Michelle Renae Elliott Cox

michelleFor most people doing hair is something they knew they always wanted to do. For me that calling came much later. Making other people feel beautiful with your own two hands, some consider it a job, and I consider it a privilege.

The road to where I am at this point in my life wasn’t an easy one. Had it not been for my grandmother I know I wouldn’t be the person I am today. In the end God knew what I could handle, and he gave me the option to choose if those experiences would turn me into either a victim, or a survivor. A victim will let their life define them, never improving their circumstances, living the same life day in and day out, never learning, and never growing. A survivor will take the hand their dealt, learn from the experience, grow and enrich the lives of others with the knowledge they’ve gained from it. That said as you read my story, and learn about who I am I ask you don’t look down at me, and don’t feel pity. I got to where I am today because of what I’ve been through…..                    

I was born in a time before computers, a time when a word was a person’s bond. Born in Lansing General Hospital I spent the first 12 years of my life in a town called Portland in Michigan. I am the oldest of 3 children and the only daughter to Gilbert and Wilma. From the earliest moments of my childhood I remember feeling invisible to everyone but my grandma. During the day I was sequestered in my parents fenced in back yard, forced to watch my brothers laugh and play with the neighbor kids. I always sat wondering why I wasn’t able to join them. On days it was warm I was outside, until bed, my parents Chihuahua’s were my ONLY companions. Constant quiet and being alone is a sad way to live. You argue with yourself just to get the mental stimulation that you don’t get from socializing with other people. To this day I can’t remember being told ‘I love you,’ ‘I’m proud of you’ or ‘Good job’ by my parents as a child. My saving grace and the one person I knew who loved me unconditionally was my grandmother.
 
I thank God to this day that I had my grandma. It was my grandma that taught me how to read. She had an old wooden porch swing and we would read the King James Version of the Bible together. She was a great cook, and on occasion we would go to McDonalds and get fish sandwiches together. To this day if you want to bring out the kid in me bring out the Cool Whip; grandma used it on almost every desert she made. It’s amazing how when someone passes from our lives with such significance how the little things are what become important. I remember the day I found some old records laying around and a record player (you don’t see those anymore). The records were my mother’s from when she was a kid. Grandma was happy minding her business until I played ‘King of the Road’ by Roger Miller. She HATED that song with every fiber of her being, but I liked the reaction so I would play it over and over again! She was a God fearing Christian women who openly expressed her love for me, and gave me the much needed affection I needed growing up. I was lucky enough to see my grandma once or twice a week.    
 
The only time I was able to interact with anyone other than my grandmother was when my mother would drag to the doctor. I was her lab rat in, her human pin cushion. Looking back I know it wasn’t me that had the problem, but that my mother who has what I believe is Munchausen (Munchausen syndrome by proxy is a rare and lethal form of child abuse in which a parent, usually the mother, causes her own child to become sick to get attention for herself). I was made to endure neurologists, get EEG’s, and spend days without end in hospitals. It was one test after another and one medication after another. To this day I don’t go to the doctor unless I have to and I sure as hell don’t care for hospitals.
From my earliest memory of childhood all I can remember is being made to take pills, and not just a few, they would fill the entire palm of your hand. The medications were for seizures, a condition I don’t have now and never did. As the years progressed I would miss more and more school. The longer the medications continued the more I slept, becoming a prisoner in my own body. Because of the school I missed when one school system would catch I was transferred to another. The transfers were so frequent I never made friends, and as time went on I gave up trying, knowing I wouldn’t stay in that school long anyway. I don’t know if my parents secretly wanted all boys, because other than baby pictures I’ve destroyed almost all of them. My hair, clothes, I looked the part from head to toe, and because of that I was constantly taunted and picked on by my peers. Using public restrooms was a constant struggle because I was always told I couldn’t read and that I was in the wrong restroom. Kids would shut lights out and leave me in the restrooms alone, picking on me because I didn’t act like they did. Without having regular human interaction I found myself talking to the dogs like they were my human companions. In the winter I was secluded to my bedroom upstairs. I learned I had no one to rely on but myself, and that my own thoughts and feelings had no value. I grew more depressed and withdrawn.
By the age of 12 I had missed roughly half the school year, slept most of the day, and lost almost all of my hair (what I did have baby barrettes didn’t hold). At that point I was 2 years behind my peers and Ionia County took me for educational neglect. The state allowed my parents to keep my brothers Mathew and Michael. I loved my family, but being unable to see my grandmother was torture.     
I was taken to the home of Mary in Muir Michigan. Her house was huge, square and made entirely of brick. It’s only heat source was a fire place, leaving the upstairs cold. In the winter I remember being able to see my breath, because I was in bedroom in the far back. I remember the transition being hard, going from being on my own almost constantly to being around someone from the time I got up to the time I went to bed.
I remember one particular foster child, his name was Shawn, and we called him Shawn D. He was mentally impaired, with the mind of a 6, maybe 7 year old. He went to a special school, and his parents never came to ever visit. He too was forgotten by his family, and was invisible. One evening shortly after I arrived I was sitting in the living room watching television. I remember Shawn falling to the floor with a loud ‘thug’ that vibrated the house where we all sat. His arms and legs began moving around and thrashing all over. It was then I realized what a seizure really was, and in the back of my mind I began questioning if my mother was trying to help me, or kill me with all the medications.
I remember what happened during Shawn’s seizures like it was yesterday, in fact I later reported it. Mary and her adopted son Tim would take Shawn under each underarm, and drag him kicking and flailing across the floor and into the bathroom. From there Shawn was forced upright, clothes on in a shower of nothing but cold water. The cold shower would continue until Shawn ‘woke up’ from his seizure. The whole house knew when he did, because the screams he let off would make the hairs on your body stand on end. I argued what was going on was cruel, I tried to stop it, and I was told the showers were Shawn’s punishment. Shawn’s punishment was the same for every seizure.   
                    
