I was nine-years-old and somewhere foreign in Alabama. I was with my parents at a family reunion where I knew all of two people. My parents had dragged me down there from my familiar and happy perch in suburban Wisconsin to an environment that I should have felt more connection to than I did. I wore Top-Siders with big, slouchy highlighter yellow socks and colorblocked shorts. My cousins were adorned in lacey Peter Pan collars under dowdy lavender dresses and thickly simple bangs. Conversations started and stopped like cars trying to make it down the Los Angeles 405 at 5:40pm and all I felt was boredom and a touch of the self-inflicted alienation that American girls tend to inflict upon themselves under the guise of "drama."
It was the final day of the long weekend and we were attending a banquet in a sparse recreation center that had been outfitted with a DJ and catering from a restaurant from Birmingham… an interesting combination of stale canapés for hors d’ouevres and soul food for the main course. I just wanted cake.
Kids were dancing with the abandon that comes with showing off for the friends and family you’ve been playing and competing with your whole life and I watched until those first unmistakable synthesizer notes began to play over the speakers. The DJ grabbed two of my cousins and then, inexplicably, came for me. He shoved us all up the steps to the stage where a microphone was waiting and then started the song over again.
Each day I live…
The three of us began to mumble into the silver ball.
I want to be… a day to give… the best of me.
I’m only one…. but not alone… my finest day is yet unkown…
We began to get a little bit louder and a little softer until
I rise and fall… yet through it all… this much remains
I WANT ONEEEEE MOMENT IN TIIIIMMMMEEE!
WHEN I’M MORE THAN I THOUGHT I COULD BEEEEEE!
WHEN ALLLLL OF MY DREAMS ARE A HEARRRRTBEAT AWAY!
AND THE ANSWERS ARE ALL UP TO ME!
Off-key, awkward and likely horrendous, we belted out that 1980s anthem for little black girls across the country as though anything we might ever have the desire to do… even eating that moist chocolate cake… depended on it.
That’s what Whitney did… and still does… for anyone who has jammed out to her cassette tapes. She brought us together. In the 1980s it was a group of little girls who had little in common or a group of best friends screaming “I Wanna Dance With Somebody” into their hairbrushes at a slumber party. This weekend it was a diverse group sitting on a porch after a dinner party who remembered every word of “The Greatest Love of All.” Or it was a mother and father letting their five-year-old watch the singing of the national anthem from the Super Bowl XXV. It’s as if Whitney’s voice is a cure loneliness, except her own soul seemed immune to its effects.
This weekend when a hotel maid found Houston dead in a hotel room bathtub we were all snapped back to a reminder of something pure. A voice that is celebrated for it’s raw talent, not the spectacles the owner of that voice produced. Many of us were rewound back to our childhood days of badly trying to emulate that voice, of which there will never be an imitation. As speculation and investigation continue in the aftermath of the singer’s death, let’s hold on to our warm flashes of the past and remember her for how she made us feel, which was that each of us had somewhere that we belonged.