It's Sunday, and like many of us, I'm still not OK. For the past three days, I've woken with the heaviest of hearts, rummaging through social media remembrances and obituaries while revisiting classics, rare performances, ghostwrites, and B-sides. Ask a hundred people their favorite Prince song, and you'll get two hundred answers. Ask one thousand people their "Prince stories," and you'll get two million. Here's one.
I was in my mid-twenties, making my first trip to New York. It was only early fall, but the air was bold and brisk. I connected with an old friend who insisted on taking me out to her favorite nightclub, to show me her version of the city.
I was not hip. I was not cool. I was country. I was green. Still, I hopped in a cab and directed the driver toward the Manhattan address my friend had given me. Upon arriving at the door of this swank, dimly lit club, I realized I was overdressed. My beige wool turtleneck and I were out of place. I met my friend at the door anyway. The bouncer motioned us in. I felt foreign, and I looked it. I needed respite, so I sought the bathroom.
While waiting in line, I scanned the room, gill-packed with people who fit the most narrow standard of beauty. Everyone was strikingly tall and uncomfortably gorgeous. My eyes split throngs of stunners and landed on a barely lit back wall. Sitting on a couch and seemingly orchestrating this outlandish symphony was Prince. Supermodel Niki Taylor and BET's Ananda Lewis flanked him. A trio of bodyguards who looked a lot like The Revolution flanked them. My sweater had felt like an electric blanket, and now it felt like fire.
Eventually, Prince, his entourage, and the majority of partygoers migrated to the dance floor. Prince stationed himself on a tabletop, hovering above the crowd, directing us. I spent most of the evening watching him watch us. The details have faded, but I remember a lime-green jumpsuit and levitation, a laid-ass perm and a halo.
Eventually, I slunk through the body protectors, reached up, and gently tugged the hem of his neon garment. "Mr. Prince," I scream-whispered. "Mr. Prince!" He turned, threw an incriminating eye at his detail, and slid one of his slender shoulders in my direction. I mumbled something about loving his work, then poked my finger into my chest, and said, "The South's got a voice, and you gon' be hearing from me."
My heart in my throat, I bounced backward, shocked and satisfied with the charge I'd asserted in the majestic ear of Prince. The rest of that out-of-place evening, I danced so hard that sweat ballooned in the armpits of my turtleneck. Ever since, I've aimed to be a voice from the South that Prince would want to hear.
This article appeared in print with the headline "Mourning Papers"