I wrote this essay 7 years ago in 2009 when Michael Jackson died. I never published it, because, well . . . somewhere inside there was a shame, that although my rational mind knows is not mine to bear, it was there nonetheless. In the events of the past week, related to Donald Trump's attitude towards and treatment of women, hundreds of thousands of women, have spoken up about the ways that they have either been assaulted or felt preyed upon during their lives. When I wrote the essay, I did share it with one friend, and until today, when I first told my husband about this, no one else ever knew. It's been locked away in a little filing cabinet. While I wasn't physically harmed by the event, it has never left my awareness anytime that I am in a parking lot. Today, I add my voice to this conversation, and in the words of our first lady Michelle Obama. "Enough is Enough."
Just Beat It
The King of Pop is dead.
How did that happen? I mean, it’s Michael Jackson. He’s been around my whole life. He was a cartoon when I was in kindergarten . . . and I guess, he was a cartoon now that I’m 42. Somewhere in between the two sets of cartoon years, there was a brilliant moment of music and dancing. Driving down the 580 headed to a baseball practice, the radio played songs from ABC to PYT, from Rockin’ Robin to Beat It, and intermittently, recorded phoned-in memories by listeners. Memories of the first time we saw the “moon dance” on the American Music Awards, fear of the Thriller video, a lifetime of memories to Michael Jackson songs. Gotta hand it to the guy . . . the music was fun and from 1979’s Off the Wall to 1982’s Thriller (and even awhile after) he was on top of the world. It didn’t matter what type of music you were a fan of in the rest of your life, when a Michael Jackson song came on, you danced, sang at the top of your lungs, and felt connected to everyone around you.
Memory of the Victory Tour—an outdoor stadium extravaganza, where he was reunited with his brothers, The Jackson 5. We couldn’t believe our luck! The center of the universe was coming to Knoxville! No one good ever came to Knoxville. Somehow, we scraped, saved, and begged and got tickets. It was the ticket of the year, and me, my sister and two cousins would all pile into my 1974 Oldsmobile 98 tank of a car for the long-awaited event. It was an August Sunday, and the four of us, and some 70,000 other people would converge on Neyland Stadium, usually reserved for the sacred activity of Tennessee football games only. The very fact that it was allowed on sacred ground pointed to the importance of the concert in my mind. We had hit the big time and I was going to be right there in the middle of it . . . or at least in the upper deck looking down on it all.
Earlier that day, I drove the maroon-colored behemoth with a peeling vinyl roof down to a strip mall so that I could purchase something cute at “Hit or Miss” to wear to the concert. This was the best day ever! Not only was I going to the Michael Jackson concert, I didn’t have to go to church that day because the cousins were visiting from Florida. Leaving the nearly empty shop, cute item of desired attire clutched in the white bag with red letters, I began walking to my parked car. A shopping center parking lot is a desolate place on a Southern Sunday morning. In the South, EVERYONE goes to church. It’s as social as it is spiritual.
As I unlocked my car, a man pulled up, politely calling out to me and asking directions to the interstate. I turned to answer, and stupidly approached his car. A naïve 16-year-old girl never suspicious in her perfect little community, approaches a strange car with a smiling face who just needs directions. Getting closer to the car, a hint of discretion comes into my stomach, perhaps I should stay just here. Then, my eyes landed inside the car. His pink fat hand clasped around his exposed penis—fat too, pulling and laughing grotesquely as I shrieked and ran back to my blessedly unlocked car, jumped in, and peeled out worrying that he would follow. Driving away, I cried cry all the way home, and then pulled it together and vowed to not tell how stupid I had been. Truly embarrassing.
With the excitement of the concert, my mind was occupied almost entirely, although at moments, even within the thrill of the concert, I kept drifting to how foolish it had been to be caught off guard like that, and how gross it all was. But then the music and the energy of this bigger than big event—Michael Jackson!!!—took me away from thinking about it, or even much remembering it for all these years.
But now he’s dead. His energy boosting music still plays on the radio, and it still makes me want to move, even after he turned from that to the odd being that died today. And now, remembering the star who turned into something that seemed almost un-human by the end, reminded me of another moment of the inhuman. Nearly 30 years later, I’m again 16 and peering into a car. I can vividly see a fat body, brown unruly long hair and beard, and I can hear his sinister laugh at having deflowered me in his own way.
Funny that memory. I had forgotten. It’s not a traumatic memory. Just a memory, strangely associated with Michael Jackson. How ironic. It was all such fun music, and then he went way wrong in all the curious ways he did; and, it was all so fun to be going to the concert . . . until the PYT saw the fat redneck Beat It in a parking lot on a hot Tennessee summer Sunday.