Tina Grace

Part I: Born Too Free

by Larry Greco Harris

Tina Freeborn grew up trapped in a net of total freedom—an oxymoron maybe, but the sad truth. “Growing up,” says Tina, “my little sister and I were on our own. There was no food in the fridge. And around the beginning of the month when food stamp time would come, there might be some little ice creams and hamburger meat around, but what I didn’t know at the time was that the food stamp money would get traded for drugs.

We were hungry, we didn’t have a change of clothes, and the clothes we did have were always dirty. “Let me put it this way, our mom was either gone or locked behind some door—the bedroom, the bathroom.” But she would open it easily for men, many men—”boyfriends, uncles, you know what I mean?” Tina winks sarcastically as she describes this. So, by default, Tina became parent to both herself and her younger sister.

“One day Rose, who was four years younger than me, had to go to school to get her report card. My mom was supposed to come get it, but of course she wouldn’t. So I went to the school and asked for it. I was so offended that they wouldn’t give it to me, yet they would give it to my mom. I told them, ‘I am the caretaker, the one who handles these affairs in our business.’ I was only in fourth grade, but I was offended by these adults because I truly thought I was the adult here.”

Rose was sent to the playground and Tina was taken to the principal’s office to sit and wait, but when the staff turned away, Tina burst out of the office, ran through the playground, grabbed her sister and kept running. “I think I snatched the report card, too. “Screw these people!” I thought. It is not surprising that Tina, at nine, might have thought she was already an adult. Her mother did not treat her as a daughter, rather as an acquaintance to have fun with and often confide in. Tina was too young and too isolated from what might be called a normal childhood to even notice any of the more “traditional” families that lived outside of the dysfunctional net of her own.

“I did have a feeling that maybe I should have some clean clothes. I saw the kids at school. They wore different clothes every day. I thought, How come I don’t have different clothes; how come I wear the same dirty clothes every day?” When asked if there was anyone she could have turned to for help for such concerns, Tina said: “I wouldn’t have even thought to ask anyone. Besides, my mom would warn us not to tell anything to anybody because the police would take us away. She said that CPS would come get us because CPS’s whole goal in life was to tear our family apart. So we didn’t tell anybody anything.”

For three more years, Tina Freeborn, born far too free of guidance, trapped in a net of fear and ignorance, where drugs turn children into parents and parents into children, remained until, at 12 years old, “the one truly good adult in my life took me into his home”—a normal home.