For the first time in my life I was finally taken off the medication. My hair was returning, and I was able to grow it for the first time. I past 6 grade in 6 short weeks, but always remained a year behind my peers. Things seemed like they were going to improve, at least that was what I was hoping for.
The only child I seemed to have a major issue with was a teenager by the name of Kurt. Kurt would touch, bully and harass me on a regular basis. Finally in August while we were off school for the summer Kurt tried to cop another feel and I was fed up. I was sick of the taunting’s, being slapped around, and being told what to do, so I slapped him across the face. Just before my hand made contact Mary came out. She sent both of us upstairs, without any adult supervision. The rest of the house was eating lunch: sandwiches and chips.
It didn’t take long for Kurt to make his way to the back part of the house and into my room. Once there he threw me on the bed, tore my pants off, spread my legs open, clamped my hands above my head, covered my mouth and took my innocence with him. I remember screaming for my father to save me, and take me home, those cries were never heard. I remember feeling so dirty after, and so low of myself. Had I not lost control, and not slapped Kurt…
Within days I had to attend therapy, something I had to do from the time I was taken from my parents. I told the therapist everything thinking he could help me, but instead he failed me miserably. He never reported the rape to the state of Michigan, instead he only told Mary. Mary in turn threatened that I would never see my parents again unless went back to the therapist saying I had lied about everything. I did what I was told and never seen that therapist again. As my punishment for coming forward I was made to write 1000 sentences about how Kurt never touched me, how I’d lied and how I was wrong. I had to sit on a concrete slab covered with linoleum unable to do anything until those sentences were done and counted. While I was writing the sentences Mary was switching bedrooms. I went from the upper back bedroom to directly across the hall from Kurt’s.
I tried as best I could to sleep with one eye open. I would sleep under the covers at the foot of the bed curled in the fetal position. My thought was that under the covers Kurt wouldn’t be able to see me. I found the rhythm and sound of my own breaths and heartbeat comforting.
School eventually started back up again. Mary was also getting more and more visits from her sister who lived in the thumb, in a town called Caro. As time progressed my parents went on with their lives with my brothers, and forgot that I even existed. After several months I remember coming home from school and seeing my mother sitting in another room with my social worker. I remember feeling excited, and my heart racing thinking I was going to be able to go home. Instead as I eavesdropped around the corner I distinctly heard my mother say ‘She’s my daughter. I don’t love her anymore, she’s nothing but a burden and I want to give her up for adoption.’ My heart sank, and I wanted to die right there in the place I stood.
My parents gave me up for adoption and terminated their rights to me 2 weeks before Christmas. I remember getting the call that they had signed the court papers no longer wanting me to be their daughter. What stung even harder was that my parents kept and raised my brothers. I still to this day wonder why I was the only child chosen. As each day passed I never forgot my grandmother, but I knew it would be years before I would see her again. I would pray almost daily that God would allow my grandma and me to see each other one more time.  
On July 25th, 1985 I was adopted by Sheri and Dave, Mary’s sister from Caro. I believe this tactic was a way of ensuring I continued to keep my mouth shut. I knew I wasn’t adopted out of love and at this point I began to feel intense rage and anger because everyone that should have loved and protected me up to this point had failed me miserably. Thinking I had no self-worth I began to focus on people that made me feel bad about myself, because that was how I was programmed, and what I was used to. For years I picked men that treated me horribly, that had addictions and mental disorders thinking that if I loved them enough that they would change.
On almost a daily occurrence Sheri would tell me that my parents gave me up because I wasn’t born a boy, that they didn’t love me, and that I was nothing but a burden. I found myself getting more and more withdrawn, until I secluded myself to my bedroom most of the time. At the age of 17 I ran away and never turned back.
I got pregnant during my senior year of high school, but I still graduated. It was while I was pregnant that I was finally able to see my grandmother again. I was with my child’s father, my then boyfriend John when I went to see her. I think my grandmother could sense my boyfriend wasn’t right for me, because she looked right at him, pointed her finger and said ‘that’s my Shelly. You be sure to make her happy.’ That was one of the last things I heard my grandma ever say.
As the months progressed I could see my grandma was right about John. He left for days at a time, came home drunk and was both verbally and physically abusive. The closer I got to my daughter being born the more I got excited. My child would be my grandma’s first great grandchild, and I couldn’t wait to share that with her. Unfortunately in early October my grandma went into the hospital. The hospital discovered she had colon cancer, and on October 3rd, 1991 she passed away. Her first great granddaughter came into the world 8 days later, (Brittany Jean Renae, who was born on Oct 11th, 1991). Because I had no sense of direction, no license and no car I wasn’t able to be there for my grandma when she took her last breath. 
8 days after Brittany was born I had relatives coming to see her for the first time. A few hours before John came home drunk. He forced himself on me, his breath reeking from the beer and other alcohol he had consumed. As he penetrated he ripped every stitch I had from giving birth. Because of how the assault with Kurt was handled, I chose not to report the rape with John.
John and I made for about a year and a half. However John’s outbursts, rage fits and physical assaults were becoming more frequent. My first realization came when Brittany starting locking the doors after her father left. At one point John came home from another drunken binge and kicked the door in, breaking the frame. That was my first sign that even if it wasn’t for me, my daughter deserved better.   
