Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Camelot, in Gold

I really liked Whitney Houston back in the day, and like a lot of other people I screeched into my hairbrush regularly, pretending that I was hitting the notes just like she did (in reality, my singing abilities range more within what someone once brilliantly described as the "bottom twelve of the first twenty four American Idol finalists").

And then she died, and everyone was saddened by the loss, the waste of talent. And for our family, it got us thinking about New Jersey.

We were hardly BFFs with the Houston family, although my parents did fellowship at their Newark church from time to time, and my sister's friends claimed to have run into the pre-celebrity Whitney at various teen functions around the close cities of Newark and the Oranges (West Orange, South Orange, Orange, and our hometown, East Orange). To some extent, she was a bit of our homegirl. And her death was the tiniest chipping away from an ideal that has suffered the loss of great chunks already.

Every family has its Camelot... the time in the family that is looked back on as golden, shining, and the epitome of happy. For our family, that was our time in East Orange, and although many times a family only recognizes its Camelot after they have left it, we knew what we had in New Jersey. The shine of Special was rubbed all over us the entire time we lived there. It was the once in a lifetime convergence of family, friends, church and community. It was our pinnacle and the only place we ever collectively looked back on as home.

I could fill volumes with the whys: the special friendships, our sturdy little house, a beloved aunt merely blocks away. The walks to the park, the vibe of life in the shadow of New York City, the worn carpets of Newark International Airport where we played while we waited for Daddy to come home from a business trip. The corner grocery store with Babe Ruths for a quarter, the nuns in full habit across the street from our front porch. Each of us had a special person, a true best friend forever whose whole family was friends with our whole family. My parents had their strongest, most enduring relationships there. We learned how to be friends in New Jersey; we learned how to make and choose friends in New Jersey. It's hard not to associate all of these good things as being singularly and perfectly available in New Jersey.

My dad told me yesterday that the news had gotten him thinking about East Orange. Yesterday was my parent's wedding anniversary. I could relate. We all think about EO a lot lately; it doesn't take much to transport us there again.

So if you're ever in the area, with the shadows of New York tickling your car, you might find yourself sliding onto the Garden State Parkway. When you pass exit 144, somewhere nearby, in a wrinkle in time, is a little brown girl and her happy, exuberant family. In their shiny little kingdom. Golden. Unblemished.


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