Today marks the 10th anniversary of the death of R&B singer & actress Aaliyah. This might be cliché` to say, but it doesn’t feel like a decade has passed. Part of the reason why the memory is still so fresh is because…it’s still not ok. My heart has yet to accept that Aaliyah HAD to die. It’s still not fair to me and it still doesn’t make sense. It’s clear that Aaliyah was destined to leave, considering all of the ironic inter-connected factors that contributed to her plane crashing (the plane was overweight, she and her crew left earlier than planned, the pilot was inexperienced and suspected of being under the influence, etc.), but we still don’t know WHY a 22-year old on the brink of massive mainstream success in the entertainment industry had to lose her life. We don’t know WHY a couple had to lose their child and a brother had to lose his baby sister. One of my peers said a month after her death, “This is never going to be ok,” and 10 years later, he’s still right.
I turned sixteen 15 days before Aaliyah died, and on my birthday, I HAD to finish listening to “We Need a Resolution” on the radio before I entered the restaurant for my celebration dinner. I was so eager to hear Aaliyah’s new self-titled album, because before she went on artistic hiatus to finish high school, I was OBSESSED with her. I had multiple posters. I knew all of the words to her hit songs. I tried to mimic her style and her attitude (much to my mother’s dismay: “Why do you want to wear baggy pants and hood shirts all the time?”). She was my Miley Cyrus. And just when I got my buddy back…she died.
Like any other American teen, I religiously watched MTV. Sunday morning on August 26th, 2001, I had MTV on mute. Footage of Aaliyah kept playing, and I wondered why, but I didn’t look into it. I just said to myself “I hope she’s ok. She’s fine. It’s promo for her album.” While I was in the shower, my brother confirmed the worst: “J, Aaliyah died. She was in a plane crash.” Startled, I just stood still. When I didn’t respond, he said “Do you hear me? Are you going to be ok?” All I could say was “Yeah, I hear you.” When he left, I slowly dropped to my knees and prayed with fervor that it was all a rumor. It wasn’t. Church service after that was all a blur. I was...numb. For months, I had multiple dreams about her and almost everything reminded me of her. For example, the night of her death, Destiny’s Child was featured on Saturday Night Live. It was a long time before I was able to see that episode without getting emotional. Although it deeply affected personally, I wasn’t alone in my mourning.
In the days after her death, kids at school were constantly singing her songs and put posters in their lockers. “Aaliyah Dana Haughton 1979-2001” was carved into anything wooden. The art hall was covered in projects and drawings dedicate to her (a similar thing happened when we lost Lisa “Left Eye” Lopes of TLC in April 2002). It has definitely been a process coping with her death. Only recently have I gained some type of resolve (click the photo above to read my article on coping with this loss). I’ve tried to dwell in the glow of her life versus her death (click the photo below to read her birthday tribute). Having this approach has given me some peace, but I often still wonder why she had to die. We’ll see if I ever get the answer. We’ll see if this will ever seem “fair.” See the music polls under the “J.Says Beyond” tab to vote for your favorite Aaliyah album. Tonight, the BET network will air an anniversary special at 8pm EST.