He was just a kid, and he used to live in that shack-turned-shrine.
Gaudy bouquets of sagging paper roses fall into the weeds. Wrinkled posters scrawled with “Rest in Peace,” and “I will love you forever,” written in black magic marker above a distorted sketch of his face. The ink, purple from rain and dew, bleeds across the page. Candles, balloons, American flags, and melted candy lump together in piles. Stuffed bears and tigers and dogs with matted fur and faded bows are topsy-turvy, tossed among crumpled sympathy cards and hand-written notes.
Slumped mourners take snapshots of each other—marking history—capturing tears of personal loss in front of the twisted Do Not Cross police ribbon stretched from the fence and around the stubby tree—jammed with soggy dolls, hand-made gifts, and toys—into the bareness of the backyard.
And across the street, protected from the sun and rain by black and white striped tent awnings, are card tables stacked with souvenirs. Over-sized t-shirts, CD’s, and DVD’s, each on sale for the low, low price of $15.00. Seems like a deal. Mourners pocket their cameras and hold t-shirts to their chests. “Do you think I look best in this one? Or this one?” Boom boxes at top volume play “I’ll Be There,” and “Thriller,” and “Billy Jean.”
He was just a kid. A cute, black kid. One of nine, all squeezed together in a foursquare shack—all trying to find space—like too many broken crayons shoved into a torn, over-used box.
He was just a kid. Handsome. Talented. Could he sing! And dance! He was the best of the five. He was the lead. Still . . . just a kid. And all the while, they say, as he was growing up, they say, he was filled with fear, crying and enduring the onslaughts of an abusive dad, they say.
He and his brothers were well behaved. No playtime, no running around the backyard, no friends, not even real school—just rehearse and perform. Rehearse and perform. Entering contests. Winning competitions. Entertaining the patrons of black nightclubs from Chicago to DC. Then Motown. Then LA. Then Neverland. Then . . . what?
He was just a kid who grew from a sweet, round-faced Gary, Indiana, toddler into an exceptional and celebrated entertainer and onto stardom and world-wide fame and finally into a grotesque, disfigured, emaciated man-child who liked to spread love by sleeping with little boys after serving them the wine he called “Jesus Juice.”
That tiny, garage-shaped home—that empty, rotting, paint-chipped, clapboard house—now the backdrop of a massive mound of tributes to the one who had captured the hearts of devoted fans and had filled the pocketbooks of enabling promoters and had satisfied the photo-lust of the paparazzi and had crammed the agenda of the media and then, after years of mystery, and innuendo, and hanging his baby over a balcony, and being tried for pedophilia, and reshaping his body into a sculpture so skeletal and so removed from the robust cherubic-like child he had been, had finally given the world the option to ignore his misdeeds, his over-spending, his drug use, and his scandalous behaviors.
He had given the world a final performance—one that would wipe his tainted slate clean, one that would allow him to rise from the mire he made of his life and ride new waves of esteem and veneration, one that would crescendo him into virtual saint-dom—an extraordinary, untimely, unrehearsed death.
But he was always and ever just a kid. A very, very sad confused disturbed talented little kid.