What’s My Motivation?


What happens when a boss says “we’re stuck” and “we’re not going anywhere”?

My boss ordered a “new” computer for me four months ago. “New” means it’s a six-year-old Mac mini he ordered from eBay because the OS is Mavericks. It couldn’t be brand new because our six-year-old software wouldn’t work on the newest operating system.

My old computer, a glitchy Mac Pro too old for the company to spend money repairing, still works, but not well enough for the paces I put it through every day. It is, however, perfect for testing.

I took a deep breath and braced myself. The conversation I would start with my boss wouldn’t be new or easy. He’s not a fan of change in technology, voicemail, working from home… Instigating change has become a tedious exercise in futility I have a few times a year just for fun. I marched to his desk. “I’d like to upgrade my old Mac from Mavericks to at least Sierra to test what software will run and determine what we must upgrade so we can do it on all the production machines.”

He didn’t immediately respond. He clutched his armrests, eyeing me like Simon Cowell about to deliver a harsh critique of a performance. His chair swiveled left and right. I could see the wheels in his head turning as he dug up his standard answers. Answers I already knew. Answers he knew I already knew he would give me. But he summoned them anyway. “That’s not going to work because Adobe CS6 and InDesign will slow to a crawl. And Quark 9 won’t work at all.”

His part of these exchanges always started with “that’s not going to work…”

I’m always ready with an answer.

I said, “I have CS6 at home running on Sierra and there is no crawling. Plus, we need to upgrade. It’s time. Mavericks is too buggy. Don’t we already own a license for Creative Cloud?” He gave me a slow nod. “I’m going to install Creative Cloud,” I said. I remained strong as I described the steps I would take. That’s what testing is for. And if it failed, I’d take a different route.

He countered. “Our plug-in for InDesign will need to be rebuilt.”

“InDesign has a built-in feature that will perform the flow task for us automatically,” I said.

A wrinkle. He didn’t expect that. I smiled, but within, so as not to gloat about my impending victory.

A flurry of words flew at me so furiously I should have ducked. He said, “I’ll have to get the developer to rebuild our script. It will only work with Mavericks—”

“We won’t know unless we test—”

“And I have to get in touch with them and all that going back and forth just to get it right. That’s very expensive. Plus, we’ll need to worry about Technology pushing Adobe updates to us. If they send an update that breaks everything we’re screwed. I don’t see how we can do that. And what about Quark?”

“What about it? We don’t need it anymore,” I said. He knew that. But he’s the only one in the office who still likes Quark. My mind went back to his comment about the expense. That was the issue. Expense was the constant issue, rather, the excuse. But this time, we don’t need new Adobe software or a plugin. Only our proprietary software will need an upgrade.

Every time an expense comes up it’s as if it will come out of his paycheck instead of being paid for by the international organization we work for. I know for a fact that his boss (at our headquarters in another state) is all about “get whatever you need to get the job done.”

He came up with at least ten more excuses. I turned and left him muttering as I sauntered back to my desk, discouraged by his fear of progress. The last thing I heard was “we’re stuck with what we have.”

I don’t like that word “stuck.” And it set me on my new personal mission. Do it anyway and prove him wrong. Before I left for the day, I made a list of things I needed to do to prep my old Mac for upgrade and testing.

And the next day, this happened:

After everyone had arrived at work, my boss gathered us. “Guys, I don’t know if you’ve seen your performance evaluations yet, but I just wanted to let you know I put absolutely no effort into them this year. I think they’re bullshit and I’m tired of doing them. I tried to get out of doing them. I even talked to (my boss) and told him I think they’re bullshit and asked if there was any way around them. I’m tired of trying to come up with creative ways to say you all do great work. And even if I did, it will not change the raise you get. This isn’t the kind of job where you will get promoted. We will never get promotions. We will never get more than our two percent raise. So there is no point.”

What the hell?

