By SHARISSE T. SMITH
Last year, my 6-year-old daughter and I watched The 86th Annual Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade from my upstate New York home instead of from the parade route like we had the previous year with my friend Tee. I grew up in Southern California watching this spectacle faithfully on television every year. I’d always hoped one day I would go in person, but took the 85th year as my sign it was time to go. You see, I learned that this particular year my idol, Mary J. Blige, would be performing as well as riding on one of the floats, and there are few people in this world outside of my family that I love more than Mary J. Blige. My goal was to see her before my 40th birthday, which was coming up two weeks after the parade, and maybe Santa, but he was optional.
In the years our family had been stationed in New York, I’d brought my baby girl to Manhattan annually to see the Radio City Rockettes. She loved New York City and getting dressed in her pink muff and tam for special occasions. I bought her a brand new red coat and found the perfect one for myself, both from Marshalls. My daughter made a glittery sequence cat sign that said “I love you” for her favorite, Hello Kitty, while I made a simple sign for Mary J. with a Sharpie professional marker stating the same. She didn’t seem to mind once I explained the Hello Kitty would be a balloon but that Mary J. Blige was a real live person, a singer, and not a cartoon. She said “I understand, Mommy,” and reveled in the arts and crafts project.
Somewhere in between Hello Kitty and SpongeBob Squarepants, Mary’s float approached. I’d been a fan since 1992, which was at the beginning of an abusive relationship. Mary’s helped me through countless situations and I’ve never waivered since. Twenty years was a long time to love anyone or thing but her music was my constant. Mary J. wrote the soundtrack to my real life story. The beauty was that I have lived to tell it. When I spoke about her I felt like I was speaking of an old friend I just hadn’t met yet.
I noticed her distinctness right away. Her outfit was something I wished I could afford, but I was making my own fashion statement in a purple double-breasted coat and my trademark hat that Broadway singer Michael Feinstein complimented me on from his ride. He mouthed, “love the hat.” I gave him two purple-leathered thumbs up and started to follow him on Twitter because, well, he has style.
The closer Mary’s float got to my daughter and I the more anxious I felt. I placed my daughter’s hand in Tee’s to make sure she would be safe. I held my hands tightly together at my chin while attempting to hold my breath. Once she was at the corner of Central Park South, just before the turn onto Seventh where I stood, I started to waive. She waived back. Her platform wasn’t moving. I shouted, “Mary I love you.” She responded, “Thank You.” This was a routine I supposed she’d learned over the years—telling fans she’d loved them back. I wasn’t offended. But the moving stage sat too long and I wasn’t prepared to have that much time. Feeling unprepared for this extra moment I blew an air kiss. She blew one back. I was outdone. Too excited. With all of New York City around me, I felt like the only person on that crowded corner.
Once Mary’s vehicle turned, it placed her steps and red guardrail directly in front of me this time. I had already said everything I wanted to say. I had my time and needed her to move on before I got too emotional, but there she was smiling and waiving to the rest of the parade goers. It was too much. There I was only a few steps away from my icon. The woman I attributed to singing me through abuse, depression and self-hatred. I broke down and cried silently for a few minutes. Two women from Brooklyn put their arms around me and said, “You really do love her. We can tell. She knows.” My daughter grabbed my hand and said, “Mommy if you love your friend so much why don’t you ask her to come over for a play date?” We all laughed and enjoyed the rest of the parade.
When my daughter and I watched the parade the next year in our Hello Kitty pajamas, my mini me recognized Mary’s singing clip from the previous year. I couldn’t believe she remembered. “Look Mommy, there’s your friend,” she said. “You should call her.” I hugged my daughter, kissed her and chucked a little when I told her, “one day I will.”
Sharisse T. Smith is a mother of four, Army wife, writer and counselor. She lives in West Point, New York, with her family. Her work appears in The New York Times and Babble. Check out more of Sharisse’s writing at SharisseSmith.com and connect with her on Twitter at @SharisseTSmith or on Facebook at SharisseTraceySmith.
Mom. NY Times bestselling author. Pop culture ninja. Unapologetic lover of shoes, bacon and babies. Nice with the verbs. Founder of the top black parenting website, MyBrownBaby.