Island Girl: 'This Is It,' every day

An argument to see Michael Jackson's movie, and to remember that there's not always next year.
An argument to see Michael Jackson's movie, and to remember that there's not always next year.

In October of 1991, I was living on the Iron Range of Minnesota with my first husband and our two sons.

It was a tough place, a harbor town filled with silent taconite mines and for-sale signs. Unemployment was 12 percent. My husband worked as a printer during the day; he went to school at night. Our boys, Andrew and Max, were 3 and 18 months. We'ꀙd been planning Halloween for weeks: attending library events, making pumpkin cookies, stockpiling candy with every grocery store run.

Andrew was going to be a rabbit and Max a clown. These weren'ꀙt disguises they — or I — chose. We had hand-me-down costumes from a relative who had sent them in the mail. I hoarded enough cash to buy some greasepaint makeup so I could make whiskers and a red nose.

Then, on the afternoon of the 31st, it began to snow. By late afternoon, it was an all-out blizzard: whipping winds, snow being driven horizontally, falling temperatures. There was no way we were going out.

Around 7 o'ꀙclock, I finally gave up and removed their costumes. I washed their faces and gave them each a serving of candy from our own untouched trick-or-treat store.

'ꀜDon'ꀙt worry,'ꀝ said my husband, who had walked home four miles through the storm when the buses quit running. 'ꀜThere'ꀙs always next year.'ꀝ

It was a nice thing to say. But he was wrong. Two weeks later Andrew had some sort of 'ꀜevent.'ꀝ It wasn'ꀙt a seizure — nothing so clear cut. It could have been a fall we didn'ꀙt see, though that'ꀙs unlikely. It probably was simply some neurological short, something that was bound to occur though he looked perfectly bright and normal on that snowy Halloween. All I know is, by Thanksgiving he could not speak. He was locked inside himself for years and even when he emerged he was different. Tangled. Wary and slow to process. There was never another Halloween for him.

I have photos of the boys in those costumes that I schlepped all the way here to Washington in a cardboard box. But I have no idea why. Because I cannot bear to look.

The albums of that first marriage, the one that fell apart as we blamed first environmental factors then genetics then, finally — after nearly 14 years during which our son got briefly better then much, much worse — each other, sit untouched. I have no idea what would happen if I were to open them. But I think some carefully stitched-together part of me might come undone.

I wonder if this is what happened to Michael Jackson.

It might have been the timing. I spent Saturday night, as I do each year, handing out candy and drinking a little too much. Then Sunday, I went with a friend to see the movie This Is It.

You have to understand, I'ꀙm a Michael Jackson fan by reason of age and place. I was a high-school student in the early '80s, in Minneapolis, back when Prince was still playing little Hennepin Avenue clubs. We listened to nothing but R&B. "Billie Jean" was the anthem of my junior year.

So when I tell you I loved this film — and I did — accept that in the context of who I am. It is ragged: a streaming mishmash of hand-shot video and concert footage and old photographs. And it'ꀙs probably an exploitation of the man, given how much money is at stake. But it'ꀙs also an eerie glimpse into what looks to me like a very lonely life.

It begins with a bunch of amateurish interviews with dancers who relate, tearfully in most cases, why they want to work with 'ꀜMJ'ꀝ and what he has meant to their lives. Then the film goes on through one rehearsal after another: moments when Jackson appears perfectly in control, a master of tempo; others where he is nearly incoherent, complaining about the noise in his ears or his strained throat.

But the most poignant moment, I thought, was when a wild, colorful backdrop descended and this 50-year-old man was made to reenact his 10-year-old self singing, 'ꀜI'ꀙll Be There.'ꀝ Perhaps it was only my own Halloween hangover, but I could swear he looked haunted during this segment, like a man being chased.

According to news reports, This Is It has sold out theaters in other parts of the country — and the world. People waited in line for 48 hours to buy tickets in L.A. I'ꀙm perplexed to report that at 4 o'ꀙclock on a Sunday afternoon in one Pacific Northwest theater, the audience was small: my friend and me, maybe a dozen others.

My advice? See it while it'ꀙs out, which originally had been promoted as a two-week run but now — perhaps inevitably — has been extended. It'ꀙs worth it, whether you'ꀙre interested only in the new version of "Thriller," or battling some pent-up demons of your own.


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