What am I supposed to do with that? I can’t even describe the emotional wave that put me on. Anger wasn’t quite it. I floated over disgust and disappointment. Disturbed is accurate. Who admits that to their employees? Who is ballsy enough to say that to his boss? (Shouldn’t there be repercussions for that?) We work every day. He couldn’t bother to put effort into our evaluations once a year? Isn’t that part of his job? After my face readjusted from the quizzical frown plastered on it for several minutes, I shrugged. I’ve been here long enough to know that’s how Captain Apathetic feels. But since he’s grabbed the loudspeaker and announced it, what’s my motivation to stay on this crappy ship?

Let me go back. This isn’t about him. He is a nice man and maybe he’s finally frustrated and worn down by the corporate game. In all honesty, these red flags have been waving at me like an Inflatable Tube Man for years. I stayed too long. I got complacent. The schedule works when I need to take my aging parents to appointments. Other than that, I got nothing. When people ask me where I work, I hem and haw until they insist. When I tell them, they “ooo” and “ahh” until I say, “No, really, it’s not.” If I’m not in the mood, I’ll say a firm, “I can’t talk about my job.” And I’ve told more than one person, “It’s classified.” This is a place that does not reward good work and doesn’t punish bad. What am I still doing here?

Captain Apathetic’s declarations did give me motivation.

Other than it being a footrest under my desk, I haven’t touched my old computer. I can’t and won’t waste any more time on futile efforts. I’m not taking my talents to South Beach, but we’re going somewhere. There are better gigs. I’ve had better gigs. I’ve had bosses who were fired up and passionate about the work and motivated me to do my best and move forward. I want to do work I’m proud to talk about. I want to work for a place that’s evolved from the Software Stone Age and the equipment is better than what I have at home (it’s supposed to be!).

I’m now motivated to put my efforts into me.


(I’m curious to know if you’ve experienced anything similar at your job. Please tell me in the comments. Thanks.)


you asked me why

you asked me why i thought i was in love with him.
never thought it was something i’d need to explain,
or even that i could.

of course there are all the superficial things—
what i see with my eyes —
that drew me to him.
but it’s the vision of my heart into his soul that
makes me want to stay.
makes me want to do the things that i can’t say.

i’m much blessed by our friendship,
but i wonder maybe
more than i should ‘what could be?’

i ache for him every time i see him.
i burn when he touches me.
and i try to breathe when he leaves me.

i must have thought about him about a thousand times today.
and a thousand times he made me smile.
behind my dark shades,
i love watching him watch me when he thinks i’m not
watching him.

i love his sensitivity and his sense of self.
i love who he is and how he is with the people in his life.
i love watching him with children and his sense of family.
i love the way he loves his mom.

his positive vibe.
his spiritual strength.
his infectious, crazy-ass laugh.
the fearless free fall of his tears.
the endearing way he separates my twists.
the tenderness of his kiss.

i love the way he freaks me when we dance — and
since i’ve felt the general
standing at attention, anytime he wants to send in
the troops, i’ll welcome the invasion.

i love his eyes and i love not only the way he looks at me,
but the way he sees me and knows me and still hangs with me.
maybe he feels me.
maybe one day he could love me.

i love how he is with me…how he treats me like a queen.
i love that i can still smell his cologne in my
clothes hours after we’ve said goodbye.

i love how it feels
how i feel
how he feels
when i’m wrapped up in his arms.

i know right now i’m just wading my feet in the pool
of a romance,
but i want him to jump in with me and get wet with me in a
love so deep we could drown.
and hell, i can’t swim.
but he makes me feel like i can…

like i can fly.  he makes me soar.

knowing him makes me want to try love just once more…

you asked me why.


© 2016 CMRainey. All rights reserved.

Catholic School Made Me Walk Fast (And What’s the Big Damn Hurry?)

I walk fast. I have long legs and a long stride. I don’t play about it. When I walk, I am on the move.

Fast means I have seen people—including my family—part like thinning hair when I approach. If I’m not bogged down with packages while shopping, people think I’m a mall walker. Even as an adult, I’ve been told to “stop running in church.”

I’m not running. And most of the time I’m not in a hurry. This all started in sixth grade. Fed up with the sketchy education we were receiving in the Kansas City public schools, my parents put my brother and me in a Catholic school.

