Whitney Houston died last night.
I have no words. Not yet. But last night, Mother Justice sent this tweet out and its been rumbling around in my head ever since:
Whitney Houston isn’t the soundtrack to my womanhood. But she is the soundtrack to my girlhood, my wanting to be a woman, grown and in love, pink and frizzy-haired. She was me wanting to dance all night–except I wasn’t old enough to know what a dance club was. So she was me dancing in my living room.
She was me still naive enough to believe that the greatest love of all was the love you give yourself and that it is “easy to achieve.” Ha to that. Shit is hard as hell, but I didn’t know that then. And on Girl Scout field trips, we sang that song like our lives depended on it.
She was me watching my mother watch the Bodyguard. The plot twists confused me, but me and my mother bonded over how sexy Kevin Costner was and how beautiful and talented Whitney was. Whitney Houston was #NunezMomApproved–a positive image of black womanhood to be shared with her black & brown daughters.
By the time the Bodyguard came out, I was sharp enough to know that “I Will Always Love You” was not a happy song. And I was jaded enough to realize that, sad or not, Whitney made it sound TRIUMPHANT.
And my womanhood continued apace; with Whitney just one step ahead, an unintentional guide. Waiting to Exhale taught me that loving women more than men would piss of most of the people around you but could liberate you more than harm you. ”Count on Me” brought groups of girlfriends to tears and hugs every time it played. ”It’s Not Right, but It’s Okay” taught me that you can’t control everything in a relationship–sometimes you just have to let it go. If Whitney lent her voice or image to something, suddenly that thing seemed relevant (Prince of Egypt, Cinderella) even though I probably would never have tuned in otherwise.
The drugs, the Bobby, the reality TV show? I’m not gonna be one of those memorialists who shunts that stuff off into the ether because it doesn’t fit the memory I want to create. Nope. I felt for her as she went through it. I didn’t understand it, and I wasn’t always sympathetic. But I was older then, and I’d seen a few breakups, did some myself, saw my mother survive my father. I knew what love could do to a woman and what being with the wrong partner could do to a person and somehow I didn’t blame Whitney for what she was going through. I felt for her then. I feel for her now. And I hated Bobby a little bit as a result. Still do.
And when she returned, I was anxious and cautious but I celebrated. Her 2009 AMA performance of “I Didn’t Know My Own Strength” still makes me tear up. She was so elegant and so gracious and so present. And we NEVER see celebrities come back and never whole (#Peace to Lauryn Hill). Sure, her voice wasn’t what it was. But damn. After years and years of trash, that she was even able to get on that stage (mentally and physically) was a miracle in and of itself.
Names are being thrown around for a tribute: Mariah, Christina, J-Hud, Adele. I accept these. But no one touches Whitney for me. She was effortless.
Rest in peace.