The best time to meet Prince is when you are 18. He is 21. One night, on a crowded dance floor, he sings in your ear, “I ain’t got no money / I ain’t like those other guys you hang around / it’s kind of funny / but they always seem to let you down.” On that dance floor is a boy with the brownest eyes, so brown you can barely see his pupils, and he is nothing like those other boys you hang around. And you dance with this boy the summer before you leave home for college as much and as often as you can.
You begin studying at a women’s college in Charlotte and you hang around those other guys again. But the boy with the brown eyes stays in the back of your mind and Prince whispers, “I know (I know) / That you’re going with another guy / I don’t care (don’t care) / ’Cause I love you, baby, that’s no lie / I love you more than I did when you were mine.” And you forget about those other boys and you find the boy with the brown eyes in a DJ booth and he smiles like he’s been waiting for you and he plays your song.
You tape a poster over your bed of Prince, in only a thong and thigh-high boots and some girls in your dorm find this shocking, others find it funny, someone suggests to the RA that it is offensive. But you and the boy lay ear to ear in your twin bed and drop the needle on the “1999” album and listen to it on repeat and talk about the future. You want to be a writer, the boy dreams of owning a nightclub and a restaurant. You don’t know if any of these things will ever happen. You only know that even one day spent away from the boy feels like the end of the world.
You graduate from college, the first in your extended family, and your parents put a down payment on a brand new red Honda CRX. You buy one cassette, “Purple Rain,” and you spend your first day as a new car owner driving from one end of Charlotte to the other with the sunroof open and the windows down and the music on repeat.
The boy spends his nights in a DJ booth and you spend your nights on the dance floor. You feel more freedom than you have ever felt and you plan your wedding and and sing “I Would Die 4 U.” You and the boy go to concerts, every Prince concert you can manage – Atlanta, Greensboro, Charlotte – and along the way you learn what it’s like to be married. The boy continues to do what’s in his heart, he stays out late at night and spins records. You get a job in a bank and get up early every morning. Every weekend, you dance and you end Saturday nights together singing “Forever in My Life” as the final song. You struggle – with money, with plans, with the future. And Prince whispers in your ear “What’s this strange relationship that we hold on to?”
Then comes a little girl with curly hair and hazel eyes and she changes everything. A friend offers you a ticket to see Prince at The Fox Theatre in Atlanta, the night before the little girl’s second birthday. And you leave the little girl for the first time and promise to be back the next day. From the seventh row your face is turned up to the stage’s glow and you sing “My name is Prince / And I am funky / When it comes to funk / I am a junkie” and you are bathed in a joy shared with other Prince fans. Overnight, a freak storm drops 10 inches of snow and everyone begs you not to try to drive back. It’s impossible, they say. But you do – it takes 10 hours in whiteout conditions – and you get home so that you can watch the little girl with the curly hair turn 2. No one could have stopped you.
The little girl grows up listening to music in the backseat of your car – on the way to preschool, to elementary school, to her aunts’ and grandmothers’ houses, to soccer, to choir, to guitar lessons, to sleepovers, to middle school. Her favorite Prince song is “Starfish & Coffee” and she asks for it again and again, let’s sing it one more time. She keeps on singing, like a bird, she sings everything.
The boy with the brown eyes opens a nightclub and a restaurant and one day, he tells you that Prince is performing in Charlotte and that he’s going to ask him to come to the nightclub for an after-party and you’ll get to meet him. The boy has always had the wildest dreams and you think, “That’ll never happen.” But he makes it happen.
Then you are standing in a basement room and the boy is introducing you to Prince. You shake his hand and look into his eyes and the floor falls out from under you, but somehow you manage to say, “When I met my husband, ‘I Wanna Be Your Lover’ was just released and your music has been the soundtrack of our lives ever since.” And Prince tells you that this means a lot to him and thanks you. The whole night feels like a dream the boy had for you.
The curly-haired girl grows up, you grow older, nightclubs and restaurants come and go. You have responsibilities and obligations and priorities. You get tickets to see Prince at The Fox Theatre in Atlanta, 23 years after that snowstorm when the curly-haired girl turned 2. You feel like you’ve won the lottery because the chance to see him, like this, is so rare. Three hours before the concert, you find out he has canceled because of the flu and you feel crushed. The concert is rescheduled for the following week and you and the brown-eyed boy look at your calendars and debate whether your schedules will allow this.
You decide to give the tickets to another fan.
Then you wake up early one morning and the boy has sent you a late-night text. “When you were 25, you would have driven in an hour before the show and driven back after. We gotta go. Are we that old?” And you break into a smile and think of all the concerts and all the music and the dancing that you and the boy have shared over 36 years and you agree. We are not that old. We have to see him, because you never know.
He performs the entire evening the way you love him best, with just a piano and a microphone. And you laugh and sing and cry when he covers David Bowie’s “Heroes.” You don’t know that you’ll be one of the last people to see him perform.
When the news comes one week to the day after, your phone dings with text messages and notifications. Everyone says, “I thought of you first.” And you look at the boy with tears in your eyes and think, I thought of you first.