Remembering Whitney Houston: Where do broken hearts go?

Whitney Houston died. The world lies in shock and sadness. But surprise? Not so much. I love an addict, and this makes me angry.

It’s always interesting to tell my brother’s story to strangers. A genetic predisposition to mental illness, childhood sexual abuse, and skewed family dynamics gave him a loaded gun, while a tender, wounded heart–sensitive to the point where it is unlike any I’ve seen before or since–pointed it at his head. People nod their heads sadly and sympathetically when I speak of him, never without tears in my eyes. They can see my love for him, like a heart, beating outside of my chest.

But when I get to the part where I share that he is a drug addict, faces change. Brows unfurrow and mouths curve down a little less, from frown to straight line. Though the facts have not changed, the story seems just a little less sad somehow.

But it’s not less sad to me, the sister who adores the bright and beautiful 23 year old boy whom she helped raise.

I’ve seen someone with an excess of natural artistic talent, a quick wit, and an infectious smile become a shell of his former self, a walking corpse. I’ve seen him lose 100 lbs and develop dark, bruise-like circles under his eyes–eyes that never quite seem to focus. I’ve seen him in recovery, struggling with his demons, like a cartoon character with an angel on one shoulder and a devil on the other. I’ve felt the nervous energy of someone whose every cell is screaming for a fix. I’ve held the hand of someone who begs for help, for an answer from the person who has always had the answers. And I’ve been the person who wants more than anything in the world to have that answer, but comes up empty.

I get angry when people simplify a very complicated situation and assume a position of moral superiority when discussing it. They might not even realize they are doing it, these well-meaning people with no dearth of advice and a strong propensity toward pep talks. But nothing feels worse than the assertion that my brother has chosen his path and now must walk it.

We all choose paths. That doesn’t mean that we don’t need help, or love, to get off of the path that turn out to be wrong for us.

Drug use is a choice (Point A), until it’s not (Point B). For some of us, the distance between those two points is a very short, very straight line.

— ∮∮∮ —

Whitney Houston died. But I guess you probably already know that. It seems that much of the world is upset and grieving. What much of the world is not, though, is surprised.

Just take to the rapidly moving zeitgeist that is twitter, for proof of that:

R I P whitney houston one more off my dealing list. She owed me for a ten bag 2.

Drugs killed the radio star.

R.I.P Whitney Houston – This’s maybe a sign to people who struggling with drug addiction.

She sung like an Angel but spent too much time in the company of the Devil – R.I.P. Whitney Houston

Cracks WACK Kids R.I.P Whitney Houston

(as sing to the tune of ‘I will always love you’) and Iiiiiiiiiiiiiieiii ain’t suprised of this neeeewiwews!

Looks like Osama bin Laden finally gets to fuck Whitney Houston.

Okay, the last one is funny only because I remember hearing about bin Laden’s obsession with Whitney and how he wanted to have Bobby Brown killed because of it. I chalked it up to the weirdness/wonderfulness of life, but for the record, he disapproved of all music. It was her beauty and smile that captivated him, according to author Kola Boof.

But Whitney Houston was obsession-worthy.

The woman won two Emmys, six Grammys, 30 Billboard Music Awards, and 22 American Music Awards. She sold over 170 million albums. She was a superstar. A powerhouse.

A human.

A human with a story, with a history of her own struggle with family dynamics and domestic abuse, along with the fight for recovery. A human with a family, who likely saw her shoulder angel and devil–as clearly as I see my brother’s–and felt helpless.

I’m afraid. Afraid of every phone call from the West Coast. Afraid of a lack of phone calls from the West Coast. Afraid that if something were to happen to my brother, it would devastate me. Afraid that if something were to happen to my brother, people would not be surprised.

Can we all just let down our walls, a little? Stop making ourselves feel safe and superior by dismissing people who choose to self-medicate in different ways than we do?1 Moral superiority comes from the fear that it could happen to you or someone you love. It happened to Whitney, it happened to my brother, it’s happened to a countless number of people and the ones who love them. It could happen to you. But fear is so much more human than smug righteousness.

Besides, you’ve no idea how short your line your line from Point A to Point B is, until you’ve walked it.

Lighting a candle for all of the broken hearts, today.

— ∮∮∮ —


  1. My way is Quarter Pounders. 


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The Checkout Girl

The Checkout Girl is Jennifer Lemons. She’s a storyteller, comedian, and musician. If you don’t see her sitting behind her laptop, check the streets of Richmond for a dark-haired girl with a big smile running very, very slowly.

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