The transition was difficult. My friends were gone. The school was in a completely different neighborhood. The change in cultural makeup was drastic. I couldn’t stand dressing like other people and equated our new blue plaid uniforms with conformity. I was suddenly in the “slow” reading group. I had hit puberty during the summer and my boobs screamed “Hello, world!” to announce their arrival. (Because of new classmate Tony Quintero and his fascination with them, I didn’t wear a turtleneck again until I was in my mid-30s.)

I hated it.

I cried in the restroom every day for the first three weeks. Every. Single. Day.

And in all that, what was I constantly reprimanded for? Walking too slow.


Of all the things that changed, my pace was a problem?

We had to line up to go every damn where. Recess. Programs in the auditorium. Mass. Field trips. Fire and tornado drills.

My sixth grade class lined up and marched by the fourth and fifth grade classrooms on our way to lunch in the cafeteria. “Close up this gap!” Sister Lucille bellowed at me. She was also new to the school and once danced with a Christmas tree. She snapped her fingers at me then gestured at the empty space between me and the next student, a good twenty feet ahead. I wasn’t aloof. My new surroundings were overwhelming and intriguing. I wasn’t used to seeing all the statues and portraits of Mary and Baby Jesus all over a school. We were supposed to acknowledge them and be reverent but not dwell on them. Keep the line moving.

One day she followed her “close up this gap” mantra with “walk with some purpose.”

And something clicked.

The furious pace crept into my world and took up residency. The practice came in handy when I graduated and moved into high school. The journey across the quad wasn’t for punks. No matter the weather, four minutes was all I had to make it from history class on the third floor of the Music and Arts building to algebra on the third floor of Donnelly Hall. It prepared me for even longer treks in college.

The only thing that came out of all the rushing around was that I missed a lot of things. That walk with some purpose mentality has stuck with me in everything and even applies when I’m driving. I don’t look around or notice other drivers unless they’re in my way or about to hit me. I drove by Cleaver Blvd., and Troost for months before I noticed—when riding in a car with someone else at the wheel—a whole row of buildings on the south side of Cleaver had been demolished. A mini mall and a Subway filled the space. At home, a house on the end of my block that had been there my entire life vanished like a sweet potato pie on Thanksgiving. I grew up with the kids who lived there. Our parents were friends. But the house had been razed so long all the debris had been removed and a lush green lawn had grown knee-high in the empty space before I noticed it was gone.

Leaving work one Friday evening last summer, my coworker, in her quest to beat me to the office exit, stepped in front of me to get to the door. I applaud anyone who can move faster than I do. I stopped, let her by and wondered if she really had something to do or if she was just being obnoxious in stepping in front of me. But she got to the door before the security sensor saw her so it wouldn’t open. BAM! She face-planted right into the middle of that thick locked door. Then she muttered “stupid door.” I said, “Don’t blame the door.”

(Sorry. Just returned from a ten minute break. The sight and sound of her bouncing off that door still gives me the biggest laugh of any day.)

I will be the first one to say I’m grateful I have a job because so many people struggle to find one. But I’m deadly honest about the fact that I’m not fond of the one I have. A month later, with the memory of my coworker’s face-in-the-door still fresh in my mind, I was leaving my doctor’s office. As I crossed the courtyard area of the medical plaza on my way to the parking garage, I spied a white-haired elderly couple on my right also walking toward the garage. I mentally timed our arrivals and knew they would beat me to the narrow staircase. I picked up my pace. The whole scene played out in my head as I tried to beat them to the stairs. They were doing a snail’s crawl and I knew if they reached the stairs to the garage before I did, it would take an eternity for me to get to my car. Then somehow they would magically get to their car first and I would be stuck behind them descending the long, winding, one-way traffic to the exit. Because people that walked that slowly surely drove at the same pace.

I sped up and arrived at the stairs just before them. Then…


I somehow missed the first step. If it hadn’t been a warm sunny day I would have sworn I hit a patch of black ice. As I fell in slow motion—because falling is somehow always in slow motion— I saw that elderly couple reach for me and mouth, “Oh no! Are you alright, dear?” I caught myself before my face could slam into the pavement. My purse was inexplicably open and all my junk spilled out.

