The chapters below were copied and pasted onto Facebook, and leaked on Reddit. The author has provided TCRS with exclusive use and rights to the “Watts Wedding” chapter, a chapter not included here, but which will be released as part of the next TCRS book SILVER FOX, coming in early November 2019.
“All My Broken Pieces” by Cindy Watts and Kathleen
Jamie Watts is under the alias “Sarah”
I don’t think, even once, not when I was a little girl even, that I expected or wanted everyone in our country to know my name. Maybe every little girl dreams of being a princess, and now an Internet star; but they didn’t have Internet stars when I was a kid, and they don’t have any princesses, or stars at all, where I’ve always lived, except for those in the sky.
If anyone had been interested, or asked me ten years ago, what I wanted, I would have told them I already had it: a good marriage to a fine man, and two wonderful children. By “back then,” I have to qualify and say that I mean back before my son married a woman that was wrong for him and began to lose himself, and we began to lose him as well.
Our pain started then, and over the next eight years our lives tilted downhill and became sadder, more complicated, and filled with growing amounts of unwanted drama and fear, until we finally ended up here, at the bottom, in a damaged, grieving heap, broken into pieces.
Two of our granddaughters are dead; the young woman who was our daughter-in-law is dead, and her family is devastated as well; our boy is in many ways as lost to us as though he were dead; our family is in rubble; and the whole world seems to know our names and hate us. We just exist and try to breathe through permanently constricted throats, trying to find a way – any way at all – to go on living for what we have left, who we have left, including each other, in our new reality, which is simply moment-by-moment wreckage.
I am not writing this book to ask for sympathy. I am writing it because there are always three sides to every story: hers, his, and the truth. Maybe I cannot know the truth any more than all the millions of strangers worldwide who seem to think they do. But I know some things: I know our family, I know my son, or maybe I don’t and I wish to gain understanding of him and his actions through this process, and to a degree I know the story of the marriage that led us all here. I want to tell people about these things I know at least.
As to what I hope will come of it, well I don’t hope for much anymore. But no matter what you think of me – of us – remember this: Chris is still my child, and if you have ever had and loved children, then you wish to hold them and comfort them when they are damaged. You wish to make it right.
I can’t make this right, and I may never hold my son again, never be able to comfort him. I can tell my story, though, or my truth if you will, and hope for understanding.
This is the story of us before, during and after the slide. It’s the story of our son meeting and marrying Shan’ann, and what occurred during their marriage. It’s the story of our granddaughters as we knew them, and of our son’s life during those years and their aftermath.
This is about us, a group of ordinary people as we actually are, and not as those who think they know us ormight wish us to be. Because, if what they say of us were true, then something like this could never happen to you or someone you love and that reassurance I can’t give anyone anymore.
As painful as the words of strangers are – those who know nothing of us, but feel they do – I hold no grudges. I might have thought the same as they do before, when it wasn’t us; before, meaning before my family became one of those that people read about, and shake their heads over, and then immediately run to their laptops to say such things as, “I guess I would have drowned him at birth,”
Or, if that wasn’t personal enough, they speculate about whether it was me or my husband, Ronnie, who is the psychopath, and whose horrible parenting (or genes, take your pick – or choose both) has twisted up our boy so bad that he was always destined to grow up to become a “family annihilator.” The worst of course, the very worst, and I think what truly drove this book is the people who have written that my beautiful young grandson is going to grow up to be another Chris.
God help you to find more kindness for an innocent boy and maybe to find in these pages the answer that there aren’t any-real answers-I mean as to how this tragedy happened or what could have stopped it, because cant you see that if we could have we would have, please if nothing else, believe that.
I’d like to thank you, the reader, for listening to my story, and for giving me your time as I travel this road again.
Chris was a really good kid. It’s not just me who says so: everyone who ever met and knew him said so too. He was very gentle and quiet and never caused us a single problem. He was an honor student who loved sports and made a nice life for himself in Mooresville NC, after high school and then Nascar Tech.
Then he met Shan’ann.
