aaliyah, r.i.p.: when one watches the news, they’re welcoming anonymous tragedy into their lives: livery cab driver shot dead in brooklyn; raging fire claims the lives of three people; fifteen dead in bombing in the middle east. if anything has desensitized society to violence and death, it’s the news. which is why, when i had channel 4 on last night, hearing tale of breaking news from the bahamas where a plane crash claimed the lives seven, “a camera crew,” i looked up for a second before returning to whatever it was i was doing at the moment.

do we watch the news to hear this? or are we merely viewing it, looking out for our concerns, pricking our ears up when the names of the dead or indicted are revealed? when i woke up this morning, i went to cnn.com and saw the headline: “aaliyah dead,” followed by the words “plane crash in the bahamas.” it’s amazing how much changes when one substitutes “aaliyah” for “a camera crew.” now it’s universal tragedy; for most of us, she isn’t kin, but she’s someone we’ve brought into our homes, via her albums or watching her on television or in the movies. one’s initial instict is: well, it must be someone else. in this case, that’s dismissed quite quickly: how many aaliyahs do you know? and if aaliyah is the name of your daughter, sister, mother…only in a perfect world would her life be memorialized so.

it still hasn’t registered really. it’s difficult quite often for a celebrity’s death to resonate: she’s never been more than an image, a voice for the majority of us — how did we really know she lived in the first place? there is no void as there would be with a family member or friend, at least no physical void. it becomes doubly hard when it’s someone like aaliyah who’s only given us but a handful of years. but what years they were: along with collaborators timbaland and missy elliott, she’s given us some of the finest pop singles of the last five years. she never possessed the strongest of voices but through the force of her personality — she had that ineffable trait, “star quality” — and pure determination to make her mark, she became a megastar, selling millions of records and even receiving the call from hollywood (besides romeo must die, she was also to star in the adaptation of anne rice’s the queen of the damned and the upcoming matrix sequels).

at age 22, she seemed poised to become the next janet jackson — a mononymic multimedia star, lighting up the big screen and blowing up the radio. but now it’s all over — i don’t know how to stop writing, how to end this. it’s impossible to be poetic about this right now and yet it seems wrong to to end it so tersely, as stark as death itself. damn it. rest in peace, aaliyah, you had so much left to say and there’s so much left to say about you but death’s got my tongue and out of respect for you, i’ll not struggle to say anymore.