Grateful they checked on me, I assured them I was fine and I could manage. They smiled and promptly stepped around me, up the stairs to the parking garage. I scooped up my lipstick, eyeliner, ChapStick, loose change, feminine products, ink pens and EpiPens and resumed my hasty pace to my car. When I realized they were in the car in front of me, in my way, making the long, slow descent down the spirally exit I laughed so hard at myself I thought my stomach would pop open. I deserved every bit of that fall because I was rushing. Again. And rude in the process. All because I was in a freaking hurry to get to that job that I’m not all that fond of.

All my hurrying and not noticing didn’t really hit me until a Sunday afternoon a few years ago. My family had dinner at the Cheesecake Factory on the Plaza for some event— someone’s birthday or anniversary. After dessert we headed to the car. My brother and I walked and chatted about nothing in particular. I turned around, thinking my parents and aunt were right behind us, but they were about a block away. “God, what are they doing?” I asked. I was in a hurry, probably wanting to pick up my car so I could go out with my friends or to a movie.

My brother looked at me with the most twisted look on his face and said, “They’re old.”

I turned around again and really saw them. My aunt had been gray since her twenties, but Mom was now graying at her temples. And where in the world was Dad’s hair? I had been moving too fast to notice that the people I love, the people who kept up with us at amusement parks all over the country, had lost a step. Had lost several steps. My dad and aunt would ride any rollercoaster my brother and I could find and never tired. I seem to remember being a little kid, afraid to ride that scary-ass Screaming Eagle coaster at Six Flags St. Louis and Dad talking me into it. He was fearless.

When I looked at the three of them trudging along that sidewalk in the heat, trying to conserve their energy, I knew always walking with purpose had caused me to miss too much. I lost my aunt three years ago. And my parents are now octogenarians. As my cousin likes to say, we’re not cell phones. We don’t have unlimited minutes. Everything and everyone that we know and love…it will all eventually come to an end.

In this technology-obsessed world, we don’t notice anything unless it obstructs our view of the electronic gadget in our hand. We’re in a hurry to get everywhere to do things that aren’t really important. I long for the time when spending time with friends and family was just that—spending time. I miss the day where we could share a meal and thoroughly enjoy ourselves without everyone rushing through it so they can pick up their phone, hit Facebook and whatever other media they’re on, and catch up with what they missed in the world during the thirty minutes they allowed for human contact.

I still walk fast. But now I catch myself, think about where I’m truly headed and ask, “what’s the big damn hurry?”


“Stop Speaking to Me!”

When I was seven years old my father yelled at me for speaking to him too much.

I was a happy, bubbly, talkative child who, at seven, had only experienced a blessed existence. I was well taken care of and my family was around and intact. I loved school and learning and playing. I wasn’t aware that bad things happened. I hadn’t yet experienced loss and believed I was immortal. I carried my ever-curious, anything-can-happen attitude everywhere. And I sported my fiercest pair of rose-colored glasses.

Seven was the age when I looked in the bathroom mirror and experienced that magical moment of enlightenment as I realized I exist. I’ll never forget how I felt as I touched my face and examined my skin, really feeling it for the first time. I noticed the mechanics of my body and mind working together and wondered how it happened. I found living and breathing and thinking and the human body a marvel. That’s the most excited I’ve ever been in a bathroom. I wanted to tell someone. I wondered if anyone else had figured it out. I wanted to shout “I’m alive!” But I didn’t. I thought no one would understand. I feared they would toss me a blank stare and say, “That’s nice. Get the trashcan out of your room and empty it. Tomorrow is trash day.” But I wanted to scream and shout. It was the most amazing feeling. At that point, I thought life would always be like that.

Then my father told me to stop speaking to him and it chipped away at my young spirit.