Everybody talks about their dreams for their children, but I think I can safely say that there is only one that we parents have, we just want them to be happy. Of course there is no bigger dream, and in many cases nothing harder to achieve and the difficult thing is, that we really cant do one thing about helping them to be happy. That’s mostly down to luck I think. Our boys luck ran out pretty early on.
I don’t think I worried about him much when he was little, he was such a good kid, and in high school he played Baseball and got straight A,s so I didn’t have any reason to worry, but I did anyway. Because he was so incredibly shy and quiet, and I didn’t want him to be lonely, or missing out on all the silly adventures, that we parents complain about, but expect anyway and then later shake our heads over and laugh. He was terribly serious at an age when most kids aren’t.
Our daughter was so busy and over scheduled with friends and boyfriends and keeping AT@T in business and pushing our rules that it was hard not to notice the differences between them as teenagers. Still what more could I have reasonably wanted than a son who did all the right things and just seemed to enjoy going to see Nascar races with his dad, while maintaining high grades and playing sports?
And yet, okay, I’d hear from my mother, who the kids called Oma, about the school pick- ups.
I was working and so she would go and collect the kids for me after school. She’d drive up to get Chris first at his elementary school and promptly out he would come, my sweet boy ambling out the door, giving her his quiet smile and saying thank you as he got in the car to wait with her for his sister.
Wait they did too, Sarah was so popular that it could take her a good half hour or more after school to say goodbye to all her friends that she wouldn’t get a chance to talk to by phone for an hour or so, it used to drive my mom crazy.
Both my kids were born kind, its just that Sarah, never met a stranger in her life and Chris, well he liked people just fine, but he came out reserved and quiet just like his dad and he stayed that way.
He had a few close friends and I guess if I wondered how it would go for him later, and I did because I’m a mother.
I hoped that somewhere out there ahead of him, was a sweet girl, who would think like I had about Ronnie and value him for what he was. She would I hoped simply enjoy being with my sweet good, hard working boy and build a life with him.
With Sarah I knew she’d have her pick and pick right when she was ready and she did, she went to college, fell in love with Steve, married him and started her career and her living happily ever after in the usual small starter house.
With Chris I…didn’t know so much as hope for the best. He was so shy in fact that a girl had to ask him to the senior prom. So I think, if I can remember correctly, I guess I knew he’d have to meet a pretty outgoing girl to bring him out of his shell. I knew that when he did that he’d be completely devoted to her and try his very best to make her happy, and since he is so much like his dad I figured her chances for that were better than average.
After high school Chris who like his dad, could fix anything mechanical that had been invented had set his sights on the Nascar academy and so off he went at eighteen and after he completed his schooling there, he was hired by a Ford dealership in Monroeville.
He’s always been a hard worker and he liked the work too and he we had raised both our kids to be careful about money. For awhile there it seemed like he had learned it too, because he started right off by saving up about every cent that didn’t go to rent and food. And before too long he had bought a brand new car a Ford Mustang and he only owed eight thousand dollars on it, while managing to put another eleven thousand into savings, which is pretty good for a young man of twenty four. Ronnie and I are careful people so nothing about Chris’s finances surprised us then.
In what spare time Chris had he continued his lifelong enjoyment of exercise and being outside and coming down to visit us and his sister and our new family member, Sarah’s little boy Wyatt, and of course he took every opportunity to go to see Nascar with his dad. I was glad of that too. I love Ronnie, but those races are too loud for me and I don’t think I was missed, those two loved hanging out together.
Our family stayed close and we saw a lot of Chris, despite the three hour drive from Monroeville to Spring Lake. He and Wyatt had become best friends too and Uncle Chris made was always a favorite visitor for him and Sarah and Steve were expecting their second baby which we were all overjoyed about.
I think we were all happy in that simple way of being so without noticing it, I guess by that I mean things were on track.
Our kids were doing well and their entries into adulthood had almost been a paint by numbers deal, school, jobs, marriage and a baby for our oldest and Chris was so young that we weren’t at all concerned that he hadn’t met anyone special yet.
Then we got a call from Chris, that he had in fact met a girl, and she was special and he wanted us to meet her too.
