Arkansas Tech University added a smoothie bar to the to-go lunch station this semester, which welcomed 21 year old Shelby Williams into the campus community. Williams was unemployed, saw an ad on Craigslist for a job opening on campus and was hired on the spot as a smoothie maker.
Williams never had a normal life. She grew up in a little house in Hot Springs with her sister and parents. Her dad struggled with alcohol and was in rehab for years. To pay the cost of rehab, her mom had to work three jobs. Williams’ family had no money and her mom had health issues and never slept.
Her uncle was very close to her family and babysat Williams for years. She was especially close to her uncle, but all of her memories were fond. She had lost her memory and didn’t realize that her uncle had molested her until she was 7 years old. She had nightmares for years. Nobody would listen to her and her mother didn’t believe her.
A few years later, Williams’ dad cheated on her mom and impregnated the girl. He married her the same day their divorce was final, which was also his ex-wife’s birthday.
“I met her when she was 8 months pregnant. She hated me. She told me, ‘You’re going to turn out just like your mom.’”
The pain she experienced stayed with her, causing her to rebel as a teenager. She smoked marijuana, attempted suicide and was almost arrested. Her mother kicked her out on Christmas Eve and sent her to her dad’s house.
She attended school in Hot Springs after that and became friends with the wrong crowd. One weekend, she was with a group of friends and a mutual friend assaulted her. “He had his hands around my neck and I couldn’t breathe. I fought him off and told my friend,” Williams said. Her friend didn’t stand up for her.
Williams was physically assaulted multiple times. She said that every relationship she was in felt like the same.
At the age of fifteen, Williams had been taken to a holding cell. She had vandalized a business’ parking lot and as she was leaving the lot, a police officer pulled over her friend, who was driving the car. The officer had not seen the vandalization, but had pulled them over because their lights were not on. Scared for her life, Williams told the officer she was eighteen. She was not arrested but taken to a holding cell because of a curfew violation. Her father did not answer his phone so her mother came and got her. Her mom was furious and made her move back to Russellville.
Williams then was on parole for six months. Ironically, she loved the community service. She is a very outgoing person and loves serving other people.
She and her mother never had a good relationship, so Williams got out of her house as soon as possible. In fear of homelessness, she married her on-and-off boyfriend of four years. They had been separated for six months before they were married. Williams realized instantly that it was a mistake. They were married for eight months before they separated again. The day after they separated, he started dating another girl.
“I had trusted him and he completely ripped out my heart,” Williams said.
The divorce is not finalized yet, but she says it was the decision of her life. If she had not been in the situation she was in, she would never have married him.
After this, Williams was in a dark place. She drank and partied to forget her problems and made horrible choices. It was during this time that she met her current boyfriend. He pursued her in every way and treated her with respect. Williams is gaining back her faith in men and her hope in life.
Many obstacles have hindered Williams, but she has overcome each of them.
While driving back to Russellville from Mena a month ago, she had a revelation. “I hydroplaned six times and not one person stopped to see if I was okay,” Williams said. This experience made her realize how impersonal the world is. She’s passionate about changing this.
“The only way we are going to change this world is if we decide to change it. If we instill in our kids the best information that we can and show them nothing but love and show them how to treat people, those few people will make a difference.”
Williams applies this concept every day at her job at the smoothie bar.
“People tell me to forgive and forget. I don’t need to forgive and forget! This is a part of me. Everything that’s happened to me is a part of me and one day I want to be able to sit down and talk with people and make them feel loved because I never did. Even though I’m just ‘that smoothie girl’, I want to be the one that no matter what happens you can go and talk to me. That’s more important to me than anything in the world.”
(Side note: Shelby is one of the strongest people I have ever met. There were a few obstacles in interviewing her, but I refused to give up. My roommate asked, “Why don’t you just find another random person?” I couldn’t do it. I had this feeling that Shelby was the one I had to interview. I can clearly see why now! We spent two and a half hours talking and it actually helped my anxiety of talking to people I don’t know. So thank you for this assignment, Reeder. It’s helped me grow as a journalist and as a person.)