When I first met Austin Sarna, I was unimpressed, to say the least. As someone who could be described as reserved and private, I found Austin’s visible tattoos, colorful attire, and vibrant personality to be completely obnoxious. He approached me with a smile and attempted to strike up a conversation and I shut him down. He was too different from me and I couldn’t be bothered to see past that.
Over time, I would see him around during his visits to San Luis Obispo. He’d be out walking his puppy, leaving Starbucks with a traveler box of brewed coffee for whoever he met that would want a cup, socializing with various people downtown, and generally looking happy about life. I became intrigued by his optimistic, radiant attitude, his unsolicited generosity, and his kindness and we eventually became friends.
During our friendship I learned a lot about Austin’s life, about his family and his upbringing, about the city he was born and raised in, his hobbies and interests. I also learned of the hardships he had endured throughout his life. They weren’t so different from my own which was a little shocking for me as I had used mine as a shield to protect myself from others getting too close to me while Austin used his as a way to relate more to other people and be genuinely compassionate.
It was at this time that I began to realize that Austin’s entrance in my life was not by mere happenstance. God sent him to me to show me that I could heal from my past, that I could use my discernment as a way to develop meaningful relationships instead of as a way to shut people out. I discovered a lot about myself: who I was compared to who I thought I was, who I wanted to be, how I wanted my life to be. The most difficult thing I learned about myself was that I hadn’t been the open minded, nonjudgmental, accepting person that I thought I was. With much prejudice, I had initially shamefully judged Austin solely on his appearances and our obvious differences instead of seeing the warm, caring person he undeniable is.
I also soon realized that not only had God purposely placed Austin in my life to help me with healing, growing, learning, and being better, but that Austin’s role in my life would be much more permanent. The guy with the unattractive tattoos and hippy clothes was the man I was meant to spend the rest of my life with. I loved him and he loved me. We began planning our future together and my children and I moved to the Bay Area to start a new life as a family with Austin.
Over the summer, we learned that we were expecting. Austin was going to be a father and he was more loving and wonderful as ever. There were many times during our first trimester that I was so sick I didn’t leave my bed for days. He did his best to make sure I was as comfortable as possible and taken care of while also working a physically exhausting job. I didn’t think I could love him any more than I did at that time.
Austin soon began to seek different career and educational opportunities. He was thinking about fatherhood, our family, and our future. He wanted the best for our family and was making changes to ensure that he could provide the best for us. More than this, he just wanted to be a good dad.
On a Wednesday afternoon in September, our life as we knew it changed. Austin was arrested and transported to San Luis Obispo to face charges for attempted murder and assault with a deadly weapon over an incident that happened at the beginning of the year. I don’t recall ever feeling as brokenhearted as I did the day he was arrested.
After having recently been diagnosed with bronchitis and unable to sleep, Austin headed out with his puppy late one Thursday night in January. While he was out, he witnessed a random act of violence by a group of men. One of the men attacked a car that had pulled up to a stop sign. The driver got out of his car to confront the man, was tackled to the ground, and the group of men began beating him. Austin rushed over to convince the group of men to let the driver go, but instead of being able to de-escalate the situation, he, too, was tackled to the ground and assaulted. One of the men pinned Austin down and was punching him while some of the others gathered around, repeatedly kicking him. As he and the driver were being ruthlessly attacked, Austin was overcome with fear of the two of them being killed by these men. The life-threatening stress prompted Austin’s reaction of doing whatever he needed to do to save his own life and the driver.
I’ve dealt with many emotions since Austin’s arrest in September: outrage that the police and detectives blatantly chose not to disclose all of the facts regarding the incident to the media, anger at the media for reporting the police department’s bias press release instead of questioning the unsound content, disheartenment over the comments left under the online media reports condemning Austin based on his tattoos, guilt because I had once judged Austin the same way, resentment towards the group of men who viciously attacked Austin and the driver of the car and were never arrested, sorrow realizing that Austin could’ve died that night.
While I have been able to get past many of the negative emotions with the help of God, Austin’s love, wisdom, and encouragement, and support from our loved ones, I continue to struggle with grief and heartache. While the men who attacked Austin are able to go on with their lives, waking up in their beds, spending the holidays with their families, wrapping their arms around someone they love, Austin is in jail. His life is on hold. He can’t work to provide for his family and our future. He can’t be here to feel his unborn baby move whenever she hears his voice. He couldn’t celebrate his birthday or Thanksgiving with his loved ones. He can’t hold my hand while telling me how much he loves me. He can’t help decorate the Christmas tree.
While his absence has been painful to bear, preparing to have our baby without him is something I have difficulty coming to terms with on a daily basis. Knowing Austin won’t be here to experience the one event he’s looked forward to the most – the birth of his child – is a constant source of grief and heartache. I ask God for strength, healing, and peace multiple times a day.
In trying to make sense of everything that happened the night of the incident and since Austin’s arrest, I’ve asked every question I can possible think of. Why did this happen? Why that night? Why did Austin have to witness the crimes of these men? Why did he have to be the only person who tried to help? Why didn’t these men just stop? All of these questions have been unanswered except one. As I soon prepare to deal with the reality of Austin not being by my side during labor and delivery and holding his newborn baby, I cannot deny the fact that Austin would’ve never walked away from helping someone in danger or in need. That is the man I know and love and am committed to spending my life with.S. Valentino