Sarah who is by far the most outgoing member of our family decided to host a barbecue, nothing big just a casual little thing, with a few friends and family. We weren’t nervous exactly but we were a little surprised because Chris had sheepishly announced to us that his new girlfriend was forty and since he was only twenty four, well I cant say what I thought, I was definitely curious though.
When Chris arrived, it was with a young, pretty dark haired woman, her name was Shan’ann King and she didn’t look anywhere near forty.
Ronnie didn’t seem to be bothered by it, but Sarah and I did a little whispering in the kitchen, wondering why Chris had told us that she was so much older than she obviously was.
Finally we asked him he grinned and brought Shan’ann over and they laughed and said it had been her idea and wasn’t it hilarious? We laughed too, but to this day I never have figured out why she wanted us to think she was so much older. Still Chris seemed to like her a lot and she was very friendly and outgoing and who gets every joke anyway?
So we weren’t worried, I suppose we were happy he’d found someone he liked enough to want to introduce us too and she seemed to have a lot going for her, an extraordinary amount of things actually.
She was as it turned out, only a year older than Chris, and she was pretty and very outgoing, which probably was an excellent thing, since he was so shy, she could bring him out of his shell is I guess what I thought.
Remember please, I’m trying very hard here to look back as honestly as I can, all of us have to keep doing that, to remember how it was, not how it became if we are going to attempt this story.
She was pretty and funny and in the beginning it seemed like she wanted all of us to be friends and get to know each other and, well all those normal things.
Also, we are a family that believes in hard work and trying to do the best you can, and when we met her she was driving a Cadillac Escalade from the company she said she worked for, Dirty South, and then there was her house.
Now a lot of money and big houses don’t mean anything to me personally, I don’t want to live anywhere but in our little 1100 square foot house until the day I die, but I know those things are important to a lot of people and that’s fine.
Hard work, whether its for your own personal satisfaction as well as putting a roof over your head, no matter how small or large seems to me to make people feel good about themselves, and the roof Shann’ann had put over her head with her hard work was a big one.
In fact it looked like a mansion. It was as Sarah commented to me, the biggest and grandest house she’d ever seen, then or now.
It had three formal living rooms for heavens sakes and each one of them, well every room had the most beautiful furniture I’d ever seen in all of them, it sat right beside a lake and there was a boathouse too. For the people who lived in that subdivision I’m guessing that a boat wasn’t out of the question.
Her bedroom was massive and beautiful, she had these little clocks and things she said she’d ordered from Switzerland.
It was perfect, like a castle and she said she had bought and paid for it from her job at Dirty South by the age of twenty-five.
She told me in fact that when she had approached the builders and told them what she wanted they didn’t take her a bit seriously until she opened up a suitcase she had brought and pulled out twenty thousand dollars in cash. You had to be impressed with that no matter what.
I saw years later that her brother Frankie said that she was always a hard worker and was making half a million a year, and to maintain that house I think you would have to be pulling that in.
Like I said she was also driving a company car from Dirty South, though she had told Sarah that she was either taking a break from there or had quit, Sarah isn’t positive which, and that she was working as a nanny at the time instead. She also mentioned that she had worked at GAP previously so I don’t have any idea how she was managing it all.
She didn’t come from any more wealth than Chris had, just nice ordinary people, and if she had won the lottery which I could have believed she didn’t mention it, and she would have.
Because right from the start Shan’ann pretty much said everything she thought and told us a lot about her life. We heard right away about her Lupus and the Fibromyalgia and her migraines. The endometriosis and celiac disease she brought up later.
She told us she was divorced from a man who she had put through school and that he had been physically unattractive and that despite that he had also cheated on her.
She also told us she had recently been in a single car accident and had hurt her neck, she might have said she’d gone through the windshield too, but I can’t be sure. She seemed to be healthy and happy all the times we saw her, so I suppose she was just a very strong person.
At any rate, despite some confusion on how she had managed the house or where she worked, I think she just dazzled Chris.
Sure he was supporting himself and doing really well, especially for his age, but she was living in a house that cost nearly half a million dollars and had furniture and art inside that was probably worth half that again and her car was an Escalade after all. So if she started talking to him right away about what to do with money, he most probably would have listened to her. He certainly seemed to be listening to everything she told him right from the beginning.
