The youth-written stories in Represent give inspiration and information to teens in foster care while offering staff insight into those teens’ struggles.

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Laugh Now, Cry Later
Life Lessons From My Grandmother
Desmin Braxton

My grandmother was more like my best friend and a mother combined. She was a strong, independent black female who took care of all her grandkids, but particularly me and my four brothers. She played a big role because neither of my parents were there for me. My dad ran out of my life when I was a baby; I guess he wasn’t ready to handle the responsibilities of being a father. My mom had bad habits she still can’t let go of.

You can say they left me for dead. Therefore, I was forced into foster care when I was 11. But thank God my grandmother took me in. Since that day she’s been there for me. In my eyes, she was my mom.

No matter what mood I was in, she could make me laugh. Her laugh was contagious. Even if I tried to hold it in, I couldn’t. It was the same with everyone, not just me. My grandmother’s name was Coretha P. Braxton. Everyone in our family called her Coco. Her looks were bright and colorful like a summer day because she dressed in greens, reds, and blues. Her smile was priceless and her face was beautiful. She walked slowly like a cat, like she had no worries. She loved to show love, and we had similar personalities in that she was a people person. I also have her sense of humor and her ability to laugh and smile no matter what situation I’m in.

She was the sweetest person you’d ever meet. The only times she got tough were when she had to defend or discipline any of her five grandchildren.

All Love and Devotion

Her motto was, “Laugh now, cry later.” Basically it meant laugh through the tough times to help you get through, and then you can cry after they’re over. I remember a day when she used this approach with me. I was 10 years old.

I was at my cousin’s house and he and I were filled with energy, running around the house playing “Shoot the Boogey Man,” while our uncles smoked cigarettes and drank, reminiscing about the old days. But then my cousin and I ran through a doorway at the same time and we crashed because we couldn’t fit. I fell and my forehead hit the edge of a wall, spilling blood.

One uncle called my grandmother and she rushed over. In the cab on the way to the hospital, she held me in her arms. “Don’t you worry. Everything’s going to be alright,” she said. That made me stop crying, and not worry so much about the wound on my forehead.

Smiles and Stitches

When we got to the emergency room my grandmother made me feel comfortable while we were waiting.

“I told you to stay home. Now you look like a piñata busted wide open.” She was scolding but kidding with me too. Her joke made me laugh.

When it was time to see the doctor, my grandmother came with me to give me courage. After he unwrapped the cotton and saw the hole in the corner of my head he said one word: “Stitches.” At that age I didn’t know what stitches were, but it sounded painful.

“Don’t worry, I’m right here. This is going to be quick,” she said.

image by YC-Art Dept

Still, I started screaming and bawling, wiggling around on the table like a fish gasping for air. “It’s going to be OK. You gonna make it through this.” Hearing her voice as she held me made me forget about the pain.

I stopped yelling. When the doctor was done my grandmother took me to Burger King, my favorite fast food restaurant.

“Didn’t you learn your lesson now going out late, little bo-peep? And hollering like a little sissy so everyone in the waiting room can hear you?” she teased. Even after the terrible night I’d been through my grandmother still made me laugh.

Unconditional Love

Coco’s apartment is on a block on Creston Avenue in the Bronx that was corrupt with drugs and violence. When I was younger, me and my brothers were caught up in the Creston lifestyle. But my grandmother was there for us. When we were in trouble she’d go to court. She’d go to my parent-teacher conferences and take care of me when I was sick.

She was even there for me when I got locked up. I was 15, and it was wintertime. I was arrested for stealing a bunch of iPods and cash. I had to stay in a juvenile center for two days and my grandmother was worried about me. When I got home I gave her a big hug and kiss. She told me to switch out my clothes and take a shower. Then we talked. “You never have to steal. I’ll get you anything you want. Never take what’s not yours.” Then she made sure I got some real food in my belly.

Conversations with Coco

Though she did her best, my grandmother couldn’t always keep me on the right path. But her unwavering support really mattered to me.

In middle school, I got suspended for a week for cursing out the teacher. During that time my grandmother and I had a lot of time to talk. She wasn’t mad. But she did tell me to always listen and keep my mouth shut when a teacher is talking and to never be disrespectful to an adult.

Now that she’s gone it’s like I just have one lung and it’s harder to breathe. That’s how connected I am to her. Her advice was the best advice. I wouldn’t listen to my mom, but I listened to my grandmother. She also loved me unconditionally, whether I was good or bad. She knew I was good inside even if I did bad things. I miss my happy days with her and nothing really excites me as much now that’s she’s gone.

Sometimes I feel like her death was my fault and the stress I caused her rushed her into her grave.

I saw her two days before she died. She was getting transported between hospitals. I rode with her in the ambulance. But as soon as we got there I had to go to work so I couldn’t spend as much time with her as I wanted to. I told her I loved her dearly, and kissed her cheek.

Had I known it would be the last time I’d see her I would have stayed and cherished every moment until I was told to leave. Sometimes I feel lonely like I’m out in the world by myself without her. But I know one thing for certain: I was her favorite grandson. She made me feel like she loved more than anything.

If I could have said my last goodbye I would have said, “I love, you Mom. When the time is right I’ll see you again.”

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