In a restaurant at a beachfront resort with my family on Thursday, I glanced up to see that Michael Jackson had been taken to the hospital. This was not surprising. He's had a variety of medical issues over the years. I went back to my food.
The next thing I know, some friends of ours at the same table are saying, "Well, 1958-2009. I guess that confirms it." And he's pronounced dead. Just like that. It takes a while to sink in.
Confession time. I was a HUGE Michael Jackson fan in the eighties. His posters covered my walls and ceiling. I had the glove, the doll, the video disc (yep, disc, but not sure on the spelling. disk?). It still plays on my classic RCA videodisc player. I had 66 Jackson record albums collected from all over the world, some printed in other languages. I saw the Victory tour. It was the first major concert I ever attended. I was fourteen years old.
I met him.
Long story, but I feel the need to tell it all and not leave anything out. This will likely be the longest post I've ever written.
When I was fourteen, my parents decided a trip to Disney World was in order. EPCOT was "educational and fun." My fourteen-year-old self didn't agree. I thought this would be the most childish vacation ever. Boy was I wrong!
On the day of our arrival, while waiting for our Disney Fairway Villa to be ready, we had lunch at the Royal Plaza Hotel. Now, remember, I knew all there was to know about Michael Jackson. I knew he kept a suite of rooms at the Royal Plaza. The hotel would rent it to others, but if Michael wanted to stay there (he loved Disney World), it was always ready for him. The suite had many of his gold and platinum albums hanging on the walls. I'd seen it on television.
My mother is a character. I talked her into coming with me to the appropriate floor of the hotel. When we found the suite, the door was open. A maid was cleaning it! Somehow, my mother talked her into letting me in to take pictures. I have photos of the gold and platinum albums hanging on those walls.
And so, our vacation continued. We were there for a week. Two or three days later, I began to think about why a maid would be cleaning the rooms at the Royal Plaza. Michael was on the Victory tour. I'd just seen it a few weeks prior. But there were breaks built into the tour schedule. It had to be coincidence, but I needed to know. My parents were very cool with me as an overly mature fourteen-year-old. I had the Disney bus pass. I had park passes. I was allowed to go wherever those would take me during the day, so long as I met them for dinner at night. I returned to the Royal Plaza Hotel.
I went up the elevator to the correct floor. I encountered a roped off hallway and security. I knew HE was there. Had I been a little less painfully shy, I might have gotten the guard to get me an autograph or something. I was the only teenager around. No one knew, except me. I doubt it would have worked, but I didn't even try. I went back to the ground floor. I tried to think like Michael Jackson. I prowled the hotel property. I found the service entrance. I discovered black vans and limousines. Okay, I knew how he got in and out. I told my mom that evening. We returned to the hotel together and waited outside. We caught a glimpse of him running from the service elevator to a waiting car.
This was pretty much how I spent the rest of my vacation. I would arrive early, wait until he left, and try to follow where he went. Okay, I was a young stalker. I would try to guess where he was headed, and was frequently right, but since I only had a bus pass, and he had direct transportation, I couldn't follow him very well. I would arrive at places to hear I'd just missed him. I got to the Magic Kingdom to hear he'd just ridden the Dumbo ride and left. Had I been a little smarter, I would have stayed at the Royal Plaza all day and waited right by the service elevators and hoped to be acknowledged. And since I was still the only one around, I might very well have been. But my teenage self was terrified of being in trouble with security, arrested, who knows? I desperately wish I could go back in time and tell myself how unlikely that was.
Still, my luck had not run out yet. On the last night of our stay, my parents planned to eat at the Hoop-Dee-Doo Revue dinner show at Disney's Fort Wilderness resort. I met them, on time, at the restaurant, babbling about missing Michael Jackson by minutes yet again. My father, who never cared for Jackson's influence on me, laid down the law. He did not want to hear one more word about Michael Jackson for the rest of the night. He was sick and tired of it all. Mom was more tolerant, but when Dad gets angry, it's best to shut up.
We went inside. We had a front row table. Mom always booked everything way in advance, like up to a year. We always had the best seats for everything. The very next table behind ours was long and seated maybe ten people. It remained empty while all the other tables filled. I commented that wouldn't it be funny if Michael Jackson and his party sat there. I got a growl from Dad and another warning. But somehow, I just had this feeling . . .
Next, I glanced at the service entrance by the kitchen. And there stood two limousine drivers. I knew them. I'd seen them day after day at the Royal Plaza Hotel. They were Michael Jackson's limo drivers. My heart jumped. I told my mom and pointed them out, but they'd disappeared. By now, my parents thought I was losing it. Then I see his personal bodyguard, Bill Bray (yes, I knew him by name), and I point him out, and he, too, disappears. And I KNOW! I know what's coming, and I can barely breathe.
The lights went down. The show prepared to start, and my Dad says something like, "Well, I'll be . . ." and in through the other fire exit comes Michael Jackson, his bodyguard, and several cousins and friends. My mother turns, spots him, and blurts out, "Michael!" And they sit at that big, long table right next to ours!
Michael is seated at the far end of the table, the head, with the best view (though I'm actually closer to the stage than he is.) I have a direct line of sight to him for the next hour to two hours of the show. I started to stand. My knees buckled. I had tears running down my face which I finally managed to control. My mother tried to get me an autograph and was escorted out by security. They let her back in when she explained that I'd had terrible medical problems over the past year, and she was just trying to do something for me, but it took awhile, about ten minutes or so. She never got the autograph. Dad and I just waited calmly. We knew she could talk herself out of any trouble.
Flashbulbs were popping like mad, and I realized with great distress that I DIDN'T HAVE MY CAMERA! Thank God for the elderly couple at the table on our other side. They took pictures, took my address, and mailed them to me a few weeks later.
I never saw the show. In fact, one of the performers tried to involve me, since we were front row, and I didn't even notice her. I only had eyes for Michael. He looked fantastic then, in one of those beaded red jackets with gold braid, and the aviator sunglasses. I don't know what I wore that night, but I do remember I had on my one glove pendant necklace which I held onto throughout the evening for luck. I almost never took that necklace off.
After the show, the Jackson party left first, and the rest of us ran outside to catch a glimpse of his limousines pulling away from the rear parking lot. I think he may have waved from the window, but I can't remember clearly enough now.
Aside from my wedding, that was the most exciting moment in my life. Years would pass. Michael would be accused of horrible things that I would not want to believe, but couldn't quite ignore. My hero worship of him would end, but my love of his music would not.
I grew older. He grew older. He disappeared. When I found out he was going to do more performances, I desperately wanted to go and recapture that magic I'd experienced from seeing the Victory tour all those years before, but he was doing the shows in London. I held out a small hope that he would extend the tour into the United States, and perhaps I could share that incredible experience with my own children, now eleven years old. But it was not to be.
I still can't believe he is gone. An era has ended. A piece of my childhood is missing. I want to know why, and I want to blame someone. Michael always seemed sad to me, and lonely in a way. His soft-spoken demeanor and apparent shyness were a huge part of his allure. I could relate to shyness. A lot of people found something in him to relate to. It's hard to identify exactly what it was about him--talent? personality? appearance? Whatever it was, we are unlikely to see anything quite like it ever again.
I hope he has found the happiness he always seemed to be searching for.