Chris lived and worked in Charlotte and so we didn’t see as much of him as we would have liked, and he’s never exactly been the chatty type on the phone. I’m the sort of person too, who figures no news is good news. I knew he had a pretty new girlfriend and work and I didn’t worry, he talked to his dad by phone and I knew if there were any problems Ronnie would tell me and he didn’t mention any so why worry?
We met her parents when they came up and her brother and they seemed like nice people. I’ll admit too that I wasn’t looking to get really close to Shann’ann, not because I disliked her, but because her conversations were so personal that they made me a little uncomfortable. There are lots of people who like to tell you everything about themselves when they meet you, but I’m not one of them and that’s okay in both directions I think. Like I said I wasn’t worried, the first time I did become a little concerned was at our grandson Wyatt’s third birthday party.
Sarah was pretty pregnant then with Ruby and the party was just going to be a small backyard one. Wyatt, like most little boys had a Power Ranger toy he liked. Shan’ann knew about this, and she suggested that it be a Power Rangers party, our daughter is a pretty easy going girl and so she didn’t mind if Shan’ann wanted to help out, or whatever.
At any rate, one of Shan’ann’s ideas was that she and Chris show up at the party dressed as Power Rangers and I guess she got him to rent the outfits, or buy them, I’m not sure which. But when the day came, Chris had forgotten the helmets, bearing in mind that it was a three hour drive from where he lived to Sarah’s house and that Wyatt was three and that all of us were just happy he could come. It took us all aback when Shan’ann told him in no uncertain terms that he was going to turn right around and drive straight back three hours to get the helmets and then return. A six hour trip, and obviously another three hours back home for a total of twelve hours on the road, and for what?
We all asked him that, told him not to go, don’t be silly, Wyatt could care less, just stay, enjoy yourself, visit with us, relax, we said, but it was Shan’ann he was looking at for approval, already, and he looked anxious.
We’d never seen him look that way, Chris was always a relaxed kid and young man, but she told him to go back and get those helmets and that’s just what he did. I guess that was the first time we began to worry it was just beginning.
Like every other family when their adult child falls in love, it wasn’t going to matter what we thought about their kids new love interest. What would matter is what we said. Which if you ever want to have a continuing relationship with your child, better be nothing at all and so that’s what we did.
I mean who knows, people on the internet call me a crazy possessive mother, and Chris seemed to allude to that a little bit in his first interview. “My mom was a little hesitant.” The detective jumped in, “yeah losing her baby and all.” He shrugged and smiled. I have to admit I was a little taken aback by his answer. Because this was just a few weeks after Shan’ann had written about me on Facebook and she’d written a lot. Saying amongst other things that Sarah “was the golden child” and that Chris was always second. Sometimes you really can’t win. The simple truth is that I have always been crazy about both our kids and so is Ronnie.
But yes I have been extremely close to my daughter who is an astounding young woman and who with our beloved very nice son in law, generously shares time with their children and themselves with us.
That doesn’t mean I loved her more, we just had more in common, for example we like to talk to each other. Something Chris and Ronnie definitely had in common was that they did not have to talk much when together. Not that you can talk anyway at drag races or NASCAR unless you like to speak with bullhorns.
Ronnie’s closeness to Chris does not mean he loved him more than Sarah, these are just untrue things and they are hurtful from anyone. There’s a good old fashioned poem about this, that I guess everyone could agree on.
“A daughter is a daughter all of your life, a son is a son till he takes a wife.” It just means really that you pretty much have to understand and accept that once your kids grow up and marry that things will be different and that if you want to see them and to keep peace you need to like their choices whether you do or not, especially if you have grandchildren. I got lucky with Sarah’s, Steve, not so lucky with Chris’s choice but I figured it didn’t have to be a disaster, we could be polite and friendly and if so maybe Ronnie and I would get every other Christmas with them and that’s the best any parents can hope for really.
