Being an inner city kid means I was greeted with the death of my peers much sooner than any child should see it. We grew up being told to stay away from gangs and drugs in school but you can’t tell a person to unsee what they saw in school and outside of school. On my first day of Junior High, school let out and I walked home along with the rest of the after school exodus. I transferred in from a school in Brentwood to my home school because I didn’t want to have to keep riding a bus into a nicer neighborhood. I got to the Mcdonald’s on Sunset and Fountain, and right in the parking lot was where I saw someone get jumped into a gang. I was relatively sheltered. My sisters took a special interest in my friends. My parents made sure I was dropped off and picked up until I told them I wanted them to stop. I was generally a good kid until I was a rebellious and legally responsible adult. I didn’t skip school and if I did, I would ask for permission and because I did it so rarely, my requests were granted. There were a few people I knew and connected with in superficial friendships that died before they had the chance to go to a prom or finish high school.
I was blessed to have grown up with extended family. With heavy laden holiday tables and kisses that were wet and warm and hugs that hold you together come the loss that is part of a cyclical system of life. The day of my aunt’s funeral is a vacant loss of memory. At some point I snapped out of it. All I remember was dropping an orchid in a really deep hole because it was a plot dug at double depth to later accommodate my uncle. That afternoon the kids were home with us and I was in bed with my ex. At some point the kids got into the eggs and I had a dozen and a half broken and seeping underneath the fridge. I remember the ex had had enough of my depression and he needed to leave for a while and I was scraping dried eggs off of the floor and not understanding the profound loss I felt. There were other family members who have slipped beyond the veil into fading nostalgia and bittersweet memories. Each of them had given me so much love that I was so lost when it hit me I was left with memories.
When I was in high school and Selena died, I didn’t know of her music enough to fully mourn her loss. I got to know the sound of her voice posthumously and will still be moved to tears in singing, “Como La Flor,” and “El Toro Relajo,” even though I have no idea what that second song means. My spanish is limited to food and love. Two years of high school language and I only remember what I learned in kitchens with boyfriends and mothers that felt I needed to eat more.
We lost Aaliyah just before September 11 when our nation suffered the greatest loss in my memory. Tragedy is the tree of life our nation has been grafted on and I won’t say one series of losses is greater than any other. There is no pleasure in comparing the pain that marks us all. All of these losses were more than just saying goodbye to a talent. It was more than geeky fandom. It was releasing a part of our youth, our heritage, held together in melodies that spoke to our hearts when we couldn’t find the words. Mariah Carey, Toni Braxton and now Taylor Swift will take a huge part of me with them when they belt out that final swan song. It is in saying fare thee well to people that made us laugh and feel through acting while we set aside the emotions we felt to borrow theirs for a while that we honor their gifts and offer sacrifices of solemnity.
Driving down a street lined with Jacarandas in bloom, of course I thought of the artist formerly known as Prince. Like most of my generation, I grew up on the sound of his soul. There is a profound duty to those who are blessed with the emotions of loss we suffer. To lose someone means we were once gifted with the grace of their walk or the way they carried themselves in the face of their plight of existence. We are supposed to regret their parting, even if we haven’t heard their voice in years. We are meant to sing their songs and relive the heartache they walked us through. We owe them a moment to reflect and respect the feelings they helped us understand, or laugh through.
It feels natural to grieve the loss of a life we held so much expectation for and reliance on. What I’m also learning to mourn is the loss of a dream or an idea or a level of comfort. There is a loss and the loss helps me to celebrate the tremendous joy I feel in doing what feels empowering. It helps me to relax into the task of resting. It helps to expect that the valley I may be in has a peak that is coming where I can be more than I imagined.