There is no easy way to deal with the grief of losing a child and after eight years of painful memories of her daughter, Annette Watson of Caney, found her peace by writing a book about the life of her 21-year-old daughter Kayla.
Annette was not a writer but when her pastor suggested she write a book about her daughter, the idea began to grow. After giving it some thought, she began by posting some memories of Kayla on social media, and the words seem to be coming by a guiding hand. Response from her friends was overwhelming and left many weeping as they read a few paragraphs she would post from time to time.
Soon it became apparent to her that God was confirming he was calling her to write a book about her daughter. She knew it would not be easy to bring up all the emotions of grief, but felt it was a way to keep Kayla’s memory alive for all those she touched and inspired during her short life.
Kayla’s early life attending grade school in Caney was marred by teasing and bullying because she had bad teeth and was treated like an ugly duckling. By the time she was in seventh grade, Annette decided she could not stand seeing her daughter suffer the humiliation and withdrew her and enrolled her in Stringtown School. Things began to change and when she entered ninth grade, Annette moved her to Tushka.
The ugly duckling was quickly turning into a princess on the basketball court and with her personality became a favorite of the students. She sought out people who seemed to have no friends, who seemed unimportant and unpopular. Her relationship with God defined her and she used her basketball as a platform to draw others. She told her mother once, “I know people look up to me and I want them to see Jesus in me.”
“I think the things she suffered at an early age in school, like teasing, being ostracized and feeling alone made her sensitive to others,” said Annette. “She always went out of her way to be nice to them. Kayla was always spiritual beyond her years and it seemed to draw people to her.”
Although small in stature, Kayla’s quickness, ball handling and smart play made her dominate on the court. During her junior year when she returned to play arch rival Caney, Kayla put on a dazzling performance, scoring 39 points.
The princess was elevated to queen status during her senior year when she was named Homecoming Queen and class Salutatorian. “She never found her identity in her success in sports or academics,” said Annette. “Her relationship with God defined her.”
She was interviewed on several occasions by KHKC Radio sportscaster Ricky Chase. “I have covered Atoka County basketball for almost thirty years and I can only recall a handful that would standout like Kayla Watson and Crystal Robinson. She would always give the glory to God for her performance.”
At her senior sports banquet Coach Chris Hall said she was one of Tushka’s most decorated players. She won Atoka/Johnston County Conference MVP both her junior and senior years. She won McDonald’s All State and Coach’s All State Award. She was the only player at Tushka to ever win both awards.
She had two scholarship offers and chose SWOSU in Weatherford where she quickly caught the eye of the coach who had only seen her on video. She visited the campus in the spring and played a pickup game with the current team members.
“She was the best athlete in the gym that day,” said Coach Shelly Pond. “She was super quick and a great shooter with great court vision. She knew when to push the pace and when to slow it down. These types of players don’t come along often.”
Kayla started every game in her sophomore year at SWOSU and was destined to become a star player in her junior year. It wasn’t only her athleticism but her love of life, as explained by Coach Pond. “She was truly an amazing lady and I think about her daily and still miss her ornery little giggle.”
Kayla had spent the weekend at home in Caney and was headed back to college on Sept. 4, 2005. The trip would end tragically near Ada when the car she was riding in was run off the road and overturned, throwing her from the vehicle.
Annette struggled with the reality that she was gone and her husband Ronnie, didn’t know what to do to comfort her. “Sometimes I would wake up in the middle of the night and she was gone,” said Ronnie. “She had gone to sit at Kayla’s grave. We had a bench set up at the grave so she could sit when she wanted.”
They later adopted two children and there were some difficult times when many would have just thrown in the towel, but Annette had made a commitment to God and she knew her daughter would not want her to quit.
“It’s like Kayla inspires her and she wants to make her proud,” said Ronnie.
Annette was grateful to receive help from Angela Bagby, English teacher, at Caney High School, who was happy to edit the book and write a review. In her review Bagby writes, “This story takes the reader on a journey of love and faith. She uses Kayla’s voice to express the emotions so powerful that you will find it hard to put the book down. A story about a simple young lady from a small town who loved to play basketball.”
Annette cried a river of tears when she first started posting excerpts in November and was getting such an overwhelming wave of support to continue. She waited until after Christmas to start writing and with a strong commitment the book was done in six weeks.
“I have been able to move beyond the absolute unbearable experience of losing a child and I hope my book will help others do the same,” she said.
The book title, “Going Home Early “ is now available on Amazon and a book signing will be held at the Kiamichi Technology Center in Durant on May 25 from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.