Quinn Smith of Fort Lauderdale, was 21 years old when her mother died of AIDS. Her daughter, Tai’Quay Smith, was two years old at the time.
“It was my first year in the army, a life-changing experience in itself,” Smith said. “My mother was strung out on drugs and…I had to bury her with no help.”
Smith’s father was in and out of prison and drug rehabilitation, leaving her to live with her father’s parents.
“My grandparents did the best for us, they made sure we knew that we were loved,” Smith said. “My grandparents were the only examples of family I had besides the Cosby show.”
Her family experience, however, was far from the suburban dream of the Huxtable family portrayed on TV. Smith’s grandparents finally divorced after years of physical and verbal abuse toward each other. It was then that Smith realized she had witnessed a poor example of love and how it should be while growing up.
Smith enlisted in the U.S. military, where she met Tai’Quay’s father. She identified herself as a homosexual, but decided to try a relationship with a man.
“There was no real relationship between the two of us, more like a slip-up,” Smith said. “I call it like I see it.”
While Tai’Quay was still a newborn, her father was shipped to Korea and Smith cut off all contact with him. It wasn’t until Father’s Day, when Tai’Quay was seven years old, that she heard from her father’s mother that he had been murdered at his home in Mobile, Ala. After returning from the military, Smith was determined to find love.
After years of being on her own, Smith’s 12-year-old daughter moved in with her and changed her world. Before Tai’Quay became a part of her life, Smith made her partners her priority; after her daughter’s arrival, she was often forced to choose between her lover and her only child. This conflict often caused a bitter relationship to form between Tai’Quay and her mother.
“She was only a child, and it was my responsibility as a parent to keep her in that place,” Smith said. “I had to remind her to respect adults and to be seen, not to be heard.”
Smith’s heart was broken by a woman whom she thought was her soul mate and cried every day for weeks. Her daughter was a witness to her downfall, which Smith said was her final wake up call.
“[Tai’Quay] said ‘Mommy, you have to stop trying to force people to love you, I can’t see you like this,” Smith recalled.
Tai’Quay went to college to escape from Smith until her mother could learn to “love and forgive the people that hurt her.” That moment changed Smith’s perspective. She promised herself she would never again bring another woman into her daughter’s life that made her feel as if she was not the first priority. Smith is now 42; her entire life revolves around her daughter.
“I’m determined to make up for all of those years that I unknowingly made her bitter,” Smith said. “I have not done anything since that does not fit into me being available for her when she needs me.”
Although her heart has healed, Smith said her life lesson has been a long and meaningful one.
“I have learned how important self-respect and love of oneself is,” Smith said. “I am a strong woman and I have the love and support of the most important person in my life. No other approval is desired.”
This article is Part II of a two-part series chronicling Tai’Quay Smith’s unique relationship with her homosexual mother, Quinn Smith.