I became obsessed with Michael Jackson when I was 11. I heard “You Are Not Alone” on the radio and melodic magic happened in my ears.
It’s a cliché, but I was getting sicker by then. I was born with cystic fibrosis (a genetic lung disease), and he was a distraction from my ill world. His hypnotic voice burned in my brain instead of the IV alarms that were going off, or the pulsating oxygen during hospital stays, not to mention the medical jargon always in the background of my life. He took me out of my world.
When I was 16 and my doctors suggested I be listed for a double lung transplant, I dove deeper into the Michael Jackson fandom. I immersed myself in everything MJ.
I had all his music, every movie, and posters everywhere. I even saved money to buy VHS tapes of his rare performances from eBay (this was before YouTube!). I engrossed myself in the way he moved, the rhythmic beats of his songs, the black loafers adorning his feet, the white socks that highlighted his steps, the sparkly glove that glittered in the air—anything there was to see, hear or know about him I had covered.
I knew his song lyrics verbatim, I could recite every interview, and I could recall any fact. But it was more than the music that drew me in deep.
Now, as a 31-year-old adult, I know how crazy this sounds, but something about him was fascinating, even magnetic to me.
I was having a particularly bad hospital stay shortly after the awful lung transplant conversation, trying to get rid of a life-threatening infection. I saw a Make-A-Wish commercial very late at night on television. I still remember the little boy playing at the beach with his family and forgetting his illness.
I took it as a sign. I went online and filled out their request form. I knew exactly what I was wishing for.
They contacted me and my doctors shortly after and said I was eligible for a wish, which is awesome and depressing at the same time. It meant by some standard I was considered terminal for them to consider me. I was only 17.
Two very cheery woman volunteers came to my house after I was stable and released from the hospital. They brought all sorts of fun gifts with them. I remember exactly the pink and purple Caboodles they had in tow and how they eagerly watched me unwrap it.
They explained I was one of the oldest candidates they had worked with, so it was fun for them to pick out older, girly gifts.
My heart was rapidly beating inside my chest as they got all their paperwork out. I looked at my mom, who was by my side, for periodic reassurance. I think, truthfully, she was nervous too. I knew what I wanted, and I knew it was big.
I tried to slowly breathe—a difficult task for someone with failing lungs—as I mustered up the courage to tell them what my wish was.
“And what is your wish, Natasha?” the question followed with a smile.
My eyes welled with tears before I could say anything. This was very important to me. I had wanted this for so long. I needed this.
“I want to go to Neverland and meet Michael Jackson.”
They were surprised. I knew that was not what they were expecting.
“Well if you had a back-up wish, what might that be?”
I did not have a backup wish. This was my wish. My only wish. In the past, I had friends of friends (of friends) who were always trying to get me in front of Michael Jackson one way or another (this was before social media), but it never came to fruition. He was, after all, the most famous, untouchable, elusive person in the world. This was the only way my dream was finally going to come true.
Initially, Make-A-Wish came back and told me that Michael had stopped doing wishes long ago. But I told them to keep trying. This was all that I wanted. I knew it would happen. I had such enormous faith. I believed so deeply. I prayed so genuinely for this to happen.
During the course of a year, Make-A-Wish asked me several times to move on and change my wish to something else. They offered me basically anything a girl my age should have wanted: shopping sprees, magical trips, working with a top fashion designer even came up.
They tried hard to tempt me away. It didn’t help that I was getting sicker. They were not any closer to getting Michael’s camp of advisors to agree to a wish.
But I said no to their other suggestions again and again. I prayed every day for years to meet Michael Jackson. I begged God so many times to meet the man that helped me survive my life.
I was not the giving-up type. I was not the kind of girl to move on. I told myself time and time again: keep believing. Michael gave me something else to pray for other than my life.
But truthfully, quietly, I was getting worried. My lungs were getting worse. Life was getting harder. It was becoming harder and harder to breathe. I was officially on the lung transplant list.
One night out of nowhere, I dropped to my knees and I prayed. I was at a low point in life, and I needed something to give me confidence that a bigger power existed. My prayer was "Please let whatever is meant to happen, happen." It was the first time in my life I ever prayed and felt moved. It was like someone had actually heard my intense plea for something miraculous to happen in my life.
The next morning, I got a call from Make-A-Wish. I could barely grasp the phone when I heard the lady on the other end: “Natasha, it is time for you to meet Michael Jackson! We are putting you on a plane, and you are going to Neverland!”
And just like that, the wish I had waited so long for was happening. My dream was coming true; one significant prayer had been answered.
Neverland was everything you picture in your mind it would be: wondrous and magical. The front gates were adorned with angels opening to unreal gorgeousness. There were flowers everywhere, every kind, ever color tracing the elaborate walkways and buildings.
There was classical music playing, no matter where you were on the massive property. There was an arcade. There was a movie theater. There was a pool. There were rides. There was a trolley that took you from place to place. There were toys. And candy. So much candy. And there was, most importantly, Michael.
There is not enough space in this essay to tell every detail of the day. Most people want to know what was Michael like. He was tall. Michael wore black pants and a red button-down shirt. His hair was long and dark. He wore stark, white socks.
He was intensely pale, almost translucent. His eyes were deep as the ocean, transfixing. His voice was deep. His words were ordinary. He was even funny. Most people are expecting, even wanting me to say that he was some kind of freak when I privately tell my story.
I won’t say that. He just was not. He wore a lot of make-up. That is the only unusual thing I can say. And yes, he clearly had a few nose jobs. He was normal, yet also blaringly bright. His soul was vivid.
I still adore and cherish Michael, though my obsession has died down. I am fiercely, but quietly, loyal.
I no longer have all the memorabilia displayed. I have forgotten most of the random facts I once knew. I don’t play his music on repeat anymore.
But Michael is as important to me as he ever was. The day I spent at Neverland will forever be one of the most significant days of my life. The thing is, Michael Jackson was more than some popular musician; he was my first proof of faith.
I wished and prayed incessantly. I held strong to my dream. I never gave up. I held on to my faith firmly. I remember this during all my tribulations in life, which there have been many.
Michael taught me that faith is real and powerful, and with it anything is possible.
Exactly a year after I went to Neverland I got incredibly sick. I was put on oxygen 24-hours a day, had to leave college, and was basically bed bound while I waited for my lung transplant match. On Nov 12th, 2003 a family donated the most perfect healthy lungs that were a perfect match for me. They allowed me to finish college and for the most part be a normal person.
Lungs have a limited shelf life. They are one of the hardest organs to transplant, I had five and a half truly incredible years with my lungs before I developed chronic rejection and had to be listed for a second transplant, which I received in 2012. Life is not always easy. There are lots of diversions in the road for me, but my experiences in life have given me such faith.
And when I am having a rough day I can still turn on Michael Jackson and smile.