Beyond Cool, She Was Fly. Her Confidence Gave Me Wings.

“Cousin, are you sure?” Tiffany asked me. “Aren’t you scared?”

I laughed away whatever fear I was carrying and told her I would be back. That it was just for the summer. But Tiffany knew what I couldn’t see yet. That I would find writing and become the woman of my own dreams.

I cloaked myself in Tiffany’s charm and wore it until it became a second skin. This is how I arrived in Bed-Stuy, Brooklyn. I only dated men who called me beautiful. I flirted with anyone who could hold an interesting conversation. I gave love a run for its money because the only thing that truly kept my attention was my daughter’s health and laughter, and my burgeoning career in writing. I carried this new me everywhere: New York City, Poland, Britain and Canada.

When the summer became a year, and the year became a decade, I recognized so much of my cousin in the way I carried myself. I loved how I looked to myself in the mirror. I loved how I looked from the reflection in my daughter’s eyes. Like Tiffany, I began to move through rooms easy like the wind, soundless and certain. This feeling stayed with me, from the red steps of our grandparents’ home in West Oakland to the Bed-Stuy stoops that became my sanctuary.

At first, before she had her fifth child, Tiffany and I checked in weekly, then monthly, after she had her seventh child. Phone calls became text messages as our lives busied. She was raising eight children on her own and re-establishing herself after finally leaving an abusive relationship. Every other year I would visit, and when I couldn’t be physically present, I sent supportive messages, care packages and invitations for her to visit me on tour.

After 15 years of visits dictated by holiday breaks and family reunions, I invited Tiffany to Florida. Tiffany had never been and was on a break from her on-again off-again relationship. I wanted to protect her. I wanted her to see what the world had to offer. She was the very best part of me. She gave me courage. She gave me reassurance. She gave me pep talks. She gave me compliments. Loving and celebrating others was natural for Tiffany. The least I could do was repay her generosity by giving her the space she needed to figure out who she wanted to be.

Through Tiffany’s turbulent relationships, and her absolute love for her children, I began to understand what love costs. When she met me in Miami, a place I traveled to for weekends and took for granted, her eyes welled up with tears.