Roses and sunflowers trailed the boat under a cloud-smeared sky in the narrow bayou, where Darlene Deschamp stood Sunday morning on the stern, tears streaming down her cheeks.
The man who hit their boat is charged with boating under the influence. Mauffray has waited and waited to see if he will stand trial.
But this day was not about him. This day was about Vanessa. Her family does not want anyone to forget her. At 19, she stood on the cusp of adulthood, ready to make something of her life.
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She hoped to go into a medical field, because she wanted to help others.
“I will never see her get married and have children,” Deschamp said. “My heart is broken.”
At least 40 family members and friends surrounded Deschamp for a trip up Bayou Caddy to place a new wreath and release purple balloons in the spot where Mauffray’s life began to end. She survived for only a few hours after the collision.
Her sister, Victoria McKinley, was there, and Victoria’s 3-year-old son, Cade. Nessa, as they called her, loved Cade. When he was a baby, she would pick him up if he cried in the night so that Victoria, who was attending school to become a teacher, could get some more rest.
Vanessa fished with Cade, swam with Cade, snuggled with Cade. She loved children, and particularly her nephew. Both their birthdays are in July. Cade will be 4 years old. Vanessa would have been 20.
He talks about her every day. He understands she is in heaven. But he thinks she should be able to leave heaven and visit him. If the sky is a particularly vivid blue, he thinks Vanessa created it just for him.
His mom made a beautiful sunflower, Vanessa’s favorite flower, of lemon- and lime-green net. The lead boat, carrying the family, pulled up to a pole sunk into the marsh where the speeding boat hit the couple. The net sunflower replaced an old wreath on the pole.
It sparkled like an exotic plant against marsh and sky.
Deschamp pulled purple helium balloons from bags, passing them among the boats. Cade stood with her on the stern. When he released his balloon, he said, “Nessa, you see that?”
Purple was her favorite color. The balloons floated above the marsh until they disappeared in the clouds.