When I was about 4, I was terrified of Michael Jackson. Well not like "Billie Jean" Michael Jackson. Thriller Michael Jackson. I am going to be 34 in a few months and I still have not seen all of Thriller in one viewing.
Michael Jackson turning into a werewolf? NO.
All them folks climbing out of actual graves? No Ma’m.
When that poor “Why didn’t they pay her” girl is sitting in the house screaming bloody murder as multiple zombies burst through the doors and walls of the house? Naw, son, I am not here for that.
But while I am not here for the creepy heebijeebiness of the completely epic Thriller Video, I am DOWN to execute the thriller dance with violent fervor and sing EVERY line with wild abandon if Thriller comes on anywhere. Ever.
Did you know they sometimes randomly play Thriller in the grocery store?
Why they most certainly do!
And did the three musketeers and I get it ALL the way in at Food 4 Less?
We most certainly did!
I genuinely wish you could’ve have heard the flawless perfection of three small children and their ridiculously grown ass mama hollering “ CAUSE THIS IS THRILLER. THRILLER NNIIGGHHTT!!” in the middle of the dairy aisle at Food 4 LESS. The acoustics of 2% milk are surprisingly superb.
But when I was 4, I had no idea that 30 years later I would be trying to teach my 4-year-olds how to groove like a monster. Because at 4 years old, I was 1000% certain that that was exactly what Michael Jackson was ... a monster.
My parents worked late crazy shifts at like 18 jobs to support my three brothers and I. My mom worked at Burger King and The Nabisco Cracker factory and my dad drove a cab, went to school, and did his homework in his cab while waiting for my mom's third shift to end.
Because of them working so hard to feed us and to bring my oldest brother Redeemer from Ghana here to join us in Chicago, my brothers were my primary parents. Shadrach and Teddy were 14 and 16, and to me they were flawless. I wanted to do everything with them.
I distinctly remember standing at the door wailing as they went off to a school field trip to Six Flags Great America, leaving little 4 year old me behind. I also can close my eyes and still smell the plastic of the little pink purse they’d brought me to make up for leaving me that day. Almost all of my first memories, my good memories, are of doing something with my brothers.
One of our most exciting times was the night of the MoTown 25. I remember feeling how excited my brothers were and anticipating all the action. We ate in front of the TV and I remember that Teddy gave me some candy to keep me quiet. I remember the sweetness in my mouth and the awe in my heart as Stevie Wonder, Marvin Gaye and The Commodores dazzled the stage.
I remember being absolutely mesmerized by Diana Ross and all of her hair. Like how did she hold her head up with 75 pounds of gorgeous halo around her head? How was this possible? My 4-year-old mind was blown.
The show was truly amazing. My brothers and I danced and sang along. They laughed while Richard Pryor made jokes I didn’t understand and I remember feeling very happy that they had let me stay up late and watch with them. I was a very grown-up girl.
But then that damn Monster came out and I was not even trying to hear it.
Michael Jackson danced out on the stage and I flew into my parent’s bedroom, crying, upset and completely certain that if I watched Michael Jackson and his brothers dance their machine across the stage. Michael Jackson would somehow be able to leap from the television, moon walk across our tiny living room, and eat me and my brothers alive.
Shadrach chased after me.
“Come on, Senam.” He pleaded with me.
"It's Michael Jackson... You know... Billie Jean Michael Jackson... Jackson Five Michael Jackson." He made some horrible attempt to dance like him.
I shook my head no and wailed. "He’s a monster! He’s going to get me."
"Oh, please, Senam, he’s not a monster. Anyway, do you think I would let anything bad happen to you? You think I would let a monster get you? I’m right here. I’m going to always keep you safe."
So I believed him and I can clearly recall exactly how safe, how comforted and how completely secure I felt as he picked me up and carried me into the living room so we could both watch monster Michael Jackson moonwalk his way into stardom.
Michael Jackson doesn’t frighten me anymore, I’ve learned that Diana Ross wore a really bad wig and most days I don’t need my big brothers to pick me up and whisk me away to safety anymore. But life can be a Thriller, some monsters can still be pretty scary, and sometimes you still desperately need your big bros.
So when I had to tell them about the new scariness lurking in my life and my very real fears they’ve done exactly what they’ve said they would all those years ago.
“Do you think we would let anything bad happen to you, Senam? You think we would let anybody get you? We’re right here. We’re going to always keep you safe.”
I think I forgot that for a while. But I’m so grateful that they never have.
Dear Shadrach, Redeemer, and Teddy, I love you endlessly. Love your little sister, Senam