So getting back to then, Chris was obviously in love, we were keeping quiet and going on with our lives and a few weeks later, Chris called up to tell us that he just bought an engagement ring for Shan’ann, one they had picked out together and before I could say congratulations. He went onto tell me that he had paid twelve thousand dollars for it. I have to say, I was shocked, twelve thousand dollars is a down payment on a house, or he could have paid off his car, or it was a thousand dollars more than he had in his life savings and besides he was an auto mechanic not Prince William or Donald Trump. Maybe what I just said will make people laugh at me, because maybe that’s not a lot of money to other people but it is to our family. I said, “Son, you know money doesn’t grow on tree’s, couldn’t you have found something nice for less money?”
He didn’t say anything and I think I handed the phone over to Ronnie. But I found out later he had told Shan’ann what I’d said and she was really angry about it.
I was sorry to hear that because I’d been trying hard to maintain a relationship with her during this time. She had that habit of saying confiding things to me and like I said, I’m not used to someone I don’t know being that open. Or maybe the problem from my standpoint was that all her confidences to me were about how sort of pathetic she found my son. Its possible I suppose that she blamed for his shortcomings and she hoped that by telling me how he couldn’t even wash dishes right or cook. Or how the way he dressed embarrassed her and how she didn’t like his hair, or his weight either (he was too skinny). That we could maybe collaborate on improving him together and become closer, I didn’t like it though, and I know it showed.
But now she was going to be our daughter in law and that meant that if Chris didn’t mind her criticism, than I had better stop minding it for him.
We’d make a new start, a reset. It would begin at the beach house that Sarah and Steve had already rented for a coming stay, a family week. Chris had already been invited and we knew that he was bringing Shan’ann even before the ring announcement.
The plan was for all of us to spend time together and enjoy each other and witness the formal proposal she wanted him to make with the ring. Shan’ann managed to find a nearby beach house on the same street as the one our family was in, for her family to stay in. That sounded good too a chance to start getting to know our future in laws better and we could all become good friends before the wedding.
Everything went okay at first we were all happy to be on the beach.
Chris and Shann’ann in particular loved being outside all day and they really were a beautiful couple and they seemed to be in love and happy and the Rcuzeks were delighted with our boy and well yeah, it seemed like this might end up well after all.
Sarah and Steve and Wyatt and our brand new granddaughter were there and having a good time too. The sun shone and at least from my perspective our Wyatt was like having the Sun around all the time.
He’s such a happy, handsome little guy, always ready for an adventure and for Wyatt having Uncle Chris around was as good as Christmas. Chris was Uncle and good buddy rolled up into one. He played with him and looked like he was having as much fun doing it as Wyatt. Little kids do know the difference between someone who really enjoys their company and someone who is doing it for show. Though I’ll admit, they’ll take the latter if the former isn’t available, after all its better than not having any attention at all, kids aren’t stupid.
So Wyatt’s didn’t even want to eat breakfast first in the morning, without including his pal Uncle Chris, he’d march right to the bedroom that Chris and Shan’ann were were staying in and knock and holler good morning, to helpfully wake up Chris so that he didn’t miss any part of the fun. I guess like all adoring grandmas, and I am definitely one of those, I thought it was adorable, we all did. Well not all of us apparently.
The second morning it happened Chris found me in the kitchen and asked me to keep Wyatt from knocking on their door, I was surprised and asked him why. He said Shan’ann didn’t like it and it was ruining her morning sleep.
I was annoyed and told him that he could tell his sister that himself if he wanted it to stop and that he knew how much Wyatt loved him and that this would hurt his feelings, what was the big deal anyway, it wasn’t that early? Chris looked a little embarrassed and shrugged and said, “Well its her vacation too.” I guess.
Anyway that was the end of it as far as I knew. Something else happened that week, which was much worse but our family doesn’t discuss it and it wasn’t between me and Shan’ann and Chris didn’t hear about it.
The proposal happened during the week as well. Chris and Shann’ann went down to the beach with the photographer she’d hired and Chris popped the question and she said yes and then they posed for pictures, that they later showed us. They were in their swimsuits and they looked young and beautiful and happy, Chris was still very slim and muscled then and so was she was and everybody got a little choked up that there was going to be a wedding and then we all went home.
And while I wouldn’t have said it had gone smoothly, I decided to try and not think about it anymore and just get on with things. Then I received an email from Shan’ann that shocked me completely.
