I can't hear "Purple Rain" without remembering a darkened high school gym and the sweaty weight of a boy's 16 year-old hands resting on my 16 year-old ass.
Prince died this week. At 57, his life was unarguably short, and 57 is a number I can see from my windshield, just up ahead on the left of my next milestone birthday.
When we were in grade five, my best friend loved Prince with a burning purple passion. She was relentless in her efforts to convert me, but I was a reluctant participant. I wanted to listen to Duran Duran and my old Flying Lizards 45, but Kathleen would have none of it. And besides, her parents didn't yell like mine did and we were allowed inside there, and so by default it was her house, her rules.
But then we watched Purple Rain, and things were different after that. Although at 11 years-old I was too young to understand the adult intricacies of the plot, I knew this movie and this music meant something, something good for women, something that felt like bubbles in my pelvis. I couldn't tell you what exactly, because my child brain was naive and concerned mostly with puffy stickers with googly eyes and securing Cougar boots for the winter. What I did know - or rather, what I felt - was Prince speaking directly to a generation of girls. He was, in a not-so-subtle way, taking a hand in shaping future participation in our era's collective consciousness, all before I even knew what the fuck a collective consciousness was. Prince's music celebrated women and it celebrated life.
There will be no new music from Prince, but access to his catalogue is available on iTunes and in record stores, and on Spotify and Pandora and Youtube, and in cassette cases in musty garage lofts and basements. His music and movies and appearance will be digitally preserved on countless formats forever.
My little bird died this week; my budgie Sunny, who, to my knowledge, had no strong feelings for Prince one way or another. The two deaths exist separately outside of each other and with relatively little consequence to my own bigger picture. It was just a bird, people say. It does sound ridiculous to cry for the death of a bird; after all, it's small and helpless enough that I could kill it with my bare hands. But I didn't. I loved this tiny green bird who didn't do much except sing loudly when he heard my voice and fly in circles when I opened his cage. I think Sunny knew he was going to die because he spent the day prior to his death rocking back and forth on the floor of his cage. He didn't sing. I gave him peace and covered half of his cage with a towel for privacy and quiet. He knew; I knew. Birds don't show weakness until the very end, to avoid being left by their flock. This is their biological defense mechanism.
But these two deaths in a week - no matter how grand or how insignificant - has me thinking about the end. The BIG end. The end where everything is over, there are no more chapters, and nothing else will matter to you ever again.
Icons and stars and heroes and friends and family and even little birds die and decay, and we will too. Prince's death is news and I mourn the part I know - the music and the feelings it inspired in me and the memories of my life it ran beside. I will never be 11 or 16 again, and it is unlikely that I will dance in a school gym, and I have to be okay with that. I can't spend whatever time I have left mourning things I was privileged enough to experience. Isn't memory the sweetest human gift? I'd rather live my whole life on a small hill and remember the mediocrity than reach the summit of a mountain with no recall.
I spent some time at the hospital recently with an elderly loved one. We sat for hours, waiting in one room or another, being funnelled through the network of a large metropolitan hospital. While in the emergency department, the "code blue" bell was rung so many times I looked up the meaning on my phone. It's cardiac arrest. In eight hours there were so many code blue calls that I lost track.
My love asked me not to leave them. I didn't; I wouldn't. They slept, were seen and treated, and when the order for discharge came the wait for our ride to their home began. I know this won't be the last time I am here with her. Our days together are short. So I enjoy what is left for us, until she passes and I have only memories of her.
Because life is just a party and parties weren't meant to last.