With Kevin E. Taylor
Losing Natalie…My Friendship with The Sophisticated Lady
Everyone who knows my relationship with my mother knows that I said and gave and did every single thing that I wanted to with her before she left this earth on January 5, 2015. I had such a perfect peace that I felt it even as I preached her eulogy, feeling no angst or struggle; I felt nothing but peace because she would have been pleased and it was the most fitting goodbye. I honored my mother.
I was not prepared to lose my Natalie. As I went to sleep on December 31, 2015, after a glass of wine and a quiet night that had been proceeded by me working on the chapter of my autobiography that was about, ironically, Natalie Cole and our 40 year relationship, I had angst. I just drawn up so many moments and memories about Natalie and our love. I wasn’t sure I had done her enough justice and I knew that I would go back in again and say more. I gave myself that understanding, that I would leave it for now and go back and write more.
I woke, the first day of 2016, and showered and put on some sweats, promising to give myself this first new day to just be, just breathe and not dive back into writing the book and any assignment—the first new day of 2016 would be for me. And then it happened. I was leaving the bathroom when I got a notification of an inbox message from my friend Vincent Reed, who lives in LA. I assume it was another of his kind note, this one wishing me well for the year ahead. It was not.
“I knew how much you loved your dear sister-friend Natalie.” The ground shifted and I sat down on the toilet. I couldn’t breathe. I got up. I stumbled. I stopped. I tried to stop after he sent a link that TMZ had posted and I cursed the fact that they had become a real news source. And almost instantly the whirlwind of noises—texts, tings from social media, emails even—from people who wanted to check on me, but who didn’t know if they could take the sounds of me if it were true. It was the darkest day, ever.
Natalie Maria Cole. She said from a stage once that we had been friends for more than 35 years; I was a fan who wrote letters as a kid and sent report cards and reports of my life and her music in it. I didn’t know until that moment that we were friends because I was happy in my seat as her #1 fan. I revered and reveled in it. But we were friends. I didn’t really know that until the day she called to talk, just talk and catch up and laugh…then, machine beeped, indicating that her dialysis was done. I asked where she was. “I’m getting this dialysis and just needed someone to talk to.” The smile in her voice was so earnest. I wanted to cry but I was in a public place. All I could think was “and you called me?”
Natalie Cole is the reason I went to college because she opened that door and told me what to do with being smart because, in 1975 in the projects where I was picked on for being a fat, asthmatic, gay nerd, I didn’t know we could go to college. Natalie Cole is the reason I speak as I do, write well as I do, love words as I do because when I thought I was odd and my predilection for big words was weird, she sang “Inseparable” and of rectified minds. I wasn’t alone and so I kept going.
Some days, I don’t really know how I keep going now. The music haunts and heals me at the same time, but I do love that I get to speak her name and remind people of her greatness, daily.
As we herald Black Music and queer boys who love Divas and such this month, I had to stop and love on my Natalie because her voice rings out from our weddings and our cookouts, our celebrations of love. Gay boy, love on your Diva and all that she gives to your soul and if you are blessed, one day you may get to meet her and call her friend and she may do the same.
Natalie, thank you for being the type of Diva who handwrites letters on stationary, who calls Mothers on their 85th birthday and talks to them for an hour after asking for recipes and for filling me with happiness that I never knew. No one, no one can take the place of you. So with our everlasting love, I ponder the Now What-ness of moving forward, with your number still saved in my phone and your music ringing in my ears. For now, I miss you like crazy.
(Kevin E. Taylor will be spending this summer on his much anticipated empowerment tour NOW WHAT?! With Kevin E. Taylor and finishing his autobiography Never Too Much: A Story of Big Drams, Big Words and an Audaciously Big Life, coming September 4, 2016). @KevinETaylor.com