. She treated him with kindness, no retribution, but did not embrace nor extend the opportunity for him to become a part of her life. Her mom is a responsible lady that worked hard and did well at making a life for her and her child.
The first dark period of their lives occurred when Sunshine was around five. That’s when mom met the ” charming snake”. He was a relative of long time friends and was really charming. He wooed with aplomb and soon won moms heart. After marriage the honeymoon was short-lived. It is a familiar story, first comes the degrading of her confidence, the manipulation of emotions and thought , the physiological abuse of both mom and daughter. Then the physical abuse started. It was a two-year nightmare for them, but with the help of family and friends and her own strength mom broke free. The Snake went to prison (not long enough for the harm he had done) and Sunshine and mom began their healing with therapy and lots of love and support.
Life became normal, and Sunshine appeared to be that happy laughing child we all knew once again. She enjoyed school, played softball in the summer, learned to cook and do chores around the house. There were lots of giggling little girls bouncing around the house and pets of course. She could be stubborn so had her share of grounding and time outs, but was over all a good kid.
When Sunshine was on the cusp of becoming a teen-ager they caught a break and “good-guy” came into their lives. As would be expected Sunshine was less than enthused with mom seriously dating. Good guy was patient and understanding so before long her resentment evolved into acceptance and then into fondness. In an act of courage good guy married this strong, independent woman with a thirteen year old daughter. Mom and good guy had a baby boy two years later so Sunshine became a big sister. She was delighted! She was given the choice and eagerly accepted being officially adopted by good guy, voicing that now she had a “real Dad”.
Through high-school Sunshine also worked part-time at a local fast food eatery. She paid for her first car and the insurance and kept up with above average grades. This was a requirement of her parents if she wanted to keep her job. She wasn’t always an angel, broke curfew, sometimes argued about rules, didn’t keep her room clean enough for mom, the typical teen-ager stuff.
By her senior year she had decided on a career path and took nurses assistance classes along with her regular classes. Her plan was to get her CNA licence and work while going to school to become a RN. All sounds great, right? Here is where I will struggle not to sound bais. For she was about to derail big time.
The year before Sunshine had met “slick” , wait maybe that’s not quite fair,umm you decide. O.k. at first. he was just a young man who was a little to taken with himself. But soon a pattern began to develop. they would argue , break-up, tears and misery on Sunshine part, then they’d get back together. He was a user, she “loaned” him money regularly, paid for dates because he had car payment, insurance, helped his mom, etc.etc. He was a cheater. And she was in misery most of the time. Her friends were all telling her to get rid of him, mom and dad were telling her the same, and finally forbid her to see him. But love or what passes for love to the tender heart of a young girl, trumps all. So she ignored the advice and disobeyed the rule and continued to see him on the sly.
Two weeks before her graduation her grandfather, who she called Papa became very ill. Between finial classes and shifts at work she spent all her spare moments at the hospital putting what she had learned in her CNA classes to use comforting and helping to care for her Papa. Four days before her grad ceremony he passed away, this man who had always been there for her. He had been her harbor through many storms in her life. She was devastated and didn’t want to attend the grad but we all encouraged her to not miss it, so the night before her Papas’ memorial service Sunshine attached a picture of him to the top of her mortar board put on her robe and a smile and marched with the rest of her class to receive her diploma on a warm evening in May.
In the fall she enrolled at our local community college and continued at the fast food job while waiting for her NA certification to come through. Slick had moved to the city but was still in her life. In February she had her nineteenth birthday. Slick made a date to take her to dinner and a movie. She lied to her parents and said she was going with some friends. He arrived with another young man she had never met and was not happy about having a third wheel on their date but acquiesce to slick as usual. And oh by the way says slick, they have a baggie of pot and does she know anyone who might buy it because he has etc., etc….he needs money for. Now here is were poor little sunshine becomes poor pitiful stupid. She talks to guy friend who likes weed and yup he’d purchase but has no money so she is persuaded by slick and buyer to loan friend the money. I can’t answer the obvious question of why she didn’t just loan slick the money and not get involved with the drug business. So after visiting the ATM the deal is made and they go to dinner but during the movie she begins to worry about her expenses and says they have to undo the deal because she needs her money back. After a call to the buyer they drive to his house to get the pot. She goes in while slick and other guy wait in the car. When they weigh the baggie they say it’s not all there and still parked in front of house call the friend and start arguing about it. Again I can’t answer why they don’t just take money from Sunshine to cover the small amount that’s missing but…..that is when it became a nightmare that shattered dozens of lives.
The argument escalates on the phone. The unknown young man produces a gun and fires out the window, emptying the clip in the direction of the house. Sunshines’ four friends in the house dive for cover but not before one young man receives a fatal wound. A couple of hours later she and slick are arrested at her home and the shooter who has gone back to the city is picked up there.
The family of the murdered boy are the most shattered, their hearts are forever broken for nothing can undo that lose. I can not imagine their pain and can only weep and pray for them. The victim was a nice young man I had met several times and a good friend of Sunshines’. His story may need to be told but I do not know it well enough to say more.
The wheels of justice move exceedingly slow. There are multiple hearings spaced weeks apart. Her charges are changed three times , after two grand juries. Her parents and I visit weekly, as she awaits her fate in the county jail. That fate lays in the hands of God and lawyers. I don’t want to belabor about the legal process, it is what it is. After fourteen months we come to the day when a plea on her final amended charges will be entered. In the now familiar courtroom I watch as my five-foot four, hundred and fifteen pound grand-daughter, in an orange jumpsuit with shackles around her wrists and ankles connected by chains to a thick leather belt around her waist, stands trembling before the judges’ bench and pleads guilty, making no excuses, owning her part in the tragedy. She listens to the victim statements from her friends family and to the character testimony from her parents, employer, and friends. And then at last comes the sentence, her fate, her near future at last becomes known. She does not collapse but continues to tremble , as it is read. Eight years flat time with two more years parole when released. So thus begins the next phase.
We continue to visit. It’s a two-hour drive to the women state prison. Over time we have split our visits so she has someone almost every week but we don’t each have to go every week. She looks about the same. Styles her coppers curls in different ways, though always pulled back as the rules require. Still quick to laugh, still softhearted and loving. Mourns for her dead friend and is sorrowful for what she has put her family through. She has taken college course when available because her parents are willing and able to pay for them. She has worked a wide range of jobs, landscaping, laundry, warehouse, telephone for MVD, just to list a few. She was so excited to show us her licence to operate a fork lift. Fourteen more months to go. She’s excited and fearful. I am excited and fearful for her. We will never know who she would have become if this all had not happened. What lays ahead is up to her, but think about the eight years between your nineteenth birthday and the year you became twenty-seven. Over whelming! So this is the story so far of my “sunshine” girl. Hope this isn’t too long, Don’t know how to shorten it. All comments welcome, good or bad.