Whitney and my mother are inexorably linked within my memory. They did not know each other. Or maybe they did in the way black women know each other quite well–a sort of underground communication through wormholes connecting history to history, time to time, separate lives lived with separate outcomes, separate burdens, but the familiarity of those burdens, those choices, those lives bridge the gap between two people: a pop star and a nurse.

Or perhaps music was the bridge. My mother loved Whitney: her voice, her flawless smile, her shoulder-shrugs in lieu of dance steps. I, on the other hand, was not a fan of Whitney; in the late 80s, hip-hop clutched my older brothers’ collective attention by the throat, and I watched them squirm, wondering what kind of music could make them spin on their backs or wear unlaced Adidas or argue for hours–hours–over who should claim the “best rapper” title. Whitney was a singer, and I desired the rhymes my brothers coveted, so I dismissed her as someone my mother loved; I pegged Whitney “uncool,” a label assigned due to her proximity to my mother, the most “uncool” woman I knew–know.


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