Where did I leave off?
It’s been a minute, but I haven’t given up on my goal of telling this story and learning more about the murder of Christine Saroya. I have done some work with the district court where the case was heard and will hopefully be getting a copy of the transcripts in the next couple of weeks. In the meantime I am in the middle of another vein of this story, so let’s continue, shall we?
The job that B and I worked together was seasonal. So it was a situation where we would see each other constantly from March to October, and then I would occasionally catch glimpses of him at school in between classes. Then I moved to a different school. (After my parents divorced we never really had a stable address for many years). This was upsetting for many reasons, but I was feeling so sad that I would be leaving the friends I’d made again and trying to start over. This is also the mid 1990’s, so calling outside your pre-determined area cost as much as a long distance call, even though we moved about 10-15 miles away. The logistics of maintaining friendships, even from a short distance, were much more difficult to navigate than you’d expect.
My mom wasn’t really sensitive to these things. I was allowed to keep my job and I spent the majority of my check paying my mom back for the calls to my friends. It was so lonely, I wasn’t able to drive yet and trying to fit in with people that are already sophomores in high school and have known each other for 10-ish years is tough.
I really looked forward to going to work, but getting there and back became an ordeal. Sometimes I would ride the school bus to the stop nearest the restaurant (3 miles away) and walk the rest of the way to get there, and often times my ride home was late, sometimes more than an hour, and the closing manager would have to wait until my ride showed up to be able to leave themselves. It was embarrassing, but it was my main connection to friends so I couldn’t quit. One night, I fell onto the grill and burned my arm badly, the main owner was closing that night and my mom hadn’t shown up, so I pretended she had and hid outside. Then I cried in the parking lot because it still hurt, and I was embarrassed and scared that no one was coming.
Another such incident seemed serendipitous to me at the time. The restaurant employed mostly teenagers and it wasn’t the most well maintained place. Every summer the air would go out and with the heat plus the grill, fryers, and steamers, it would get to be over 100 degrees inside. On one such day it was over 110 degrees and workers were starting to feel sick. G was managing that day and decided to close early. I was never sure if my mom would make it to pick me up at the correct time, let alone 4+ hours early. I tried to call my house numerous times with no response, so G decided that B would take me home. I was so excited and on the drive we actually got to talk privately and it made me even more enamored of him. The nail in the coffin was when a sweet song came on the radio and he said that it always made him think of me, it was crazy because it never occurred to me that he thought of me outside of work at all.
We started to talk more after that and he mentioned that he didn’t have anything to do on the night of the Sadie Hawkins dance. I didn’t either and he asked if I wanted to hang out with him.
My mom would never let me go out with a boy and my ability to ride in cars with my friends was highly dependent on her mood and if the circumstances were convenient or beneficial in some way. So instead of telling her what I was really doing, I told her I was staying the night with a friend from my old school. She agreed and he picked me up that evening, about half an hour late, but I was so excited. My mom worked afternoons so she was none the wiser.
This date should’ve scared me off enough to change my mind about B, but I now recognize that I had my own trauma that I was trying to work through and my own toxic behaviors at the time.
He picked me up and kept asking what I wanted to do, but what I wanted to do was hang out with him and this was the first thing even resembling a date that I’d had. I could tell that my indecisiveness was frustrating, but I also didn’t want to suggest and idea he hated. We went to a comic book store and decided to go to the dollar show since it was next door. We saw “Hackers”. Afterwards it was more of the same driving around aimlessly with him being angry that I couldn’t make a decision. I told him to do whatever he normally would and I would just tag along. We went to McDonalds and I insisted on paying for myself so as not to seem like I wanted his money. After that he said he was just going to go home, I was hoping he would invite me over for a bit, but he didn’t. He took me to my friend’s house that I was supposed to stay with. He was very angry when he dropped me off, and I was very sad. I went to the door and she wasn’t home yet, which made it even worse. He had driven down the street to turn around and I tried to flag him down to take me home or to another friend’s house. Instead, he aimed the car at me and almost hit me with it. He stopped and told me that he had nothing to say and took off. I had no idea what I had done that was so bad, but it was my first glimpse into his temper. He would later tell me that he did aim his car at me, but had no intention of hitting me, he just wanted to scare me. He also told me that he was frustrated at the time because he liked me a lot, but he didn’t know if he was ready to be in a serious relationship and it was weighing on him. In hindsight I realize that these were pathetic excuses, but at that time I was actually flattered 🤦♀️.
