We all have those moments burned into our brain when something tragic or significant happens. You know you'll recall the story forever, so you store it in your memory shelf like so many virtual snow globes until the inevitable question is presented.
Last week, one of these unfortunate events played out across America. Where were you when Prince died?
On April 24, my long-time friend, Doug, had invited me over for lunch to catch up. I was on the couch watching television when he came in holding his phone with his face frozen in disbelief and said, "This can't be right."
After knowing someone for over 20 years, you can quickly surmise by their tone and demeanor when all jokes are officially aside and something tragic has happened. Doug handed me the phone as it projected a TMZ story with the simple yet direful headline, "Prince, Dead at 57." I had a sense of deja vu; I was also with Doug when we found out Whitney Houston had died. But this time, one person instantly flashed in my mind: my sister Kimberly.
We all have that one artist who is almost synonymous with our personality, character, taste, style, voice and lives. Anyone who knows me will tell you that artist for me is the diva Patti LaBelle. But for Kim, that artist is unequivocally Prince. I am a fan of Prince because I grew up with his music, but for Kim, he was her muse, musical soul mate and spirit guide. Kim is known for her funky fashion sense, which she will proudly tell you is her homage to his Royal Purple-ness.
So upon hearing the news, I immediately sent a mutual text to Kim and our cousin Kathy, because I knew I would need backup for the inevitable emotional mess my sister would turn into upon hearing the tragic news of her musical muse's sudden and untimely death. I got a text back from my sister Kim, "I can't even breathe. I logged off from work early, pls [sic] pray for me. I am not right...."
It was worse than I thought.
I finished lunch and headed home to change for work. I checked in with Kathy, who was concerned that my sister was not answering the phone or responding to text. We agreed that we would keep checking on her as the first wave of shock and grief took hold.
Once I got to work, Prince tributes were in full swing on the radio and social media. Each song brought back specific memories, especially since I grew up in the '70s and '80s. One station played "Soft and Wet" and I was immediately transported to a house party during my childhood where I stood in awe amongst older cousins and relatives dancing and having a good time until I was caught and ushered back to my room with the other kids.
I spent the evening of the 24th reminiscing over moments in my life that involved Prince. I remember blasting "Erotic City" with the windows down on my Nissan Pulsar one magical night clubbing in Austin, Texas with friends. The movie Purple Rain came out in the summer of 1984 and became not only the soundtrack of that season but carried us right into a new year of college. There were dudes trying so hard to look like Prince while girls tried to emulate Vanity 6 that semester. You see, Purple Rain was not just about the music; it had a serious impact on our culture.
I called Kim on the day following Prince's death and she was still noticeably melancholy. Eventually, she softened and even laughed a bit while recalling how she and our cousin Lisa "discovered" Prince when they went to a record store to buy a Michael Jackson album. They happpened to see this other fine dude with a big afro on the cover of a record lying nearby and bought that album instead. They felt like they had beat the crowd when they heard "Soft and Wet" a few weeks later on the radio.
We both cracked up at a memory of when Kim said our mom burst into her room and yanked the cassette out of her player because she heard her listening to "Controversy." She had heard Prince begin to recite the Lord's Prayer and immediately wanted to know what kind of blasphemous devil music she was listening to.
The laughter did not last long, however, before the reality of her beloved musical icon and spiritual muse's passing hit home again. She shared in a kind of far away voice, "He just made it ok to be different." I knew eventually she would be alright, but losing someone who had literally created her life's playlist would take some time. For the time being, she needed to process, grieve, heal and take refuge under her own "Graffiti Bridge."