Saying Goodbye

My cousin died at the age of 25.  I hadn’t seen him in years.  He’d always had health problems, including battling leukemia as a kid, but he still managed to be a little hell raiser.  His last Facebook post was of him talking about enjoying the fact that he had two jobs, and was hoping his hard work would pay off.

Even when you’re not close to people – I was frankly just the older, distant cousin in Josh’s life – losing someone so young tears away at you.  A void hangs where his future stories would have been created.  Death is always painful for the living, but carrying the burden of a young death takes the light out of you.  My stepmom said Josh didn’t suffer, and I guess that should be of some comfort.  I just can’t help but be sad for my aunt, who can only be heartbroken behind losing your youngest son.  I’m also sad for the little kid who seemed to always be in for the fight of his life. So little cuz, I wish you the peace this world couldn’t seem to offer you.  Rest in Paradise.

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You Should Probably Thank Sherie

She had this dirty blonde uncombed hair, and was wearing a plaid wool skirt and combat boots.  In August.  I wanted to be her friend.  I can’t remember how our friendship came about.  Most probably in the awkward ham-fisted way I begin most of my friendships: “You’re [enter desirable characteristic here].  Let’s hang out.”

At least once a week, that was her plea for me to grow an afro.  She was working on locking her hair, but would always tell me how she wished her hair could grow “up.”  (“Please?! Seriously! It would be awesome.  Come on *huge grin* do it for the white girl.”)  My refusal to let her live vicariously through my follicles was deemed selfish.

When she bought her first car (a 1976 Skyhawk), we ditched school perpetually (every class except English, and – oddly enough – Russian History).  Mushroom Records, Ted’s FrosTop, The Fly, and Taco Bell were the preferred destinations.  My senior year was the most tumultuous, since that was the year my mother’s health really began to decline.  My mornings and evenings were dedicated to setting up for nurses, cooking dinner, cleaning and church.  She worked not one, but two jobs on evenings and weekends.

I had plenty of friends who I would have considered “closer” at the time, but when I think of the best times of that year she was right there.  We’d trade stories loaded with events far too heavy for our adolescent selves to rightfully carry.  Climbing into that old Buick and blasting 90s alternative and punk was the only real opportunity we had to feel like normal 17 year-old girls.  Neither of us were terribly preoccupied with sex (though I was the only one of us who still had my v-card).  We just wanted to feel like kids.

In high school, you think your friends will always be there.  You’ve been young forever, so forever is the only concept you truly understand.   I saw her once after high school.  And that’s it.

It’s weird when people impact your life in such a way, then vanish.  I’ve searched for her here an there over the years, but no luck.  Not through high school friends or Facebook.  She’s just in the ether.  I like to think that I’m “okay” after Katrina, but when people just disappear, avoiding morbid thinking is hard.  So I try to think positively.  She’s married somewhere in the Midwest, to a big, strapping corn-fed husband and a couple of kids.  She’s still wearing combat boots and refusing to brush her hair.  Everyone has that thing they can’t bear losing.  My thing is hope.

When I moved here, I decided that finding a new stylist to relax my hair was my line in the expatriate sand.  I’d been toying with the idea of going natural for years.  As I looked in mirror and weighed my options, I thought, “Maybe Sherie was right.  An afro would be awesome.”  As the sections of shorn hair fell around my face, I couldn’t help but giggle and think about her.

Even now, when I’m choosing whether to go for ringlets or a blow out, I hear her voice in the background.  Come on.  Do it for the white girl.  On those days I reach for my pick and style the afro that you guys seem to love so much, thinking about my friend smiling the whole while.  I bet she loves Nebraska.

A Few Good Artists

“You don’t want the truth because deep down in places you don’t talk about at parties, you want me on that wall, you need me on that wall.”
– Col. Nathan Jessep “A Few Good Men”

“For those who never had to deal w/addiction, incarceration, depression, mental illness a/or a hard life, collect your cookie & STFU.”
Beauty Jackson

 

A tiny girl, who sounded, and ultimately looked, far beyond her years, lost her life.  People will have varying opinions about whether or not it was deserved.  There will be calloused people who will scoff at her lack of self-care, as though the loss of a 27 year old life for any reason is not an immeasurable tragedy.  People will play her songs in tribute, and remember how her words helped them through tough times of their own.  There will be a barrage of tweets, articles and blog posts, attempting to make sense of this senseless thing.

There have been so many “blue eyed soul” artists with a soulful affect, but something was not quite there.  There were far too many “soul parrots.”  When I first heard about her, I dismissed her as another one of those wanna be soul artists.  I was at a Mos Def concert.  Mos was late, so the DJ entertained us.  They played this song that was vaguely familiar, but I couldn’t place it.  My friend Kalia said, “You’re bobbing your head, but that’s the girl you were shit talking.  That’s Amy Winehouse.”  Even without seeing her body language, her voice was deep, rich,raw and, most of all, believable.  The girl who looked like a 60’s coffeehouse reject was WHOOPING.

She wasn’t like Joss Stone, who was fresh and bright eyed, and sang as though her voice was an off-handed blessing.  Amy sang what she lived from her toenails. When I discovered her addiction, in an odd way, it made her voice that much more realistic to me.  Far too often, artists who possess such great talent often draw from a place of great pain.  Even for average Joes, addiction consumes and overwhelms.  Combine that addiction with an overwhelming pressure to be great, and you’re considered among the lucky if you hit rock bottom and live to tell the tale.  If you’re not so lucky, you get to be Jimi Hendrix or Kurt Cobain…and now Amy Winehouse.

The consuming public is a thankless lot.  We demand greatness from artists, with little thought to where it originates.  The pain the write through and about doesn’t matter, as long as we are entertained.  When they start to fall apart, rather than looking at the pressures of fame – the pressures we applied – we blame them, look down on them, call them weak and treat their pain as grotesque performance art.*  As a stranger, I can’t force a drink or a needle into someone’s hand, but as consumers, we MUST acknowledge our culpability.  The people around those artists too, the opportunists and enablers – they should be called to the carpet as well.

Of course, she’s already been added to the “27 Club” – the group of great artists met their end at that almost cursed age.  Theories about why this happens abound.**  One thing, however, is certain:  27 is far too young to be chewed up and spit out by the world.  Beyond the music and beyond your enjoyment beats a human heart.  As my friend Feminista Jones put it, as people become more accessible via social media, we’ve become increasingly dispassionate, and just so damned selfish when it come to the needs and pain of others.  I don’t have an answer, outside of employing The Golden Rule.  What if it were your friend or family member being overtaken by addiction?  What if the addict was you? Would you want people to reconsider their disdain?  Only you know the true answer.  I hope your conscience is moved to treat people as you would have them treat you.

*I personally stopped reading Perez Hilton blog when it seemed he would not be satisfied until Britney Spears ended her life.  If memory serves, I remember him saying something remarkably close to “she should just kill herself and get it over with,” as though she were a used commodity, rather than a human being.

** I happen to give great weight to the phenomenon known as Saturn’s Return.