I had my backpack and nothing else that night, so I walked to another friend’s house and she let me stay over. I wallowed and told her and her mom my sad story, and figured it was probably over.
And as we now know it was just getting started.
Let’s begin at the beginning – ish
My parents had a very contentious divorce. For several years prior to their divorce our house often felt like a ticking time bomb and in a lot of ways it was. We never knew if things would be ok, or they’d be arguing, or my dad would be gone, or their fight would get out of control and the police would be called. I remember that it felt very heavy as a kid. My body always felt tense and I was worried all the time. When I woke up for school one morning to find my mom packing and telling me that she was leaving my dad that day without his knowledge, I was relieved more than anything. At the time I really thought my dad was “the bad guy” and things would be so much better away from him. As an adult I obviously realize that relationships are a two way street and my parents both made mistakes, but during this time my relationship with my dad didn’t reflect that.
One of the reasons I was so relieved was related to my home town. I grew up in a very small town where everyone knew everyone: and everyone knew my family’s business. My friends’ parents wouldn’t let them come to my house and there were only a few of them that would let me come to theirs. I would hear people in school talking about the fights my parents’ had or the police complaints they’d heard over the scanner. At that age I was painfully shy and I never knew how to respond.
It wasn’t just the town and the air of small town judgement; another member of my family was a sexual predator and had recently been discovered. Although both of my parents tried to protect us in their own ways, we were all exposed to way too much, way too early and, in the opinions of many people, we were guilty by association.
When my mom initially moved us out to a bigger town about 20 minutes away from where we had lived previously, I was excited to start fresh in a new school and make new friends, and also relieved not to be too far from the friends I’d known. I enjoyed being there for the time I was, but the nature of divorce makes things unstable. After starting fresh at this new school, my mom moved us back to our house in the middle of the school year and I was back in school in my hometown. I was actually not upset because it felt comfortable, even with the lingering judgement I felt.
I was hopeful that we would just stay this way in our house and after time passed people would forget the history. Then I noticed my mom had put our house for sale and was very vague about the details of where we would go next. There was a lot of back and forth revenge between my parents at this time and ultimately my dad caused my mom to lose her job and she in turn decided to move us to Michigan with her boyfriend, over 3 hours from everything we knew.
When I say this is all we knew, it isn’t that far from the truth. The only times I had been out of state or even on vacation was with my Girl Scout troop. The one “trip” that my parents took us on as kids was to SeaWorld for a day, which I remember fondly, but wasn’t without its issues for my parents.
So one day my mom told us that we were moving to Michigan and that was it. I was devastated and terrified at the time and tried to fight against it, but I was 13 and had zero choice in the matter. And this was pre-cell phones in the era of ridiculous costs for long distance calls, so I knew that letters and hopefully trips home would be my only connections to the friends I’d had since kindergarten.
So in August of 1993 we moved to Woodhaven, Michigan and I started 8th grade at the end of that month.
I started looking for a job fairly soon after moving because I knew (or thought) my mom couldn’t afford to let me do things or get me the clothes I liked. I was lucky to find friends quickly and get setup with some babysitting jobs, but I was hoping to find something more regular. Before I even turned 14 I was looking for a fast food job. I wound up filling out an application with G at a local takeout restaurant and she told me to come back when I turned 14 and I could have the job. I got my work permit and started as soon as I was able.
G didn’t own the restaurant. She had worked there as a teenager and became close with the family. Once she was on her own and working in accounting, she continued working to help her family friends out and make little extra money. She’d started B working there once he’d become a teen.
When I met B it was lust at first sight. I felt like he represented the idea I had about a shy, tortured artist type that would fall madly in love with me and come out of his shell. Teenagers really are this stupid and I remember it too well. I told my best friend that I would lose my virginity to B and I said that 2 years before it actually happened. I was obsessed in the special way that only teenagers or criminals can be.