Until we were old enough for school, Mom stayed home to take care of my little brother and me. And when Dad came home from work every day, my brother and I would sprint to the front door to greet him. Hugs. Kisses. He’d lift us up in the air. It was all very 50’s black-and-white sitcom-ish. And we’d all sit down to dinner as a family. I remember little about the conversations. I only remember the happy times.

Mom went back to work part-time in the evenings when we started school so we were home with Dad all night. I loved hanging out with Dad. If we weren’t out shopping he would be in the basement tinkering with his gadgets. Washers and dryers, or whatever mess he brought into the house. My little seven-year-old butt stayed down there with him. I entertained him with stories about second grade. How I loved kickball and hopscotch. My friends. My crushes. I can’t say he encouraged all that talking. He mostly said, “uh huh,” and grabbed my wrist to position my hand and his clamp light so he could see inside his gadget. And if listening to me ramble helped him see better, then I guess he thought it was a fair trade.

In all this, I was always the kid who lit up when I saw people I loved. Always. “Hi, Mommy!” “Hi, Daddy!” “Hi, Grandmother!”

The bedroom my brother and I grew up in was tiny. Sometimes our beds were bunked. Most times they were separate. It was the smallest room in the house, wide enough for twin beds and a worn, yellow Snoopy rug between. I’m not sure it was meant to be a room. It was more the house thoroughfare, with open doorways on both ends, running from the hallway to my parents’ bedroom on the other side. No one ever gave much thought to it being our room. My parents marched right through it on their way to the bathroom or living room or wherever. But every time someone came through, I smiled and said “hi” because I was happy to see them. And I was seven. I thought that was the norm.

On that night, I sat on my bed reading. Dad came through—back and forth and back again—I’m not sure how many times. Each time I looked up, smiled. “Hi, Daddy.”

His sudden eruption burned like hot lava. “You know, you don’t have to say hi every time you see me! You’ve said it every time I’ve walked through here tonight. How many times do you think you need to say it? Once is enough. You don’t have to keep saying it. I see you. I know you’re here. Stop speaking to me so much!”

So many emotions ran through me, my seven-year-old mind and spirit couldn’t process them all. I sat with my mouth open, staring at the back of his head as he went on his way to the bathroom. He didn’t give me a second thought. I didn’t cry. I wanted to because I was definitely hurt, but my mind told me not to show him that weakness. Did my dad seriously tell me he was sick of me speaking to him?

He got what he wanted. But it both ruined and established our relationship for the rest of my life. He was the first adult whom I loved to disappoint me. I stopped hanging out with him in the basement. I stopped wanting to go anywhere with him. My open, communicative-self shut down—at least with him. From then on I greeted him with “hello” or “how are you?” once a day. Basically, I stopped talking to him. I was no longer Daddy’s Little Girl. I don’t think he ever noticed the change in me. He was probably thankful I wasn’t in the basement yammering in his ear anymore.

Our relationship is fine. We’re cool. I couldn’t ask for a better father. He taught me how to ride a bike, fish and change the spark plugs in my first car. Because of him, I know that if a PCV valve doesn’t rattle it’s clogged. An oil change place will tell a woman the rattle means it’s broken, charge her for a new one and put her good one in someone else’s car. If they change it at all. For years he drove me from basketball practices to piano lessons. And when I was ready, he taught me to drive so I could take myself. He waltzed with me when I was a debutante. We watched football together. And he talked much trash when we hit the bowling alley. But we never shared the close father/daughter bond that some of my friends had. And I know any potential for it was shattered that night.

Looking back now, I know what Dad meant. He was annoyed. I get that. But he yelled at me for speaking to him. I hadn’t yet reached the age where the crazy that people spewed would bounce off me. I was a seven-year-old sponge still soaking up my surroundings. What goes in a sponge never really comes out. With every use, more ick gets trapped inside. You have to be careful what you say to a child. Their psyche is fragile. Dad is responsible for the first chip in my innocence.

