I’ve never really put into words how much Whitney Houston meant to me, and it seems unnatural to not discuss the one year anniversary of her death today.
I’m currently watching The Bodyguard and crying. I watched the Whitney documentary from CBS earlier and bawled as well.
When Whitney’s death was announced last year, I can remember every last detail about it. It was a Sunday evening, and I was sitting at my computer desk in my dorm room, dangerously rocking on my rickety desk chair. E! was on, and I was attempting to do homework, although I wasn’t doing a very good job of getting anything accomplished. I was actually working on a poem for my poetry course, trying to base something on Denise Levertov’s “A Time Past.” I had nothing– nothing— until E! broke the news that Whitney had been found unconscious in her hotel bathroom, and then that she was dead. I remember calling my mom in disbelief, and being unreasonably close to tears. I couldn’t turn the television off, and I just watched the news unfold. Like the end of Whitney’s life, it was like watching a train wreck unfold.
When I was a little girl, it was hard for me to fall asleep at night. I don’t remember the exact details, but I do remember that my mom’s Whitney cassette tape somehow glued itself to the tape player in my bedroom. Whitney’s voice would often lull me to sleep, and even now, as a 23 year old woman, when I cannot sleep I listen to her melodious voice to drift away to a calmer state. Whitney was a large part of my childhood. Her music was the first cassette I ever owned, if you call jacking my mom’s cassette owning it, and I will always associate Whitney with my childhood.
Finding out Whitney was dead was heart-breaking to me. Although I had been coming to terms with the fact that my childhood was dead and I would soon be graduating college and approaching “the real world,” Whitney’s death almost seemed to be tangible evidence of this right of passage. I was numb with grief, and it really shook me that someone I didn’t even know, yet felt so connected to through her music, was dead. I felt a bit embarrassed about how much Whitney’s death left me grieving. As I watched the television glow with repetitive reports of her death, The Grammy’s, and the shock of her death felt around the world late into the night and then into the early morning hours, my tears turned to determination, and my heart felt compelled to write a poem about Whitney’s death.
I’ve always felt a bit of disdain, even disgust, towards poems written for a celebrity. I’ve felt they’re creepy and sort of unrealistic. It’s not like the celebrity you’re writing about is going to read your work. Yet, with Whitney’s death, it felt necessary to write about her. I didn’t want my poem to mention her name, but I wanted it to be her, subtly. Whitney’s story connected with me as a Jersey girl who knew the roads she had driven on, knew the need to start over, knew the desire to start fresh and surpass what you had once been. To me, that’s what Whitney was starting to do at the time of her death. Unfortunately for her, and the world, sometimes the demons from your past find their way back into your life.
Thank you for being such a large part of my childhood and life, Whitney. This one’s for you.
The wooden chair creaked beneath my bottom
where I was sitting as the television glowed in the background.
Somewhere, three thousand miles away, a few hours earlier,
your honey skin slipped down below the suds
as I hummed the melody to your voice
in the solace of my car
driving down the road you had driven so many times before
in your years of youth,
which is when your voice first discovered
that it had the potential of leaving the place you called home.
Those days are gone, and you’ve left again,
this time more permanently beneath the suds of a porcelain tub
hidden in the ornately decorated hotel room
where you laid down to rest
and cleanse your soul
and eradicate the demons
that everyone was waiting to return
as you timidly tried to rejuvenate your glory days
and melodic words
that had become a constant ritual
during my younger years.
Now, all that is left
are the memories:
your soulful melodies with lingering tears.