In hindsight I still don’t think I have any regrets because so much of the good stuff has come from this relationship, but it definitely led to so much struggle as well.
Looks like a road trip might be in order
I am not a person that understand legal jargon well. I can put together a basic understanding of court documents, but the specifics escape me if it is written the way that most court documents are, especially in criminal cases.
I have been looking for information on court filings online and from what I can tell, I can get details on various dates and the names of proceedings that occurred on those dates, but no details on evidence, testimony, or exhibits. I am even struggling to determine how I could order full transcripts of the trial, and what documents I would specifically request (there are dozens listed).
My solution? I am going to call the circuit court tomorrow, and pending the information they’re able to provide, hopefully drive the 90 ish minutes up there and retrieve the documents myself.
I love Amazon as much as the next lady, but if I want something right away I have no trouble picking it up myself.
So much information, not enough information
Today in my little bit of free time I am trying to find transcripts from the original trial. There is a ton of information online, but it’s as though there are too many resources and not enough information. All of the information I am finding is brief and repetitive. I know there’s more so I am going to request the original transcripts from the circuit court that handled the case. Even this action is a maze to navigate. There are request forms online, however it seems as though you have to request the copies in person only, which I know is not correct. I am going to call to get more specific instructions when I have time and the court is open. In the meantime I have access to a huge online archive through my employer, so I am going to do some digging there as well.
It’s frustrating when your free time and the time that businesses are operating are often incongruent.
All work and no play makes Amber a dull girl….
So, it occurs to me that I have yet to mention my name. My name is Amber. I guess when I started writing it was a narrative so I had no need to refer to myself in the third person. I don’t know if my name will ever be relevant or not, but there it is.
I am working a lot. Which is putting me in a position of feeling tired and irritable which isn’t super common for me, so it’s very uncomfortable. It also makes me second guess my curiosities and decisions and perspectives even more. I know my truth, and I am confident in that truth; but I also realize that the honest truth is not exactly the same as my perspective of it. Why should that matter? It’s the way that people relay their stories all the time. Not sure why I care, and I probably shouldn’t, but second guessing is something that is an innate part of my psyche. I find myself frequently envious of those that can jump into their decisions head first, without sacrificing themselves for the “what ifs”.
Another issue I have when researching and writing this, is that there are people in this story that I don’t want to upset. I have always quieted my voice to some extent or another for these people, even knowing they’d not do the same for me. It’s strange, the dichotomy of people. How we all have different sides of ourselves that can stand in total opposition of another side of ourselves. In this case there is also a group of people that I’ve often considered family, and for some of them I still do; but I also recognize that so many of the things they did to “help me” were based on their own best interests and sometimes that coincided with what I most needed. These people have also caused me more pain and struggle than anyone else in my life, and I understand that happens with “family”, but the story that unfolds shows that their actions go so much farther than those typical family heartbreaks and are downright adversarial and hateful.
I’m still doing my research, although it is slow going with my current work schedule. This is something that I’ve wanted to research for years, though, and I now know that the time will pass either way. Slow going is better than no going. I am also working on structure, obviously this is a story that is intertwined by a couple of different major stories and I want it to make sense and be cohesive. No big deal for an inexperienced writer, right?
A little back story…
In 1994 I took a job that I’ve always thought sort of changed the trajectory of my life. It was just a small fast food restaurant, but I met a boy, whom we will call B (because I have no clue about the legality of using other people’s names) that would become a big part of my life for a long time, for better or worse.
I was definitely more interested in him than he was in me, but I hung on his every word like a teenager is apt to do with their first love. Maybe someday I will get into this whole saga more, but that’s a story for another time. Ultimately we started our (off and on) romantic relationship in 1995 when I was 15, found out I was pregnant when I was 16, and had our son when I was 17. The relevance of this is that he introduced me to the case that I’ve been trying to research on and off for years.
When B and I first started dating, in my eyes he was very much the misunderstood, tortured soul. I felt certain in my naive, teenaged heart that he had a heart of gold underneath it all. One of pieces of evidence I had to support this, was a big family secret. B’s biological dad was a murderer.