I remember one day John and I got into it in the kitchen. The fight escalated and John hit me and pulled my hair. To protect myself I hit back, and after I threw the blow I stood in shock thinking to myself I was no better than he was. I knew if I stayed the violence would get worse, and I could no longer live in denial. It was time to take the necessary steps to leave.     
Being that I was a certified nurse aid I advertised caring for the disabled in their home. I wanted to gain my independence without the threat of having John discover what I was up to. It was then that Sandy answered one of my ads and I began taking care of her a few days a week. Sandy had a nephew named Garry who was a truck driver. One day Garry came home and found his then wife sleeping with someone else. Sandy suggested that Garry talk to me and one night she made a 3 way call. Garry and I are still together to this day.
After Garry and I had our second daughter Mickayla I began having severe pains on my left side. An ultra sound revealed an ovarian cyst. It was then that I met an obgyn by the name of Erica Canales. Not only did Dr. Canales remove the ovary she gave me my life back. For years I had been disfigured after the assault from Brittany’s father. Every time I looked at myself I was reminded of the traumatic event. It was Dr. Canales that repaired the damage by preforming a labiaplasty the same day I had the ovary surgery. My life began a new on 3/24/06.
Garry and I went through a hard time for a while. In the end we lost our home, and almost everything we owned. With all the stress and being anemic I lost roughly half my hair. Not being able to go out in public I began buying wigs. I felt compelled to design each wig that I purchased. Eventually I wasn’t buying hair because I needed it; I was buying it so I could design it. When I was bored or wanted an upgrade I would do one of two things – I would either resell it, or donate to someone else with hair loss. It was then that the ‘Angel Network’ was born. To me when we lose a loved one those people never leave us, they just change their ‘job title’ and become our guardian angels. The physical body is merely a capsule, but the spirit or entity of a person never dies. I believe our loved ones continue to watch over and protect us, even though they are no longer physically with us. In my heart my grandma will always be guardian ‘Angel.’ The ‘Network’ is what would be created by spreading the positive energy, giving back and helping our fellow man, instead of: condemning, judging and chastising them. My hope was that by paying it forward that other good deeds from the receivers of the wigs would follow. Unfortunately since becoming a student the donations have been put on hold until I graduate and I get myself re-established.
The more I began working with wigs and rehabilitating them the more I wanted to do, like an addict I couldn’t get enough. Those that bought my units were taking notice, because my used wigs were better than they were buying new. More than one client suggested I go to school for cosmetology. I started my training at Paul Mitchell the School Great Lakes on July 9th, 2013. I couldn’t be happier.
In Sept, just before entering the floor at Paul Mitchell I got the call while at school that my father was in hospice. Although I’d tried off and on over to have a relationship with my birth parents I was estranged from both at that point, I found it too emotionally draining. When I got the call I didn’t recognize the number, and had to Google it. Knowing I would need closure I reluctantly agreed to see him. What I didn’t know was it would begin a healing process that I desperately needed for a very long time.  
As Garry and I drove down to Perrinton MI my mind began to run about what to except. I was told my father may not recognize me so I was trying to emotionally prepare for it. When Garry and I walked in I was shocked when my father announced with excitement ‘Michelle’s here. Michelle’s here.’ The strength of his voice unfortunately didn’t match how weak and frail his body looked. He was pale, pasty looking, his face was sunk in and he was a shell of a man now around 70-80 pounds, when he used to be over 200. His ankles were the size of my wrist, and looked like they could snap like a twig with any amount of pressure. He looked at directly at me and said “It’s been what a little over 2 years since I’ve seen you?” at which point I confirmed, while holding back the tears. “I’ve thought of you every day since” he said followed by “I love you.” My father and I had about an hour before he started talking about chickens, farming and other gibberish, not making sense. I showed him pictures of his grand daughters and how much they had grown and I kissed him on his forehead repeatedly and told him I loved him and that I forgave him. No matter what my father did to me I never wanted him to suffer. It was then that I found all the anger I held in all those years turning into compassion, and from compassion to love. I felt bad for my father as he lay there, and even though he may not have been there for me I didn’t want to do the same to him. He held my hand that night until he couldn’t and he learned that he was a great grandfather to an awesome great-grandson named Riley, who he would never meet. With each picture I showed him of his grandkids, and Riley he would blow the phone a kiss as if saying goodbye and as he said ‘I love you’ to the phone. I left a shell of myself that night. It would be the last night I would have any type of conversation with my father before his passing. I knew when I walked out my father’s door I would never speak to him again, and that he would never wake up. 
Garry and I went down one more time before my father’s funeral. Knowing that hearing is the last sense to go I took my radio and my headset. I had Brittany with me this time. When I had a private moment with my father I played the song that I dedicated to my grandmother upon her passing ‘Holes in the Floor of Heaven’ by Steve Wariner. I put the headphone by his ear and told him this song reminds me of grandma, and from this point forward that I will think of him to. I also played ‘If Today Was Your Last Day’ by Nickleback. I found some of the lyrics from the song spoke volumes to what I was feeling, especially these few lines from the song: 
What’s worth the price is always worth the fight

