As you read this blog, please keep in mind that I can’t speak for Prince. I cannot say with any definitive proof that his childhood effected him in any way, shape, or form. Having said that, I recently read a blog piece “Home Recordings, 1976” in which Prince’s turbulent upbringing and the impact upon his artist was discussed. For years, I have felt drawn to Prince in a way I’ve never fully comprehended, but after reading this blog I am beginning to understand it some.
There a phenomenon amongst survivors of childhood abuse that has not been explored in detail, if at all, in which we recognize each other and are, perhaps, drawn to each other. I think we recognize ourselves in the other. Over the years, I have found myself drawn to someone, feeling a kinship with them, only to discover they were abused in some way during their childhood years. This pull towards Prince was very strong for me, but I never imagined that it could be a part of the phenomenon I just mentioned.
I never really explored his childhood, it wasn’t my story to know, but over the years I would hear bits and pieces. There was never enough for me to get a fuller sense of Prince, just enough to know that his childhood was not idyllic, which made his success all the more astonishing. The blog I read, though, put into more detailed order the events of Prince’s childhood and I gained an even deeper respect for Prince and all that he achieved.
The article starts by quoting Prince, “Guess how many times I’ve changed addresses. Twenty-two times!” The interview in which he asked that question was from 1979. Prince would have been 21. By the time I was 21 I had changed addresses just as many, probably more times than Prince had. While my mother was still alive (she died when I was 7): 1. lived in Apple Valley, CA. 2) moved to MO and lived in a house on C Highway in a rural area 3) moved to a trailer in a small town 4) moved to an even smaller trailer in another rural area and lived with another lady and her daughter 5) moved to St. Louis and lived in a basement apartment 6) moved into another apartment and lived on the 2nd floor 7) moved into another apartment and lived on the first floor – my mother died when we lived in this apartment 8) moved to my grandmother’s house in a small town (my dad would be gone for days / weeks at a time and leave me home to care for my infant sister) 9) moved in with a lady and her kids so they could help take care of my sister and myself during the summer 10) moved back to my grandmother’s house (again dad would leave my sister and I alone – I was the first one she called “mama”) 11) moved in with an aunt and uncle after my dad came home one day and told me he was putting my sister and I up for adoption (I was almost 8 at this time) 12) moved in with an aunt and uncle, lived there the longest (from the age of 8 until age 14 when I ran away 13) moved in with a cousin 14) ran away from my cousin’s house and lived in what was called a Crisis Center after I was picked up by the police as a run away 15) moved in with a foster family, ran away from there (I was 16) 16) lived in a juvenile detention center for awhile before 17) moved in with another foster family until she decided she could no longer care for 3 teenagers 18) moved into a group home until I ran away from there and became an emancipated minor at the age of 17 19) lived with my future husband at his uncle’s home 20) moved in with his parents while he stayed in the city so I could go back to school 21) moved in with a friend of his 22) moved into an apartment, I was 19 – we had gotten married when I was 18 and we discovered I was pregnant with out first child and would need a larger apartment 23) moved into a larger apartment 24) after the birth of our son we moved in with his mom and dad. By this time, I was 20, and his parents moved into a house and we moved with them which is number 25.
So 25 home in 21 years. Some of the places I stayed only about a month before I was moved elsewhere. The places I ran away from I stayed for about a year and circumstances occurred in which I knew I could no longer stay. The Crisis Center was about a month and a half, The Front Door (group home) was about 3 months, the Juvenile Detention was about a month.
What does moving around a lot during childhood do to you? On the one hand, it was exciting because you always have the hope that this time is going to be different, it’s going to last. It is always a new home with new experiences and new people. On the other hand, you learn quickly the only person you can depend on is yourself. These people that are around you now won’t always be there. It makes it difficult to form lasting, trusting relationships. You want it. You crave it. You look for it everywhere, but you always wait for the other shoe to fall, so to speak. You just don’t completely let yourself trust that it is going to last.
There is always a sense of impermanence too. You don’t fully get a sense of “home” until one day you realize home is where you are right now, whether it is for 10 days, 10 months, 10 years. I think it’s also why God becomes so important, because we need a sense of permanence and we realize there is no permanence in anything here on Earth, but God is always and forever that permanence we crave. He is always there, even when no one else is.
But something else you learn is to keep some distance between you and everyone else. You always hold a part of yourself back from everyone you develop some kind of relationship with. You don’t know how long they are going to be around, and if you get too attached it hurts when they aren’t there any more. You don’t trust them to stay, so sometimes you leave first so they won’t have to leave you and you get some sense of having control over how the events are going to play out. And having had no control in your youth, that ability to have that little bit of control over your life is vital to protecting yourself.
