I was in the office when I got the text from my younger brother who was far away and likely didn’t know the chaos he would cause.
Did you hear about Prince?
No. I hadn’t heard, though my boss likely had during a business lunch he had taken me on. In between the banter with the marketing VP and the internal communications director, I saw him check his phone and give a bit of a start. Was that the moment he found out?
I desperately began googling, praying it didn’t mean what I thought it did. I got my sad answer, yelled out “NO!” and ran promptly to the bathroom.
My boss followed, as did five other colleagues. As I was running, I heard my seasoned colleague remark in confusion, “I thought she liked Drake.”
After spending some time in a stall hyperventilating, I assured the crowd that had assembled outside the bathroom that I was ok. I returned my desk and saw my boyfriend had IM-ed me, suggesting we get a drink, because if ever there were an occasion to drink, this was it.
Fourteen drinks later, as he watched me crying to this old Prince concert, then to that 1987 Bruce Springsteen video – the one where he and Patty can be seen falling in love – I can only imagine how he felt about his choices. Six months in and he was probably getting a good picture of what he was working with.
The next day my boss emailed me with feedback about my performance in the aforementioned business meeting. Why didn’t you introduce yourself with more confidence? Why didn’t you use this word instead of that one? I’m only trying to help you – how can I help you? I asked him to lay off, because…Prince. He bore down instead.
A public figure’s death is sad for many people in many different ways, I understand, but this one felt personally and enduringly sad for me. I had discovered Prince a little late – I was fourteen and it was in fact 1999 when I first caught the purple fever.
I had never fit in – not even with the misfits of my junior high – but I realized when I came to know Prince, that it was ok to be different. From then on I felt emboldened to wear a cape to school adorned with a single black glove. It didn’t matter that no one else was doing it – for the first time I felt proud of being weird.
Fifteen years later, many of which I spent in university while working a grocery store job and drinking enough to cope with the fact that I had very little direction in life, I had objectively succeeded. Finally there was the stable job, the stable boyfriend, and the stable home. Never mind that the home was one room, the boyfriend was to be divorced, and the job, well….
I was working in a corporate job, receiving frequent constructive criticism for the very things that endowed me with my superhuman powers of introspection, creativity, and uniqueness. I had forgotten the lesson that Prince taught me. Prince stood up for what he believed in, and often did so in a completely gold outfit; I now spent most of my time explaining and apologizing.
I once wore a very Prince-like silver shawl to work and a top executive stopped me to tell me how much he loved it. told him it was my Golden Girls in space shawl. He probably didn’t quite know what I was talking about, but we both appreciated the chance to laugh.
A few months after Prince’s death, I caught a scandal by sitting on the floor of my office while working.
Taking off my high-heeled boots and sitting on the floor without make-up on had endowed me with a small measure of artistic freedom, which promptly evaporated when I was told that sitting on the floor looking like a mess was unprofessional and embarrassing.
I probably didn’t completely understand when I was in my teens watching Prince bop around in bikini underwear and a cape. I didn’t understand that it was hard to be black, and it was hard to be gender nonconforming, and it was even harder to be both at the same time.
I won’t compare what I’ve experienced to having shoes and beer bottles thrown at you, which is what happened to Prince when he turned up in his outlandish costume to open for the Rolling Stones in 1980, but being a weird, awkward, introverted woman in the corporate world feels a lot like having tiny beer bottles and shoes thrown at you day after day.
I thought I would have more time to sit with the message Prince had given me, but his death seemed to take that option away from me. The truth is I’m 31, sitting on the floor of the corporate world in my silver shawl. Maybe I got it after all.
As I sat hung over in my apartment the day after the fourteen drinks, looking for stories to feature on my company’s internal social homepage, I came across a blog post detailing how my colleagues in another city had rallied to get their building lit up in purple the night before. It helped.