Jenice Armstrong: Clinging to a piece of Whitney's past

I OWN ONE of the late Whitney Houston's dresses, a purple, velvet, mermaid-style evening gown with long sleeves trimmed with bugle beads.

I can all but picture her bouncing around stage in it. I bought it for $100 back in 2007 from a storage company in Irvington, N.J., that was selling off a bunch of Houston's belongings because of nonpayment. I waited all day in a cold, grimy warehouse for my chance to bid on one of the many items of hers that were up for auction. My plan was to wear the dress myself, but it was from the singer's early days when she and I both were rail thin. For all these years, the dress has hung in the back of a closet unworn. You're not supposed to hang onto clothing you never wear, so I thought a couple of times about tossing it or giving it away to one of my nieces.

I could never bring myself to do it, though.

How could I?

It was Whitney's.

Keeping that slinky, too-tight-for-me garment is my way of clinging onto a bit of everything that the former pop princess once stood for - incredible talent as well as beauty and glamour.

Watching the numerous video-tribute montages that have been airing since her death Saturday and seeing her with various fashion incarnations through the years, especially the ones of her with big, poofy hair and wide shoulder pads, I'm reminded of my days as a newspaper intern in Kansas City when I had a similar fashion vibe. We were about the same age, and Houston's look embodied the times. A guy I used to date was obsessed with her, and when he made physical comparisons, I felt like his poor substitute.

Maybe I flatter myself.

I felt a kinship with Houston, though, as if we could have been friends had we met. Taller than average, she wasn't the best dancer and she was hurt when critics said she came across as either too black or too white.

Listening to Houston singing about "Saving All My Love for You" reminds me of how too many of my girlfriends would sit around complaining about their no-good, cheating boyfriends whom they had no business being with anyway. "All at Once," another song I loved on Houston's self-titled debut album, was about the misery we'd all felt about crappy relationships.

Houston's untimely death in the Beverly Hilton Hotel at age 48 slams the door on an era, one that started out so promisingly but stumbled.

Drugs, Bobby Brown and madness? I want to forget it and remember the fresh-faced, golden girl discovered at age 19 by music mogul Clive Davis. I'll also remember Eagles quarterback Randall Cunningham, scandalizing Philly fans back in 1989 when he slipped out of a preseason game at halftime to attend her birthday party in New York City.

Houston really did "almost have it all," as she used to sing.

I'll hang onto her beautiful evening gown to help me remember that.