This isn’t something I’ve been thinking about or harboring my whole life. I’ve never even shared this story with anyone. I hadn’t thought about it in decades. But it came hurtling back in recent months because now Dad has dementia. He says “hi,” “how ya doin’?” and other countless greetings at least ten times a day—sometimes two minutes later. He can’t remember that we’ve already seen each other and spoken. And now when he’s said “hey, hon,” for the fifth time it takes me back to that night. The first time I remembered, I was pissed. Now it’s part of my life. I smile like I used to when I was seven because I love him and I’m glad for the moments he can speak and recognize me. I would never yell at him and tell him to stop. Because now he has the fragile psyche. And I have to be the parent.




He’s Always in My Hair – My Tribute to Prince

My brother called at 12:02 p.m. We always text during the day, so the initial question in my mind was Mom or Dad?

Instead, he quite unsteadily said, “Uh…hey…Google…Prince.”

My heart took a nosedive before I’d finished typing his name. There were a bunch of sketchy, and I hoped, hoaxy-looking news links from sites I’d never heard of that were hours old. But one small link in the upper left corner had been there only 13 minutes. It was TMZ so I immediately dismissed it, even as I was haunted by the eerie memory that TMZ had also broken the news about Michael Jackson.

I gripped the armrests of my chair. I didn’t want to break down at my desk around my coworkers. But a flood of emotions swelled up in me so quickly and violently I almost passed out.

I sat numb, shell-shocked and heartbroken, clicking link after link looking for the one that revealed it was a hoax. Or even a tweet from Prince himself. As the hours passed, I couldn’t bring myself to listen to his music. Even though I had every song of his and then some in my phone, I couldn’t figure out what to play first.

Prince was the genius whose music and influence colored most of my life.

My friends started texting and emailing their condolences to me like I knew him. My mom called to check on me. My senior year roommate emailed she had never heard of Prince before she met me. It was all quite bizarre, because I was still waiting on that hoax article. What I saw instead was a picture of him in the rain during his amazing Super Bowl half-time show—a picture I’d seen hundreds of times before—with his birth and death dates.

So I guess I have to believe it.

But I know I don’t have to accept it.

Crazy memories of Prince moments in my life started shooting at me like a malfunctioning T-shirt gun.

The Hit & Run Tour concert four days after gallbladder surgery where I busted several stitches from dancing. My brother kept saying, “Please sit down.” Mom had asked, as only a concerned parent could, “Are you still planning to go to that?” After I finished looking at her like she’d smoked something illegal, I answered, “I didn’t die!”

You see, Prince was my musical soul mate (from here on he’s the artist I’ll refer to my MSM). And you do things for love of a soul mate. Surgery be damned.

I always knew he was my MSM, but I never put it into words until someone asked me the seemingly important, but actually kind of dumb question, Michael or Prince?

After a long moment, I said, “Michael is my first love. Prince is my soul mate.”

“What!?” The person whom I don’t remember screamed.

I didn’t and never will understand why it had to be one or the other. They were different artists. They gave me different things. They each covered very distinct periods in my life. At the risk of dating myself, my very first record—a 45 (look it up kids)—when I was an R&B loving five-year-old was the Jackson Five’s ABC. And there I met MJ, my schoolgirl crush, my first love. I went from wishing I were the girl he wanted back, to my cousins turning me into a dancing machine robot in my aunt’s living room. Because of him, I wore penny loafers in high school and one glove (in defiance of Mom’s direct order to “stop it”) no matter what the temperature. I probably scuffed a couple of floors with my attempts to Moonwalk. He got me through my girlhood.

Prince was there. He sneaked up behind me like I was Apollonia looking through the department store window in Purple Rain, but with less leather. He lurked in the background, tempting me with his Dirty Mind, making me wonder “what is this controversial Soft and Wet he speaks of?” before I had ever partied like it was 19-anything. He made me want to get on a plane and see what a floatation device was really about.

