(originally posted at Velvet Park Magazine)
When I got the news last week that Michael Jackson had passed away at age 50, the first person that came to mind was my sister Lisa “Pebbles” James.
I immediately knew that had she lived to hear about this moment she would be devastated. Her love affair with Michael Jackson lasted well into her 20s — after he was morphing into some other version of himself, after he no longer looked like the Michael Jackson from her prized Off the Wall record.
I can’t in good conscience climb on the Michael Jackson bandwagon and call myself a true fan. Sure, he was talented and clearly had an amazing work ethic, but I liked him better when he was still a Jackson 5. However, when we were kids, my sister Lisa was a fan to beat all fans. At 10 years old she knew everything there was to know about Michael Joseph Jackson - without the aid of the Internet. A relatively “obedient” kid, she would risk a butt-whipping so that she could hang out at the local mall, past curfew, in the People’s Drug (later to be CVS) magazine aisle reading every publication that had his face on it. On other days she would torture our younger sisters for hours by making them watch her deconstruct his latest dance moves and replicate the entire routine in her tiny bedroom.
Although she was clear that I thought her crush was stupid, she still engaged me every morning as we got ready for school with a dozen Michael Jackson questions before we ran off to catch our bus. Do you think Michael Jackson has to wear deodorant? Do you think Michael Jackson gets lonely? Do you think Michael Jackson has to clean his own room? Do you think Michael Jackson goes to the bathroom? To that last question, I told her, "No. I think he pays someone else to do it for him." Even now I can’t help laughing to myself thinking about the look on her face when she actually contemplated that possibility.
There is only 16 months between me and Pebbles, but those months seemed like years as it related to our personalities. At 12, and as the oldest, I was already building sarcasm and cynicism into my personality. Not her. She was the “feeler” in the family. The quiet one who thought deeply and could cry at a moment’s notice. I think there were days that she felt like an outcast in the family, this dark-skinned girl that didn’t feel attractive, as she entered her teens, and lamented that she didn’t have anything that made her "special" in our loud and demonstrative Jamaican clan.
As the second born, she had the misfortune to have an older sister who stayed in trouble. If I wasn’t breaking curfew or stealing something, I had the bigger personality that easily dwarfed her more mild-mannered and contemplative energy. I think that’s why she was so attracted to Michael Jackson. She recognized a loneliness in him that she thought was a part of her life as well. She saw a kindred spirit in her beloved moonwalker.
Pebbles gave a lot of thought about who she thought this young man was and how this sensitive soul was making it through the world. Sometimes she would construct these elaborate stories of how she knew that his older brothers were jealous of him and that they were probably mean to him after the curtain came down on their performances. She was convinced that she would one day meet him and they would be best friends. Even at age 10 she sensed that Michael Jackson was short on those.
One distinct memory stands out as it relates to my sister’s love affair with Michael Jackson: When she was about 12 years old, she started to develop a strong relationship with God. We had been raised in an ultra-religious home and she was the first one to seriously take on the charge of “accepting Christ as your personal Lord and Savior.” One of the first things she did was to purge her record collection. This was a sign that she was relinquishing all ties with her worldly obsessions. In the dumpster went the latest Stacy Lattisaw, Prince, Anita Baker and some New Edition. From my heathen perch on the living room couch, I noticed that the only records to survive this Christian rebirth was the soundtrack from Jesus Christ Superstar and every Michael Jackson record that she owned. I questioned why he was spared. She informed me, without a hint of irony, that she thought God would not mind if she loved Michael Jackson, too.