The gist of it was that she wanted me to know that she did not like me one bit. She thought I was a bad influence and a bad mother to Chris. She said that she knew I did not like her either and the less we saw of each other the better.
I’d never said an unkind word to her, I felt like I’d bent over backwards to welcome her into our family, and I also thought, wrongly, obviously that I had hidden my doubts about her.
It would be a lie to say I wasn’t completely devastated by that email. In my whole life no one had ever said anything like that to me. Like Chris I’m shy, I don’t get into arguments with people, or raise my voice, I cried, and I showed it to Ronnie, who told me not to answer and to just forget about it. My husband really can do things like that. I didn’t take his advice, I wish I had now, because what does any of it matter anymore, it did then though and then is what I’m having to remember now.
I wrote her back, I told her how badly she’d hurt my feelings, I told her that whether it looked like it or not, that I was trying. I told her that I didn’t like the way she talked about my son, or how she’d acted with my grandson, but that at least I was making an effort. Then I think I told her that I wouldn’t have ever written an email like this, if I hadn’t gotten hers, and it all seems so stupid and petty now, and it was then, ugly and petty and as sorry a beginning as a family trying to blend could have. I didn’t say anything to Chris though because they’d just gotten engaged and it would have upset him and Ronnie said not to and he was probably right.
I don’t know what I thought would happen, but what I wanted to happen, was for it to go away, and not to ever have her or anyone really be as mean to me as that again or make me lose my temper as I had. I couldn’t deal with things like this and up until then I’d never had too. So having been hit and having responded to my shame, I decided to turn the other cheek and try harder, this as it happens was not a very good plan either.
Sarah was upset about the week at the beach, and concerned that Shan’ann blamed any fallout on me, but she’s not a young woman who likes problems or conflicts and she very definitely has her own life. And a demanding career so she just wanted to ignore any incipient family drama and she advised me to do the same. That sounded good, so I decided to take her advice and together we offered to throw a bridal shower for Shan’ann.
It had been pretty obvious from the pick of the twelve thousand dollar ring, and the public engagement that Shan’ann was going to want a big wedding.
She said she’d never had one with her first marriage and there are loads of women who want that fairytale day, so we didn’t think it was strange. Sarah had gotten married right out of college and we’d gone into debt to give her a nice wedding, and like a lot of young marriages it hadn’t lasted but a minute. Ronnie and I hadn’t judged, we just shrugged it off and if we thought of it all, we thought of how beautiful our girl had looked that day. Later on when she married Steve, they just went up to a mountain-top and did it, but I know every girl wants that day once. Sometimes I think more for the wedding experience than the marriage but whatever I think isn’t going to put much of a dent in America’s queen for a day wedding industry one way or another.
Anyway it was obvious that she could afford to have any kind of wedding she wanted. There was the house and the car and though we didn’t think her parents could pay for a big wedding we knew she could, so why not?
Our family couldn’t do anything elaborate, because we simply don’t have much money, but Sarah and I both like to cook, and decorate tables and make party favors and that kind of thing so we knew we could give her a pretty bridal shower and then she’d be happy, and that would make Chris happy etc, etc.
We knew that Shan’ann wouldn’t want a small bridal shower at either of Sarah or I’s small houses and so we rented a little clubhouse in Fayetteville she had mentioned liking, it was attached to an apartment complex, not a big space, but nice. Indeed her second engagement party would be held there. We asked her for the names and addresses of all her girlfriends and wrote and sent out the invitations to them and her family members. I was the one who mailed them, not Sarah. A week after the invitations had gone out, the only RSVP’s we had were from members of our family and hers.
I called Shan’ann up and told her that we hadn’t gotten any answers from her girlfriends. She gave me their numbers and I called each one. All of them said they had gotten their invitations but hadn’t answered because they each had different plans for that day and weren’t going to be able to make it. There was one exception who said she had been planning to RSVP and would be there.
Sarah and I had worked hard on the shower and I thought it looked beautiful and our family and hers were there and she got gifts and lots of attention but she wasn’t happy, you could tell she wasn’t, I just didn’t realize how unhappy she was until years later when Sarah and I saw the discovery documents.