I Wanna Be Where You Are: Michael Jackson and the Pursuit of What We Can’t Have

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Here’s another excerpt from the book that I have been working diligently on.  With today marking the five year anniversary of Michael Jackson’s death I thought this would be a good one to post…

I Wanna Be Where You Are

“It’s not my thing trying to get back. But this time, let me tell you where I’m at.”-Michael Jackson

Until I was about seven years old you couldn’t tell me I wasn’t going to be Michael Jackson. Singing on stages since a kid and being the world’s greatest entertainer was my mission in life. I wanted my parents to have three other kids so that we could be like the Jackson 5. I used to draw pictures of it all the time and I was the lead singer, of course.  What looks glamorous is almost always a façade. The things we covet only seem bright when light is reflecting off of it. Gold is just an element no different than the oxygen we breathe. We give the former so much value as something it literally is the foundation of all that we work for while the latter is what keeps us alive. We value what we can’t have. We put a premium on chasing something we make ideal and consider it the pursuit of happiness. We seek gold-or currency-relentlessly while taking advantage of the inhaling and exhaling that make this possible. We don’t even think about how important air is until it’s being taken away from us.

As much as Michael Jackson was and is loved not many ever considered the pain behind the singing voice. The boy, who became the breadwinner for his family, never grew up, and he died trying to find middle ground between the two. He gave so much that it literally killed him. And after all of the money made and the music we will always remember he never got the one thing he always wanted: a childhood.

Once Michael became an adult he would tell interviewers stories about how he would be stuck in studio sessions. He would look outside, seeing all of the kids play, and would cry because that’s what he wanted to do. Unlike his other brothers, all he knew what music because he had been working as hard as an adult since he was five. Meanwhile, his brothers were older and they got to spend those formative years scraping their knees, playing sports, and all of the above. Michael became obsessed with his childhood. Children became his life outside of working and since he had more money than any of us could imagine he spent it on doing kid stuff. He made his home an amusement park where children who were sick could have a moment in their life being happy doing the one thing he never could. The trade-off was that he got to live vicariously through them. His work ethic supported this.

His pursuit of happiness failed him as a few of those children betrayed the part of his mind that hadn’t developed-and became child-like naiveté-and he was labeled a freak. But everyone who was calling him that and treating him like one were all people who had a childhood. They didn’t understand being six years old going to school in the morning, rehearsals right after in which if you didn’t nail moves with precision you got whippings, walking off said whippings, just to perform at strip clubs, get home at 2 am, and do it all over again. The people the crucified him had the one thing Michael Joseph Jackson would have traded almost everything in the world to have.

I get it. Becoming a single father wasn’t the plan. It just happened. I can’t be mad because ultimately the road that I have traveled was made just for me. I’m twenty-eight years old; yet I have had life experiences that many do not until they are much older, and I am caught somewhere between rectifying and enjoying what is left of my youth and the responsibilities of being someone’s father. I don’t get to hang out much. Whenever I do, it requires a lot of planning and negotiation. By the time it happens I’m tired and it isn’t even worth it. Many of the times when I do get to go out and have a good time with adults I bring Cydney with me. This means I can’t stay out late because I have to get my little one home.

One of the last conversations that I had with my grandmother who recently passed away will always stick with me. As we watched Jersey Girl-a movie that just happened to be on about a single father to a little girl whose wife died-she said to me that she wants more out of life for me. “I want more for you than just taking care of children, [sick], and old people. You’re twenty-seven years old. These are the best years of your life.” She and all of her wisdom had hit the nail on the head of everything that I was feeling; yet I couldn’t explain to anyone in my inner circle because they couldn’t understand. My parents get it in theory; but they raised their children in a way and with a life that would be deemed “normal.”

That was the summer of 2013. I pretty much spent the whole summer doing family stuff, being home with the kids, helping my mother who was undergoing chemo for the second time because her cancer had come back, and wanting nothing more than to take Neighbour on a date. There is nothing like summer in New York City. Places to go, everyone is outside, parties on rooftops with an awesome view that don’t end until 4 am, and more skirts to chase than one who hasn’t been here could imagine (they liked being chased too). As I am at home, loving all of the aspects of being a father to my little girl, I’d look at my phone in the same way a young Michael Jackson would look out the window just wanting togo out and play. I would rather be at home raising my kid and doing all of the amazing dad stuff that I write about; but a few nights would have been nice.

I work from home. Up until two months ago, Cydney was at home with me all day. I wouldn’t-and still don’t-have much adult human interaction on a daily basis that doesn’t consist of being on my phone.  That is probably one of the worst things that could happen to a widower’s psyche than basically being by themselves for two years after their other half dies. The only two people who have “got me” fully since December 9, 2011 were my grandmothers. It’s great to have people that get you; it just sucks that what you have in common other than genetics is losing a spouse. They would both say “All you’re left with are memories” that you pretty much relive every day.  My grandmothers were able to smile saying that because in their old age they have lived. There is more past to reflect on than future to look forward to. With me it’s the opposite. Writing this at 6 am on Father’s Day is when it has just clicked why I have pretty much been on a downward spiral since one of them died in February: I lost one of two people who understood what I have been going through. While we didn’t talk very much because she knew that it was hard for me to sit around and see another person dying; she got it when we did.

While I am coveting and chasing some semblance of what is left of my free spirit fulfilled, I know many who are my age and want what I’ve had or currently have. There’s a price for this. Truthfully speaking they aren’t ready. For all of the writing and pictures that I post making parenting look awesome-which it is-means sacrificing of self and it isn’t easy. I’ve had conversations with a friend or have seen them visibly worn from working all of the time and have thought “I wish I had your problems. Solving the riddle of your life would be easy.” Of course I can say that because after going through what I’ve been through it is. Then again, my parents and older people could say the same about me too because I damn sure don’t have it all figured out. I say this to say that we all wish for what we don’t have. We want something different regardless of paying a price we couldn’t afford and if we really had the opportunity wouldn’t. Knowing how that movie played out, I wouldn’t want to be Michael Jackson anymore. Sure I may not really get to date or have the freedom to do as I please spur of the moment; but the life I’ve lived is by all means amazing.

One thing I thought about the night that Timile was diagnosed with cancer was “The hardest thing in life I am ever going to go through is happening while I am twenty-five years old. Things will only get better from here.” I told this to my grandmothers and they both said “You’re right!” When I’m their age I will see that my thirties and forties are still my youth. They may not be as wild as one’s twenties are but I’ll do my partying then. I’ll also make a killing off of giving my friends and their friends advice because they will have just started becoming parents.

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