The blog also discussed how Prince’s father left the family home in 1965. Prince would have been 7. My mother died when I was 7. While his father was still living, having a parent disappear from the family home at that age, whether through divorce or death, there is a sense of abandonment by that parent. Your whole world is turned upside down and you erroneously blame yourself, wondering “What did I do to cause them to leave me?” The only family unit you’ve ever known is suddenly destroyed, pulled right from underneath you. Again, you lose trust and distance yourself emotionally and mentally from those around you.
Two years later, according to this blog, Prince (age 9 by now) had a step-parent move into the home. His mother remarried. And it is reported that Prince did not like his step-father because, as quoted by Prince in an interview, “he bought us material things rather that sitting down and talking with us, instead of giving us companionship” (paraphrased). I can’t speak on the remarriage. I wasn’t living with my father when he remarried and his new wife did seem very sweet (though that marriage didn’t last long due to my father’s physical abuse and drinking). However, I can speak on the “not sitting down and talking with us, giving us companionship”. I know this part only too well. At 9, I was living with an aunt and uncle and they gave me no attention, no affection. When I read that part of the blog, my first though was that this was another way of saying, “I just wanted him to love me.” By this time, after moving so much already, losing a parent in the home, love is what you crave, it’s all you crave. For myself, I would lay awake at night and imagine this utopian world, a world in which everyone loved each other, because love was the one thing I craved so much and at least in my inner world, I was loved. It’s also another reason why one would turn to God, because His love is ever-lasting and if you aren’t getting it elsewhere, you need it from Him so much. So at 9, I was craving love so much and feeling as though I had never been loved. It was also when I began to develop a sense of just how important love is. If we could just love each other unconditionally, then all the ills of the world would just fade away. It seemed so simple to me, and so right. Maybe it was because I didn’t have that love that I became so focused on love, believed with my whole heart that love is so vital to our existence and I swore that I would always make sure people around me knew how much I loved them.
There was another story in the blog in which it mentioned his step-father locked him in his room for 6 weeks. Again, something else I can relate to. (I’ve never been able to listen to Prince’s song, “Papa” and am grateful for the warning a friend gave me about the lyrical content of the song.) My father would lock me in a small wooden closet to punish me sometimes. I can’t even imagine what I had done to deserve the punishment – except that it was his way of controlling if I threatened to tell on him and what he was doing to me, or if I told him, “no”. I was much younger than Prince’s 9+ years when this happened to me, as my mom was still living. I do remember being in there for a few days, with my mom letting me out during the day while my dad was working, but I knew I would have to go back in before lunch and then again, before he got home from work that night. Prince learned to play the piano while he was in that bedroom for 6 weeks. I learned to go into myself and create a world in which I was surrounded by love. Those imaginings carried over to help me through some very traumatic times.
I also hated to go to sleep at night. I would have horrendous nightmares, so I would often lay awake in bed (imagining my utopian world) until that first gray light of the morning, signaling dawn. When you are isolated like that at a young age, you are forced to become independent and to never fully trust. You learn that you cannot depend on the adults in your life. You spend a lot of time in deep thought, lost in your own head. Prince was able to channel that into his music, learned to hear music all the time. I didn’t have that outlet, except in writing. I used to write all the time and would imagine people bringing me gifts of paper, pens, and pencils. Not toys, never imagined toys for some reason.
Prince ran away from his mother’s home when he was 12. I was 10 the first time I ran away from my aunt and uncle’s, and the last time when I was 14. I have to tell you, it takes a lot of courage for someone who at this point has no self-confidence to be able to do it. You know you are in a bad situation and that you have to get away from that situation. You’ve realized no one is going to save you from that situation. You have to save yourself, free yourself from that situation, and that is what you are doing when you run away. But it takes every ounce of courage you have because you’ve been beat down so much, have no self-esteem, no self-confidence, and you’ve got to find it in yourself somewhere, some reserve you didn’t know existed to walk away from that situation, from your home, from those you love with all your heart even though you believe they don’t love you in return.
But it is here that you begin to realize strength you really contain.
Since this is getting long, I’m dividing this section up into parts. Again, I cannot speak to the impact any of the above had on Prince, only on myself and others I’ve talked with over the years that have similar or somewhat similar experiences and have told me what they’ve felt, which has jived with the above. But the above also made me realize a part of why I felt so connected, so drawn to Prince. I think the little girl in me recognized that little boy in him and wanted to play and be free, in a way she never was.