During the summer between my fifth and sixth grade year I moved with my Mother, stepfather, and sister from Stony Brook, Long Island to Virginia Beach, Virginia. It was our 3rd move in 3 years. Divorce. As the new kid in a school of students that had spent 7 years together I had my work cut out for me. Early on I got beat up in P.E. behind the baseball field by Tom Horvath and Chris DeNunsio on the run that started out class everyday. I cried but never fought back. Back on the dodgeball court Ms. Peacock, our grim P.E. instructor on Thursdays, stopped class and made me stand up in front of everyone until someone fessed up as to why I was crying. I could’ve simply been having a bad day. Regardless I never tattled and have no idea why. Probably something or other about making a bad situation worse. We stood there for maybe five minutes before Jenny F. finally cried out Tom and Chris beat him up behind the baseball diamond Ms. Peacock, can we please play now. That was my introduction to Kingston Elementary. Things got better somehow. I made people laugh. One time I caught a dodgeball thrown by Jade, the only kid in sixth grade with an earring, which freed my entire team from jail. Little things added up and I settled in. Got to the point by the end of the year where Mrs. Bradshaw picked me and one other student to participate in what she called “something special” for our sixth grade graduation ceremony in June. It was a secret and we had to practice every day after class for weeks. I was thrilled because it was something nice sticking out from the pure shit the last few years had been. So as June drew close and my dad and freshly minted stepmother and grandparents and mother and sister and stepfather and all of my school sat in the audience and waited and patiently nodded and smiled through our graduation ceremony we stood backstage waiting to reveal our secret something special. And when the time came we all filed out and stood in a line across the stage and a series of pictures projected behind us started rolling as Whitney Houston’s Greatest Love of All played. And we stood there and signed the entire fucking song. A group of fifteen little kids. Dressed in lace and loafers. In broken sign language. Wildly gesticulating our little hearts out to Whitney. The biggest moment of my young life. Looking back, I’d place that experience somewhere between nightmare material and potential source of my social anxiety. But goddamn that song is beautiful.
My mother played the piano every day. Her hands were these boney things that floated across the keys. I took for 14 years but was never anything close to her on the keys. Never played anything proper like Brahms or Mozart, just hits from Whitney Houston, Whitney and of course the theme from Ice Castles. Somewhere between his third and fourth Gentleman Jack my stepfather would sit down next to her and they’d sing every song off of Whitney Houston, harmonizing and laughing and sounding every bit in love. He was a tall and smug man most of my life but those moments spent wailing Saving All My Love For You are what I hold onto and offer up to the rest of my family whenever his name is brought up to curse. Another casualty of divorce. The man taught me more about being unafraid to look funny when singing something you really really love than anyone else. Stole my first cigarette from him. Merit Light. Driving to basketball practice the first Persian Gulf war started on the radio and he put his hand on my leg and we sat in silence listening to it all. Sure I can feel his large hand around my throat or the sound of my mother locked in her room. I remember that too. Whitney was everywhere. Trouble and love and family and friends and all of it. Our everyday wars. The power to make it all better if only for five minutes.