A chance encounter with the late Whitney Houston and daughter, Bobbi Kristina, inspires the writer to reflect on the tragic diva's all-consuming hunger.
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She was impossibly thin, not glamorous, but gaunt. Scary skinny. She took a seat by Donny McClurkin in the VIP section of the conference. The woman wore a white tank top, well worn jeans, and an improbable sun visor pressed down on her undone hair—not exactly standard attire for a conservative Christian conference. A ‘tween-age girl, heavier than the wispy woman, held her hand and clung to her. They took their seats in front of me, second row to my third. I didn’t belong in the VIP section—I was a ghostwriter. I thought the three of us must have been charity cases of gospel singer, CeCe Winans. But wait, no, she wasn’t. That woman in the visor was Whitney Houston.
I didn’t recognize her because she didn’t look like Whitney Houston, but the girl was certainly Bobbi Kristina, and now CeCe was greeting her friend from up on the stage, and the audience was clapping for the superstar. I was stunned—I’d seen addicts who’d hit rock bottom looking just like her. And yet, I didn’t expect to see Whitney appear so ravaged.
Now CeCe was singing another song, and Whitney settled into her seat. She leaned over to the woman next to her and said she’d just gotten off of a plane and was starved.
I’m fat. I always have food in my purse. I happened to have a candy bar and, as God was my witness, I was not going to let Whitney go hungry.
I leaned in and stage-whispered to the superstar, “Whitney?”
Her head whipped around as if she wanted to say, How dare you speak to me you, ordinary human being.
I held out my offering. “You want a candy bar?”
“You heard me?”
I nodded. Of course I heard. I was right behind her, but I went along with this because she was Whitney Houston.
Now she laughed, a haughty, diva sound. “You heard me?” she said, as if I were the Angel of Snack Foods, but she still didn’t take the candy bar.
“It’s a Payday,” I said. Not even superstars can resist those.
Whitney snatched the candy bar out of my hand with a dismissive, “Thanks, baby!” Then proceeded to ignore me for the rest of the night.
I watched her eat it. She took the peanuts off one by one and popped them into her mouth. She did not offer any to Bobbi Kristina.
A little while later, CeCe asked us all to pray for Whitney, and we prayed hard that God would help her, that he would save her. Whitney reached her stick thin arms heavenward, as if she wanted that salvation. After the prayer, I leaned in one more time.
“We love you, Whitney,” I said. I remembered the black girl magic she made me feel before that was a thing, back when a hashtag was the pound sign, and she was a model in Seventeen, or singing “Saving All My Love For You” on rotation on MTV, or reminding me that learning to love myself is the greatest love of all. So much music. And the movies. So many gifts. Yes, we love you, Whitney, you are our shining, Black princess.
I wanted to blame Bobby Brown for her decline, but I knew he wasn’t at fault. He had his hungers, too, and there are only so many candy bars you can consume before you have to sit down at the table where the real feast is.
Later that night, I reflected on feeding Whitney, such a small gesture, but I hoped she knew I wasn’t the only one who heard her, who cared, and wanted to sate her cavernous hunger. I thought about her song “Didn’t We Almost Have It All,” and I became filled with sadness.
That was years ago. Whitney is gone now. So is Bobbi Kristina. They left here in the same, sad way. Bobby Brown had to make the decision to let his child go. I think about these lyrics: “A moment in the soul can last forever/comfort and keep us.” Bobby, by his own admission, still has a drinking problem. Perhaps he’s starving, too, for the brightness of how his star once shone, or the mountains of money he once made, or for Whitney, the love of his life, and his lost child, Bobbi Kris.
Love. Death. Hunger. Being filled. So many questions emerge as I reflect on the tragic life of this family. But, to borrow a lyric from one of her biggest songs, I can’t help but wonder: Didn’t Bobby, Whitney, and Bobbi Kristina, almost have it all?
They almost did.
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