Today is Shelby Johnson’s 24th birthday. Instead of a party, her family is at her funeral.

I knew Shelby when she was a little girl. I was in a long-term committed relationship with her father more than eleven years ago. I was like a stepmother for a few years.

Shelby was a good kid. She was clever and dressed like a cute little girl. She always had the stripped down, raw, accountable version of the story.

I remember how she looked like a tiny copy of her mother.

Levi was sensitive, and deep. Shelby was pragmatic, but sunshine.

Shelby and I got along well at first. The more her relationship with her father eroded, the more she resented me. I loved her, but we both had a dysfunctional relationship with her neglectful father.

I tried to make him be a good dad. I drove him to see her. I had a home that was a welcome place for her to be. I made him pay his child support. All the reasons Shelby hated him weren’t my fault, but they were among many reasons why I left him.

The last time I tried to talk to Shelby, she called me a “Fucking bitch” as I drove away.

I still loved her. It wasn’t her fault. She was just a kid. She couldn’t know or understand it yet. Eventually, when she got older, I imagined we would run into one another downtown. We would have a cup of  coffee. We would swap perspectives. We would commiserate about her dad. We might even trade Christmas cards again someday. That would have been nice.

I peeked in on her Facebook from time to time. She was so tiny, and she looked so unbreakable. She looked like someone who dared life to take her every day. She gave no fucks and asked for none to be given.

Shelby died September 29th, less than one week from her 24th birthday.

The illness that she died from complications of didn’t begin until after I wasn’t a part of her life. I watched her from a distance. I heard stories from our mutual acquaintances in Lansing. She was close to the son of another good friend of mine. I knew she wanted to see her sisters. I couldn’t let them have a relationship with her until she was well. My friends son eventually, and with much drastic effort, finally healed. Shelby, however, did not.

I was waiting for the sickness stage of her life to end so we could reach out to her. I can only assume that her loved ones felt the same way. She was so much more than the disease that haunted her. She left a scar on his planet.

I’ll have to hold on to the sweet memory of a little girl with blond hair and big eyes. I remember her smiling while I read Harry Potter books to the kids at night. I remember how she hated my homemade fried chicken because it didn’t taste like the box chicken her mom made. I remember what a good big sister she was to Marley. I remember when Dropkick Murphy’s were here favorite band. I remember the day we went to climb the ledges in Grand Ledge. I remember the Christmas’ we spent together. I remember dyeing Easter eggs. I remember a great smile, freckles, and big eyes with the longest, darkest lashes ever blinking up at me.

Carry on Shelby Shockwave. I’ll save that coffee date for another time when we’re both in another place.

Today though, is a very unhappy birthday.