For Bobbi Kristina.


I hope there is a meadow and treetops without end where you are, the grasses beneath you so thick they catch and hold the voices calling out to you from your bedside. I hope you hear your mother, too, ululant on the wind. You are not alone; hear the voices. You are not alone; tell your demons. You are loved, even by us, the fickle, cruel-faced public. You are loved by the Maker you may be poised to meet. Wherever you are, girl, I hope you are climbing, and from an uppermost perch, I pray you can see clearly the truth of who you are.

We remember the girl you were, the woman we prayed you’d become — even if the becoming itself would’ve required a miracle. Instead, the miracle is that you’ve held out as long as you have. Instead, the miracle is that you still have time.

Over the years, we lamented your odds, raised as you were with parents whose wealth often waylaid their efforts to keep lucid and clean. We rooted for you in spite of them and rooted for them, in spite of themselves. We are still rooting.

But I also understand where you are: someplace distant and exacting. You are hanging from a limb that you are no longer gripping. The snag and the crack are conspiring. Soon that limb will turn you loose. There’s no telling where you will return. Perhaps you will be here, awake, surrounded. Your father weeping, your siblings sighing, your truest friends deeply relieved. Or you may open your eyes elsewhere, a flatline braying in the breeze.

I am unbiased. I believe you should float toward the sounds that bring you greater peace. I believe you should be where you feel you most belong.

I was 14 when you were born, the embodiment of your parents’ frenzied, fully public love. You were born under the glare and pop of flash bulbs, the light too harsh for your soft brown eyes. You were pulled toward center stage with pride, and you stood under the beam of your mother’s spotlight. But you were always timid there, waiting where she asked you to, unsure, but echoing the words you were told. It was clear that she wanted to build your confidence. It was also clear that you would’ve preferred those lessons to be meted out in the privacy of someplace sacred and silent.

I remember worrying, in those moments when it was most obvious that your parents were unwell. You were a family, laughing, traveling, spending. You were a family, unraveling. We all worried over you, some of us even voicing unkind predictions. Armchair clairvoyants that we we were, we saw your future forging itself with sorrow.

But this is not what any of us wanted for you. A tub, a tomb, like your mother’s. There are other ways to get back to her. There are other ways to get back at her. I wish you’d found the healthier ones. And maybe you may find them still.

If there is, in fact, a meadow, if there are towering trees and voices in the grass, if there, you can understand how much you are wanted, how imperative it is for you to be well, then where you are is where you should be. And when the bough breaks, may the arms into which you fall be loving, baptismal, and warm.

The Soul Wrestles Free.


The body houses all. Its organs are not capable to dividing the precious and vile. The skin cannot filter out flaws, cannot leave behind what is crystalline and expel what is already breaking. This flesh, this blood, these limbs, each space is stretched taut with the gore and the glory of our souls.

It betrays us, the body, with its strange aptitude for seeming unsullied, during the long years it often takes for signs of our ailing to reach its surface. And when the body is lithe and graceful, adorned in glittering raiment, smooth-skinned and diamond-eyed, capable of pushing otherworldly song through the chords in its throat, and constantly erupting with laughter, it is downright deceptive. It is a projector, casting aspersions on our concerns and flickering out a performance that fools us all. I am fine, it says. I have overcome all that’s ugly inside me. I am exactly what you hope that I’ll be.

The body is wrong. But we who do not live within it can’t accept that. Even when it turns on the soul, so damaged and tortured inside it, we say: I still see the woman of old. All she needs is a touch of rest, a heart-healthy diet, a better life partner. All she needs is the right producer, the right vocal coach, a 12-step refresher course. This delusion is easy, when the body is as beautiful and the voice as iconic as hers. There is a long way to wither, to fall.

The body works feverishly to convince itself–and by extension, us–that it will have as many chances as it needs to regenerate all that erodes.

It does not respect mortality like the soul does. It does not resign itself, first to the necessity of help, nor to the futility of seeking help simply because it’s expected. All the body wants is to go back, to be regarded as the gorgeous prewar house it was before the wreckage. It gathers what’s left of the gild on its throat, its slip of burnished skin (now so translucent, we cannot deny the damage below it), its unerring, courageous smile, and it prostrates itself before parties and makes valiant attempts to steal our breath with a note.

What it does not know is that the soul is bearing down and bringing her dignity out of her, pulling her love and her legacy, her impossible pain and fragility, and her marvelous, bottomless grace apart from this earthen casing that could scarcely ever contain it.

The soul has little need to hide what ails it and comprehends that when the body falls away, most of who she is will be in open view. It shies neither from adulation or assessment, unfurls itself for scrutiny, shifts its hips and shimmies, saying, Honey, if ever there were a case of the good overshadowing bad, it’s mine.

And she sails off like comet, shedding debris in all of her glory.