MJ came to Kansas City with the Jacksons for the Victory tour and I saw them in concert on Saturday, July 7, 1984. I was enjoying my last summer before entering college to study (damn, I’m dating myself all over this story), of all things, music. I went with my brother, mom, closest friend (and rival for MJ’s affections) and my aunt, who—my brother reminded me yesterday—had somehow skirted the rules and obtained five tickets in spite of the four-ticket limit. I had never seen anything like it. MJ had been blowing my mind on television for years, but in person—just the memory makes me tingle. They sailed through all the hits I’d grown up with, music that shaped my childhood and gave me fairytale hopes and dreams about romance. That dancing. Umm. MJ was all grown up after Off the Wall and Thriller. It was the only time I ever saw him perform live, with my mom in tow, chaperoning my one and only date with my first love. And even with all that rich music history between us, I needed something…more.

Exactly 20 days later, on July 27, Purple Rain was released.

And that’s where I left MJ.

Purple Rain. That was the first time I’d ever spent almost an entire weekend in a theater. I couldn’t settle down. Couldn’t stop vibrating. Prince’s music, while not new to me, had suddenly hit me at my core. Everything about it touched every part of my body and spirit. No matter what the tempo, my body ached to move, longed to be touched. Every beat felt like my own heartbeat. As if that wasn’t enough, his words, the sheer depth of his poetry made my mind explode. Every song. Every time. What I know now is that he gave us volumes and volumes of the purest poetry and he set it to breathtaking harmonies. I couldn’t sleep, partially excited for the next day when I could see the movie again…and again. But I was mostly awake because the soundtrack played loudly all night from the ridiculously large boom box on my bedroom floor.

A few weeks later that soundtrack played in the car as my family drove me to college, and subsequently every trip back and forth for the entire first year. Every. Trip.

My new friends observed early on that my favorite color also was purple (that was all me, not Prince), and because of my last name, baptized me “Purple Rainey.” Some of them shortened it to “Puuuuuuurple!” A moniker I still answer to. My first three years I had a private basement dorm room where I had only one actual white light bulb over my study desk. All the rest of the lights in the room were black lights—some aimed directly on posters of Prince.

My keyboards and stereo were set up so I could “perform” live Prince shows every night. My friends would show up, get comfortable and watch me burn through my Prince sets. I even did Sheila E, playing my imaginary drum set with my actual sticks. I had different audiences every night, so I kept the set list loose, ready for anything. They often requested The Beautiful Ones and Darling Nikki. I had a friend who loved Prince just as much. He sort of resembled him and regularly asked me to put eyeliner on him then he’d practice his smoldering looks in my bathroom mirror. I was a nightmare to everyone on my dorm room floor and probably above. The volume on my keyboards and stereo were set to MAX from sun up until quiet hours at 11 p.m. I’d like to apologize now to my former neighbors…if I was actually sorry. Prince was a movement. And I’m not sorry I was on it.

Different Prince songs punctuated my crappy college love life. I changed the lyrics of Raspberry Berét and walked around campus singing, “he wore an or-range polo,” about a cute Canadian boy. After I realized he never looked at me twice, I spent a summer singing and customizing the lyrics to Condition of the Heart. To this day I still see his cute, dumbass face when I hear either song. Mr. Eyeliner used to sing International Lover to me and get me all soft and wet hot and bothered before he hooked up with some flat-chested chick on the floor above me, ruining that song for several years.

I was a junior when Sign O’ the Times was released. I got up early, drove twenty minutes to Lawrence, Kan., to buy it so I’d have it for my DJ shift on the campus radio station that morning. I made the ill-advised decision to play tracks I had yet to listen to. Of course, these were the days when his lyrics were a little more colorful. The song It played while I listened to snippets of other cuts, trying to decide what to play next when my DJ partner gasped. “Did you hear that?” Just one casual F-word before the song began to fade. I snatched the needle off the disc and decided to stick to the classic track I already knew, Sign O’ the Times, until I could give the songs a better listen.

I had gone to school to study the old masters, Mozart, Bach, and my favorite, Beethoven. I did actually study, although I’m not sure how with all the loudness and black lights. And up until that point, most of my musical background was as a church musician. While I loved classical and gospel music, none of that was ever really me. Neither was in my soul. I didn’t see either genre in my performing future. I grew agitated whenever working on one or the other interfered with my MSM, the master I was really studying.

