By Guest Contributor Aurin Squire, cross-posted from Six Perfections
I was in the middle of chairing a meeting. We were at break when someone rushed in and interrupted our separate conversations.
Whitney Houston is dead.
I wanted to cry. The meeting went on as if on autopilot. I went through the agenda and don’t even remember what I said.
Dazed, I started talking. Too much. I was downright babbling in conversation with people. The news wasn’t penetrating. I wouldn’t allow it. A whipped a meringue coating. I spun with words, pontificated, quipped, and orchestrated several conversations somewhere above my head. I was looking down on the proceedings.
I didn’t know who to talk to about this because I didn’t even know what I should be feeling.
On the subway coming home a couple of teenagers were singing her songs into the train tunnel.
The words echo’ed as the wind of an incoming train blew through the station. The voices and whoosh of wind gave everything a ghostlike feel of spirits leaving on an exhale.
I found it grotesque at first. The teenage laughter seemed to mock the news. And then what was obscene became ephemeral. Secular music became gospel due to circumstance and location. They went through a Whitney playlist.
Didn’t we almost have it all …
I leaned my head against the 14th street sign on the green post as their voices were soon drowned out by the braking F-train.
Very few were talking. No jovial chatter and drunken banter when the doors opened. I wanted something loud, offensive, and distracting. I transferred at the next stop. I was hoping for loud banging buckets or a Black klezmer musician who some times take over the entire space with abstract atonal screeching that mimics careening trains.
There was one guitarist singing a folks song. It was a gentle lullaby and not the sort of thing you expect from New York street performers on a Saturday night in prime time.
The D train pulled up. Passengers weren’t crowding up to the doors. There was almost a fear of breaking the lullaby and frail atmosphere. People deferred and waited. The doors opened and there was hesitation. I stepped inside.
Inside the D-train a young Black guy in a shiny leather jacket had his feet up and taking up 4 seats. His headphones were on and his eyes were closed. He looked sick and dazed.
At another stop, another set of passengers deferred to me when the doors opened. I motioned for them to go in and they insisted that I go first. I staggered in and sat down.
I’m still processing, still reliving, and remembering.
What’s sad is that Whitney’s death was shocking but not surprising. What’s sad is that the news seemed overdue and inevitable. That’s what a Greek tragedy feels like.
I remember standing outside Boiler Room years ago. I had too much to drink and a patron was flirting with me. He was telling me how beautiful I was and how I looked like no one else in the bar. I didn’t know how to respond to this compliment. My mind thought of beauty and in a beer haze I started babbling about Whitney Houston. I told him about my favorite performance: “Why Does It Hurt So Bad.” I gave an aesthetic breakdown of the perfect performance. The way Whitney Houston manipulated and guided the pace. Her body language and delivery. That was beautiful. and in the midst of a meaningless MTV Movie Awards Show.
He nodded along, but I could tell he was pretending. I recognized that nodding. It was “I’ll agree with whatever you want if you like me back.” I wanted him to really understand so I began to further explain why the performance was perfect. He continued nodding like a bobble head and exclaiming “wow” and “so fascinating” as I attempted to break through to him. It wasn’t working. I excused myself, hopped on the subway, and went home.
I wanted him to understand what I couldn’t describe, what I still can’t. I wanted to transfer my love through words. But it’s something you have to feel. I can’t fully express how I feel because it is beyond syllables and sentences. It is a soulful sadness. Whitney, I miss you already.