The Summer of 2001 Gave Me Pleasure, Pain and Aaliyah
The summer of 2001 was righteously memorable because I had just moved to Jersey City with my younger brother, and my mother and youngest brother came to visit, even though we were not really settled.
Earlier that spring, I was forced to move out of the apartment I shared with a former friend in Astoria, NY — who ended up hating my guts because I thought it was weird that she was obsessed with my eating habits.
I cursed her out and she threw my shit on the curb and tried to humiliate me, but I blamed the movie Single White Female for that inspiration.
Anyway, Jersey was fine. Actually, it wasn’t. Back in those days, if you lived in Jersey and admitted that you lived there — you were subject to a festival of jokes that made you regretful that you didn’t just bear the raunchiness of certain parts of the Bronx — just so you could avoid feeling like you feel when the PATH train sweeps you away.
Living with my brother was nice. Actually it was quite revealing. I discovered how he much he valued clean spaces. He found out that I wasn’t that crazed about overly-scrubbed environments and also that I was actually a pretty good cook.
I was young and restless in two cities that were frustratingly close together and I shuttled back and forth to accommodate my work and personal life. I was dating an awesome guy who irritated me because he was so awesome, and I knew that I was too damn young and lame to appreciate him. I also hated that I knew that when I was much older and single, I would wish to God that I hadn’t been so lame and careless with a guy that I absolutely deserved.
Kate Bush helped a little and so did Alicia Keys. No Doubt stepped in occasionally — and I betrayed my emotions with Jennifer Lopez while swooning at Enrique Iglesias. I even allowed Enya to sail me away when the need for an escape that wouldn’t bring me back — overwhelmed the desperation that made me fee devalued,
And yet I felt empty, helplessly young and scarily detached from the ones that couldn’t see me.
I forgot to mention that my brother also had very good taste in music. He brought me Jay Z and Mos Def and I returned the favor by thanking him.
Then, he invited me to Aaliyah and I told him that I already knew who she was and proceeded to act out Back and Forth, which made us both laugh. And then I stopped the fit of giggles when I heard her say Try Again — from her final self-titled album — Aaliyah.
I let Aaliyah become the soundtrack of the days spent helping Upper East women decide whether they needed both the shift dress and Capri pants or just the shift dress — despite the necessary alterations.
I let Aaliyah dictate the steps to my Jersey City apartment on Danforth — as I skipped along and dared onlookers to Read Between The Lines, which sometimes turned out to be a mistake.
As the summer matured, I was becoming more and more tormented with the person I wanted to be and I didn’t mind the mandated fuck fest that seemed to loosen the tightly screwed bolts.
Screw the fact that there was no social media or any online pubs on the lookout for wondrous writers, who needed that winning tweet to save them from obscurity.
I had Aaliyah and even though she had no clue what she was doing to me — I still pretended to be her co-star in the videos that sang to me.
The music died later that summer when she perished in a plane crash after filming the music video for Rock The Boat on an Island in the Bahamas.
I found out when my brother shook me up in the middle of the night — in a feverish sweat as he panted the words he saw on the internet. I sleepily tried to convince him that he was mistaken and we turned on MTV to verify the unfathomable. There was nothing to indicate that we needed to panic because back then real time was no time, so we pretended to go back to sleep.
Weeks after Aaliyah died, the video she died for was released and it was gorgeous. She looked the way I felt, except I was thanking her and she was dead. She reached that place when you shift into the gloriousness of womanhood that can only be conveyed with artistic waves if you’re lucky enough to make that happen.
The pain of 2001 was intensified by the pleasure that comes with bearing it long enough to awaken the pleasure of knowing how to channel it all into a DVD player — armed with the tracks that will carry you through the unmentionables.
I lost Aaliyah, but gained her spirit and the warmth of her smile, coupled with the fluidity of her talent that still remains unmatched. When I try to picture her horror as the tiny plane she was riding in — dipped and then plunged into the selfish ground — the vividness of it strikes me. It’s the same imagery I amassed when I got the confirmation.
I miss those days, when videos of blood-splattered bodies and tragic last moments were impossible to garner.
I also miss the excitement of rooting for a star — past the horizon and hovering on greatness. I hate hearing how everything happens for a reason because that’s bullshit. Her death was senseless and that’s that.
These days, I’m still that young girl in spirit and the tracks of the summer of 2001 still make me laugh and cry and I still long for that guy and I actually don’t hate Jersey at all.
I just can’t stand that I’m here and Aaliyah isn’t.
She would’ve loved Instagram, and the team managing her Twitter account would’ve kicked ass. She would’ve been quite the actress, but music would remain her one and only.
Every summer I remember the summer she became a woman and I also remember the summer I realized that I was a woman — and I let her voice soar me back to the past.
The present can wait. It owes me that much.