Classical was all rules and theory, and I was burned out being stuck to a piano bench during church. My MSM made my musical mind grow, teaching me to learn the rules so that I could be comfortable breaking them. Dissonant chords didn’t have to be dark and dirge-like. They could be haunting, flirty and very sexy. He made me love simple melodies and big, full instrumentation. When Doves Cry—Who needs a bass line? I graduated and went from playing in church to playing in clubs. Prince taught me to listen and pay attention to every sound in my day, because music was in everything. Prince made music fun for me in a way it never was and hasn’t been since. I learned through him that music could be grown and sexy.

His music was always in my hair.

I checked in from time to time, as we all do, with my schoolgirl crush to see how he was doing. But I was so enraptured by Prince that I was okay leaving MJ where he was—secured where first loves should remain, in my heart. I was musically coupled-up with Prince.

The only person I ever saw Prince shows with was my brother. We had a deal and an understanding. He knew and respected my deep love, and his love for him was almost as strong, even though MJ was his MSM. There were no questions asked. Whatever was on our schedules was cleared. We didn’t invite friends to go with us because we didn’t want to deal with people scraping money together by the sale date. For Prince, you had to be ready to GO.

Several concerts after the busted-stitches show, I joined Prince’s infamous NPG Music Club, which promised perks and better seats, just in time for his One Night Alone Tour. My perks for that 2002 show included seats on the second row. Prince’s guitars were in stands on the floor less than 10 feet away. I would have touched them had his big burly guard not been watching, waiting for me to do just that.

And we got to go to sound check.

Club members filed into KC’s Midland Theatre. Prince stood at the edge of the stage as we took our seats so close to him. His smile was bright and his skin flawless. Every hair in place. And in my mind, he wasn’t wearing a shirt, but I think I’m confusing that with a video. He held a cordless mic as he leaned on the mic stand and talked to us. It was too difficult to walk and stare at him at the same time and my brother actually tripped when we turned into our row. Prince laughed and said, “Careful now. I ain’t got no insurance.”

We were treated to a break-neck 90-minute Q&A chat and private concert. He played snippets of songs he would play at the concert later that night, and he treated us to full versions of some deep cuts that didn’t make the set list, including my favorite of the deep cuts—Joy in Repetition. He was open and personable and hilarious. And genius. He stopped his horn section mid-song to fix a timing issue. It took all of a minute and I noted they played it perfectly later. I told my brother my band would have spent three weeks working that out and come show time, we still would have jacked it up. I would have been perfectly content if that was my last night on earth, but then I would have missed his last show in Kansas City.

The last time Prince came to KC was for 2004’s Musicology Tour. Music club benefits still in effect, I picked up my tickets at the box office that morning. When I opened the ticket envelope, my seats were on the front row! I. Could. Not. Breathe. Those seats effectively ruined me for every concert forever. I called my family and friends, screaming at them the high-pitched inaudible ramblings of a crazed Prince fan.

The show was a frenzied, spirited, straight-up party. School was in session. Prince and the New Power Generation, in the rarest form, lit us up with rock, blues and his hard-driving signature funk. He simultaneously blessed us when he dug up another hit from his catalog, and infuriated us when he moved on to something else after a few bars. He had too many hits, and we wanted to hear them all. I spent many years as a student-athlete and gym rat, but I never sweat more than I did that night. That was the hardest I ever danced.

The memories kept coming, but my grip on the armrests had eased. The hoax confirmation never came. And his Twitter feed remained static. His iconic, poignant and all-too-appropriate-now lyrics kept slapping my sad face. Sometimes it snows in April. This is what it sounds like when doves cry.

I decided not to choose which song to start with. I went to my SiriusXM app and Let’s Go Crazy found me, which was appropriate, because that was what was happening. After a few moments I found myself trying to do the choreography while sitting at my desk, which proved to be problematic. The tears stung my eyes. I had to go outside and deal with the fact that my musical soul mate was gone.

But that’s the cool thing about souls. They don’t die. And neither does love. They go on forever, like all this luscious music he left here for us. Thank you, Prince.

Love is too weak to define just what you mean to me.