B’s mom (we will call her G) and her 4 siblings had grown up in a small town and lived down the street from another large working class family that they spent much of their childhood with. G’s older sister married and had children with a brother from this family, and G ended up having B with another brother, his name is Michael Shavkey. G’s sister had 2 kids with his brother and realized she’d chosen a drunk, irresponsible, deeply disturbed man to have kids with. G’s luck wasn’t much better. She dated and saw B’s dad on and off for years, but he never took responsibility of B and ultimately moved away.
B had been adopted by his step-dad and it was never discussed, but he definitely knew his real dad and his mom would allow him to come and visit on the very rare occasion he asked. He was said to be a “family friend”. The subterfuge of this practice is very nuanced and has so many other details and problematic justifications, but the 80’s and 90’s were wild I guess.
At some point Mike went from popping in every year or two, to not at all. Then a few years later he made contact again: via collect call from prison. This is the time frame that I had entered the picture and it was downplayed by G, but B was angry and really didn’t know how to process the whole situation. G often spoke with Mike and B didn’t understand why she would, when confronted back then she’d say that he had addiction issues and was in jail for drugs and she wanted to be supportive. We later found out that he had actually stalked and killed a former girlfriend, strangling her with her daughter’s jump rope, while her daughter watched. I didn’t see any of this as a red flag, I saw this as the way that families keep secrets out of shame and worry about backlash, the way that moms hurt their kids when they think they’re making the best choice, and the way that people commit crimes that have so many victims. I would later see all of these circumstances and so many more for what they actually were: HUGE red flags. But that would take me way too long to really understand.
I want to take this opportunity to say that the woman who was killed was Christine Saroya. She was a 34 year old woman that had previously been letting Mike live with her as they were in a relationship, but things had turned sour and she kicked him out. She had a 4 year old daughter that was victimized worse than any other peripheral person involved in this story, and she had a mother that participated in a March on Lansing Michigan the year after her daughter’s death, to encourage stricter enforcement of stalking laws in Michigan as a way to honor her daughter in some way. My interest in this case has been piqued since I first learned about it, but I have always wanted to know more about this woman and offer some type of recognition for her and the life she was living before someone senselessly took it from her.
I realized while writing this post that I am going to need to be better organized. A. I am going to need to create a folder specifically to save information and keep every piece I can find. B. My writing will be a work in progress. As with all projects and particularly those involved in documenting things in writing, it is so difficult to include all the details and supporting information without being scattered. Any suggestions are appreciated. 🙂
I have been feeling restless lately. The type of restless that causes binge drinking, retail therapy, gambling, overeating, running away from your life and starting over….. I’m sure most people know the type. I’ve always called it “Desperate Housewives”; not like the show, more like a mid life crisis, without being that dramatic. It’s that period of your life, sometimes it feels like the majority of it, when you’ve been working so hard to achieve certain things (raising kids, building a career, meeting financial goals) and then you get there and you feel unsure what to do next. Whether it be how you tackle all of the other things that you’ve neglected while building your life, or finding new things to be passionate about that aren’t the aforementioned toxic ones. I have been in this place for several years. That doesn’t mean that I’ve been unhappy or restless the whole time, just that I don’t feel like I have the same focus and goals that have kept me busy before. In reality I’ve worked hard and feel so grateful for my life as it is: I have this small group of really incredible friends that have stood by me forever, an amazing partner, my kids are all becoming successful adults and we are all super close, and I have a great career, but I still want things to get excited about that aren’t vacation. iykyk
That’s what brought me here. I needed a project, something to focus on and learn about. I have been thinking about it for so long, and I realized that one thing I’m very curious about is true crime. It isn’t just true crime though. There is one specific crime that I am very interested in and it’s partially because of how it has affected me, even if it’s peripherally.
So I am not sure what this will become. Right now my hope is that it will be a journal for me, a way to get things off my chest and expel some of my negative thoughts and energy; but more than that I am hoping to explore a woman’s life and her untimely death, to honor her life and her memory, and to understand how nature versus nurture affects the sons and daughters of people that use others as a target for all their negativity, all their blame about their poor life choices, and ultimately change their lives forever, or end it.
And maybe some people will read it and understand 🙂