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Where do broken hearts go? Whitney Houston asked that very question in the midst of a career-high, in the ’80s when she secured her spot as a premier pop diva for her inimitable voice and beguiling spirit. Three decades later, on Feb. 11, 2012, I was asking myself the same when Whitney’s death was reported.
“Whitney Houston just died.” My friend’s shocking announcement at a weekend get-together sent me into a tailspin of disbelief that a woman so close to my heart growing up – and, at one point in my childhood, seemed so abundantly talented that she could defy death – was gone. I saw flashes of the kinship that I, and many gay people who admire their divas, felt in the moments that not only defined Whitney’s life but my own.
The drive home was harder. Songs from the legend’s heyday as a benchmark vocalist reminded me of good friends, my mother and just simply being a kid. And then they eerily took on a different life. “Bittersweet memories.” Yes, there are certainly those. “I’m realizing that you’re not coming back, and it finally hit me all at once.” That happened. “(If) the Lord asks me what I did with my life, I’ll say I spent it with you.” And she did.
I was an ’80s baby, and my mom’s sublime taste in music would naturally rub off on me. When “The Bodyguard,” Whitney’s film debut, came out in 1992, we saw it together (and we cried together). That scene where co-star Kevin Costner is watching Whitney in all her stunningness while singing “Run to You”? I had it on repeat, admiring her much like he does, once I got the VHS for Christmas.
I was so obsessed with Whitney’s signature song – and I’ll always love it – that I tussled with a cousin of mine to do it at a talent show, regularly held in my grandma’s basement for my family. She had the advantage: even my pre-puberty voice didn’t quite pass as a female. And my aunt made me do Michael Bolton instead. No fair.
A message to me on Facebook the other day reminded me of the incredible bond between a performer’s music and our lives. Though we don’t talk often, a neighborhood girlfriend who I grew up with reached out to me. She remembered hanging in my bedroom and watching “I Wanna Dance with Somebody,” excited whenever it’d come on VH1.
That was the case with a lot of Whitney’s music. Hers gave me a tingly feeling that few performers could. Many of them were hits, of course, but to me they were more than just chart-topping singles. “Greatest Love of All” taught me to follow my own heart and ultimately gave me the courage to come out; “When You Believe,” her duet with Mariah Carey, did something similar – it was the lifeline I needed during that time.
Whitney, despite her challenges in the years before her death, had a way of evoking raw emotion and leaving an everlasting impression on the music business with her natural talent. I felt every note, every diva pause and every smile. And because of that, I grieve not only the loss of Whitney Houston, but the loss of her life as it relates to my own. Our own.