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I’m not sure exactly what I was doing this time three years ago, but it probably involved a marathon session of CNN and a lot of tissue.
Just four months before, I had gone into spastic convulsions watching the same network. Michael Jackson, a man who I had idolized my entire life, had just announced that he was finally going to perform again -- for the first time in my adult life. I was finally in a position to go to a show without begging my mother for money or supervision. It was an opportunity I couldn’t pass up.
There was only one problem. MJ's 10-show limited engagement was in London. Like London, England. I wasn't going to let getting over a pesky little ocean become an issue. So equipped with a creepy obsession and a BFF who is just as much of a weirdo as I am, I got to work.
Tickets went on sale at 10 am one Tuesday morning. I woke up extra early to go to work so that I could use multiple computers in order to effectivey optimize my chances of getting through to Ticketmaster. Sounds not so crazy, right? Consider this; 10 am in Londontown is 2 am in Atlanta, and “going to work early” sorta meant breaking in because I didn’t have a key.
I sat there in the middle of the night and watched the loading icon on eight different computers go round and round, praying one would eventually go through. Nothing.
But luckily for me, FORTY more shows were added to Michael's roster the very next day. So when I broke into my office again the following Tuesday, I actually scored tickets to show number 32.
The plan was set. My best friend and I were going to fly to London, drink tea, flash the guards with the fuzzy hats, see Michael Jackson and promptly drop dead, because once he left the stage of the O2 arena our lives would be pretty much anticlimactic from there on out.
One month after we bought those tickets, Michael Jackson was dead. I knew it was real once the phone calls started flooding in. People I hadn’t talked to in years were calling me, not to talk about it, but to make sure I was okay. People sent me flowers, it was so bad.
Then there were the good people at Ticketmaster. Instead of sending me the tickets to what was supposed to be one of the greatest days of my life, they sent me an official copy of Mike’s funeral program instead.
People often ask me why. Why was I such a huge fan? Why go aalllll the way to London to see him perform? Why would you cry for a person you didn’t even know?
My first response is usually, “Because he’s Michael fucking Jackson, that’s why!”, but for whatever reason people usually need a more elaborate explanation.
I feel like I really did know Michael Jackson. I was born on the first day of 1984, right in the peak of his success and he’s been in my life ever since. He’s been there to celebrate birthdays, graduations or just long drives in the car when I don’t give a damn who’s watching me sing along. If I’m ever stupid enough to get married, he’ll be there at the reception to congratulate me. And I won’t know for sure, but when I die, he’ll probably be somewhere at my repast too, distracting my loved ones from their sadness in a way that only he can.
But Mike has also taught me a lot about how I see others. Many people, most people even, have been quick to judge him based on what was on the surface. Yes, the man was weird; I’ll be the first person to admit to that, but so were the times that made him. Now if the guy had a perfectly unremarkable life with a 9 to 5, a wife and 2.5 kids and still insisted on walking around his office with one of those wicked Cap’n Crunch get-ups, then OK, ya got me. Judge away.
But Mike was different, because his life was more different than any of us could ever understand.
Personality quirks don’t exist just to elicit giggles and eye rolls. And they’re not just happenstance either. Simply put, people are who they are for a reason. And unless you’ve taken a stroll in their proverbial shoes, it’s impossible to judge. It’s an obvious (but also not-so-obvious) revelation that has influenced me to go to grad school to study mental health where that same idea has been reinforced.
Up until MJ's death, I reserved that perception just for him. Mike was one of the most famous people on the planet. That’s bound to make you strange. In fact, that’s one of the reasons I loved him so much.
Like that kid in high school who refused to answer to any name but “Dr. Awkward. Or my old co-worker who always wore headphones -- even when they weren’t plugged into anything. And even my own father, who despite having the same phone number for 40 years, insists on reciting it at the end of every voicemail message he has ever left me.
So once Mike was gone, I began to appreciate the weirdness that made him him -- even more that I did before. And in a way, it helped me to appreciate everyone else’s weirdness too.