At age 16 I was sentenced to a facility and when my time was up my parents wouldn’t come to the meetings necessary for the authorities to release me. I had a Guardian ad litem, a fancy way to say the state of Colorado had custody of me, and he sat me down one day to explore other living possibilities. We discussed emancipation but the reality was I hadn’t learned a thing about how to responsibly take care of myself, so, that was out of the question. I listed a couple of family members but we both liked the idea of exploring my grandma Elaine’s house. He did his part, and a couple months and family meetings later I was released into my grandma’s care.
While I was in the facility one of the treatments we worked on was the severe issue I had of biting my nails… Sometimes I’d bite them all the way down until they bled. I remember the sensation I got from biting them, almost like an immediate gratification that gave me a temporary distraction from the chaos going on. It was a coping method. The staff at the facility issued a nail-bitting clear polish that had a strong and nasty taste to it and it was supposed to help end the biting. The solution did OK, but it wasn’t the solution needed to get to the root of the issue that was causing me to bite in the first place.
At this point in my life I had barely a middle school education and was two years behind in my high school credits, (basically I had none). Going to my grandma’s meant a new start for me. I’d lived the past few years in and out of the streets, group homes, back and forth from my dad’s and mom’s, juvenile centers, and finally a treatment facility. When I moved to grandma Elaine’s I had my own room, started a new school, began to go to church and had a stable schedule. Saturday mornings were for cleaning, Sunday was church, lunch and a nap, and during the week dinner was always around 5:30/6. After getting stable I began to get involved in my church with the drama department and the choir, and at school I started my own bible club, and also got involved in drama where I played Juliet! I entered the basketball boot camp and played ball almost every chance I got, did choreography and danced at the local rec center, got a summer job at the Denver Center for the Performing Arts, and my grades were so outstanding that I lettered in academics! My GPA was a 4.0! It was like, who is this new kid?!
Today at 37 years old in hindsight, I was always that kid, I just needed the environment to help me tap into the amazing parts of life and enjoy being just that… a kid. I didn’t have to worry about being in survival mode, hustling for bus money, food, or a place to sleep. I was no longer experiencing fights, abandonment, running from the police, or watching my loved ones abuse drugs and alcohol. Instead, my new experience was a deep sense of peace and well rested nights, my emotional and physical needs were met with the added bonuses of love and freedom to be a happy teenager. I was loved, in every aspect of the verb – love. She taught me what it meant to be a female and how do we stay clean, she showed me how to do laundry, organize a small space, work with a budget, and keep my hair brushes clean. She also taught me character traits like faithfulness and be a person of my word. My grandma fostered patience, respect, understanding, truth in gentleness, discipline and forgiveness, and freedom to just be me. Tiffany.
Over the past few months my grandma has been in hospice care and sadly yesterday afternoon I got a text from my mom saying that grandma just passed away. Immediately I let out a huge and deep sorrowful cry for several minutes and then organically I began to relax and remembered my life with her and our last few recent interactions. While in hospice I visited and the last time we saw each other I came in her room, she smiled and said, “Tiffany!” I hugged her for several moments with tears streaming down my face from gratitude that she knew my name and was happy to see me. Her and my mom were having full dialogs in Spanish, my mom brought homemade tamales, and I was practicing and studying for a final presentation that afternoon I had for class. It was a really great visit. Randomly, as the two were talking I noticed how long and strong my mom’s nails looked, then I remembered the length my grandma’s would grow, then I looked at at mine, long and manicured. I noticed we all have the same strength in our nail DNA (if that’s such a thing).
Today as I honor her I want to go back to when I came from that treatment center to live with her. I brought with me the solution of polish to put on my nails to keep me from drawing blood when I bit them. After a while, I didn’t need it. Her home was the solution and eventually they just grew and I stopped biting. And in every other aspect, I grew.
To Elaine – the woman of little words but big action, who provided me rest, gave me peace, treated me with respect, taught me key essentials to being a woman, and introduced me to Jesus. Thank you for love in verb form.