Over the course of two hours I believed I met a man who we all knew. He was sitting in the Sonoran Desert East on a cement bench. He was humming out a song. At first I felt like I were dreaming. As I heard the voice, I knew without a doubt who I was hearing.
I always carried a small tape recorder to keep a log of my experiences. As he began talking to me, I pushed Record.
“No one understands,” the fame, the money, it eats you up. Surrounding me were people who needed me to perform. They needed me to make the money, draw the crowds. I was their ticket to success.
“I remember telling the producer I was tired. We had eighteen shows in eighteen weeks, a different city every week. I was seventeen.
“My producer brought a man to see me. He told me he was going to give me some pills. Some pills turned into some injections. Some injections turned into me being awake for twenty four hours, then crashing for a mere four hours: more interviews, more talking, more singing. The entire thing was mind blowing.”
I recorded the above statement during a meeting with Peter, a former superstar. His career was marked by accusations he was a pedophile.
During our two hours together Peter told me stories of magical travels. “Exciting times,” he called them. To the world he was now dead. He had stories of cities and places I had never heard of. The hardest thing to hear was how deeply sad he was.
His face told the story of trying to escape. His eyes were dark and showed a depth I had not seen in most people. His skin was pale white. I was struck by how very pale he was, as if he never went outside. His head was bald. Scars were there from skin graphs. Here he sat, very still. He was extremely thin and pale. He was a broken man, humming some little piece of music. I noticed as we were sitting in the hot Sonoran desert that he didn’t sweat, not a drop of perspiration did I ever see.
This could have been a simple interview. I could have just stumbled across a myth. Twist was, he seemed alive. More alive than he had been in years. He smiled a sad, thick smile. How could he leave his kids, I wondered?
Peter began again.”I’m glad you’re here with me. My journey has seemed so lonely. I had been sitting here alone for a very long time. I feel I have been here for days and no one has talked to me. Do you know how that feels? There is a deep loneliness that grabs at your heart, pierces your soul. How can you possibly ever understand? I feel like I am lost, just totally lost.” He paused, looked down at his feet, then went on.
“My father, he drove me, drove my family. He was a typical black male, trying to sell the white world an idea that blacks, black kids, could entertain them. He wanted money. He wanted the whites to serve us. He told us we were great and we could be great. That none of us was better than the other. But we were all different. We each had our dreams. I would lay awake in bed dreaming of Tinker Bell and Peter-Pan. What a free world they lived in. What a great island. The only dangers were some unreal creatures they could easily destroy.” He paused, took a long deep breath, and then continued.
“Dreams are funny. We keep them locked inside of ourselves. Sometimes, there are those of us who pull our dreams into reality. Some of us become rich and famous. I know you probably will never get me. Very few people ever did, except the kids. Kids have that innocence about them, curious but accepting. They accept until someone teaches them to hate or feel superior to others. That was why I loved being around children. I was not about sex. No one got that except the men I met in the Middle East. They taught me that God sometimes laces a man with a very different spirit. This makes him no less a man. The spirit drives him in a different way. We humans can’t label this process. We want to but we can’t.”
I watched Peter’s face intently. He seemed so sad, his mood so dark. I could feel the deep pain inside my own body, aching, tearing at me. I could not believe what I felt. Never had I heard such a sad story. Here I was sitting next to a man who was rich. He could travel the world have anyone he wanted. He could have all the medicine or drugs he had a taste for. He could have so much. Here I was feeling sorry for him. Then my head screamed at me.
“Hey what the f— is wrong with you. You have everything. Millions love you. You have money, happiness; glory in this world with the rich and famous. You have the captive audience of nations. You are feeling sad, why? Did I miss something? Oh by the way, aren’t you DEAD?”
My mind was screaming the words. They never formed at my lips. I shook my head in agreement and listened. I gave him my attention. He needed me, and I felt I needed him. Peter began again.
“You seem like a nice guy. I heard you say they call you Lance?”
“Yeah that’s right, but how did you know? I don’t remember telling you my name,” I replied.
Peter continued. “No you never told me. I just heard it in my mind I think. Anyway, I bet the women love you. When you look good or have something they want, how crazy people can be. You know women would throw themselves at me. They took their shirts off and threw their underwear at me when I was on stage. One time a woman came backstage to “service me”. My brother told me she just wanted to give me a BJ, you know a blow job. I ran away, locked myself in the bathroom and cried. I cried like a baby. I wasn’t afraid. I felt sorry for her. She wanted to give herself to me to please me. I felt sad for her. She thought by pleasing me in the physical she could some how please herself.
“Then there were the men, never any different from women. They were more forward at times. I felt so alone. Like they all wanted to have sex with me and I was a God they could never satisfy. I drove them mad, wild. I made them something they had never been, alive from the music, the dancing. People could come together for a little while. They had a chance to escape by using my music, my videos. They could live a fantasy created for them by me.
“I’m sorry you had to ask me about my kids. My family will take care of them. They were presents for me from women who knew I loved kids. I know how strange this sounds to you, like I bought them or something. They are my children, and nothing can change this you see. No one wants to admit children are for sale, but they are. The world is a cruel place. Sometimes, some kids get lucky to be placed with those of us who can give them so much more. I know you might think I am sick or strange, but what if I told you I am just a fantasy that can be no more? I am the man you see in the mirror.”
Peter turned his gaze from me to the vastness before him. The desert, a dry, wild place, lay before us both. His gaze seemed to long for something much deeper. He seemed so calm. I felt as if I were meeting someone who was so special no words in our language would ever cover the subject. I watched him stare off into the desert, I felt so alone, so empty.
An incredible ache began inside my body. Not a physical ache, but something I felt long ago as a child. When faced with tragedy beyond my comprehension, this ache began deep inside of me and came over me, passing through me.
I bowed my head, the ache became total pain, dark, emotional pain. The pain comes from a place men cannot dwell or they may lose their minds. I sat with my arms wrapped around my own body rocking myself back and forth, trying to give myself comfort that would not come. I began to weep. Tears rolled down my face. Irritated, I was trapped in a deep moment of sorrow. I wept. A deep intense type of grieving I was now doing. I tossed my head back and yelled.
“Why him? Why not me?”
I shook for a moment. When I looked over at the bench, Peter was gone. I wiped away all the wetness from my face. I was sitting in the Sonoran desert alone. Everything had gotten quiet. I felt as though he had come to visit me, just as Jesus had returned to his disciples. Peter bestowed his spirit to me. This great singer, dancer, I had loved for years. We had grown older together and now he was gone from my world. Here I sat grieving like a child for a parent. Waiting for the parent to come give me love, give me strength, and give me hope.
At the end of our lives we are left to wrestle out the mysteries of life and death. Was Peter this Michael Jackson I had watched over the years? Was he a dream that needed to be seen so I could go on? Did he appear so I could live? Or did he die for us, so that we may love each other unconditionally as he had hoped for all his life?
I never met Michael Jackson. I believe Peter was a spirit, perhaps the one that lives in all of us. When we are faced with unexplained tragedy we realize how much we love and feel deeply. Everyone has demons they need to banish.
I turned on the recorder to listen to his words. There was nothing, but the sound of the tape moving through the machine.