Every second counts ’cause there’s no second try

So live like you’re never living twice

And

If today was your last day

Would you make your mark by mending a broken heart?

You know it’s never too late to shoot for the stars

So do whatever it takes

‘Cause you can’t rewind a moment in this life

Let nothing stand in your way

‘Cause the hands of time are never on your side
I kissed my father one last time on the forehead, told him I loved him, forgave him and that he needed to go home and follow light. I told my father his mother, father and brother who all were waiting for him. My father Gilbert Dee Elliott passed away on Sept 16th, 2013. I wear a pendant with my father’s ashes to school with me every day since his funeral. To me although my father never took the time to get to know the incredible person I’ve become to be while he was alive, he is there with me with every MPA and every client who’s hair I touch.                        
             
The staff and environment at Paul Mitchell the school is family oriented. I desperately needed that in my life because it had always been missing. The owner Tina Black and her daughter Brianna are wonderful people, I love, respect, and admire them. I’ve probably learned as much about myself as I did in hair since I started. For years I shut all men out to protect myself. The problem is that Paul Mitchell has one male instructor, named Mario. For months I would walk around and literally said nothing to him. On one hand I knew I had to look like a stuck up bitch for not interacting with him, on another I didn’t know how, and I didn’t want to take 10 steps forward only to move 12 steps back. So I started, in baby steps and challenged myself to talk to him when I knew there were other people around. The more I talked to him the more I realized that I was judging every man the same way because of a few bad ones. I can now say that I look up to and respect Mario. Whether or not he realizes it he taught me that not all men are bad.
Garry and I have three beautiful, healthy and smart girls. Brittany and I are more alike the older she gets, and she shares my strong sense of independence and stubborn streak. Brittany is also a proud parent to my first grandchild, Riley who is now 2 years old. Angelica, now 18 is attending MSU James Madison Law School and doing well. She has learned hairdressers do more than just play with hair all day after experimenting with a no lye relaxer on her fine textured hair over my spiral perm! Mickayla our baby is a sophomore in high school and an honor roll student. As for me: My goal isn’t just to work on clients, I want to design wigs and help those suffering from hair loss and cancer. It’s my way of having something positive come from my grandmothers passing.
As a parent I couldn’t be more proud, and I still have to laugh at the irony in the fact that although my parents favored all boys that I ended up with an all-girl household. For years I wondered why life gave me so many lemons, but looking back I wouldn’t have it any other way. From my experiences comes the ability to relate to anyone, and if it weren’t for life’s curve balls and challenges we would never learn to appreciate its good moments. Without change in life there is no change (whether it’s physical or mental). If you take nothing else from reading this remember: It’s not a story of pity, but a story of strength. As for me, I don’t walk alone; I now have two companions: my grandmother and my father.

Michelle Renae Elliott Cox