On February 18, Denver serial rapist Brent J. Brents nearly beat 33-year-old Tiffany Engle to death. She was his last victim—and she is also my friend.
They came up with a new term while at the hospital. "Tiffi-isms" referred to a series of less-than-flattering, uninhibited episodes Tiffany had in the hospital. Tiffany feigned mortification at the retelling of a scene where she bribed people for ice chips by offering a flash of her assets. Tiffany doesn't remember it but seemed to enjoy the attention of her family, who recalled her justifying the bribes to her father by saying, "It's just skin, Dad."
During my hospital visits, I noticed the affection Tiffany has for her little brothers. She told me with a hint of pride that Andrew begins classes at her alma mater, Iowa State University, this fall. She also mentioned that she's been trying in vain to get her sister and her husband to make the move to Denver-faking horror at the idea they'd rather move to Kansas City. Tiffany also talked in grateful tones about how her stepmom was taking care of all the logistical matters for her while she was in the hospital-calling her apartment complex, paying her bills, double-checking her insurance policies. But it's the relationship Tiffany has with her dad that holds a special place in her heart.
Paul owns a small air-conditioning business in Sioux City-it's his job to keep others cool. Off-duty, his demeanor stayed cool even when The Denver Post printed a jailhouse interview with Brents and let his daughter's attacker wax crazy for paragraph after paragraph while she lay fighting for her life in a hospital bed. And he gets Tiffany-especially her independent nature. He says the only way to get her to do something you want her to do is to really explain it and then let it go. "I could pull the Dad Card for a while, but not anymore," he says. "Now I just have to say to myself, 'She's a garden, I'll try to plant a seed.'"
Within an hour of that early-morning phone call, Paul, Cheryl, and Andrew were driving west. They stopped in Omaha, where Paul's brother was waiting with a frequent-flyer ticket for Cheryl. Cari and Paul Matthew caught a flight out of Des Moines, Iowa. Tiffany's dad and brother Andrew drove the rest of the way to Denver, arriving at the hospital only a few hours after the rest of the family.
Tiffany was in the ICU when they arrived, her eyes bruised and shut. She spoke only one-syllable words here and there. She could squeeze her dad's hand if he asked. Fiber-optic pressure sensors and fluid drains stuck out of her head in every direction. She looked worse than her family expected, but it was really only after the neurosurgeons came to speak with Paul and Cheryl early that evening that they grasped the gravity of their daughter's situation.