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A Rose for Michael

It’s not hard to see Michael Jackson’s life as a cautionary tale of what money, fame, an abusive father, and a racist and homophobic society can get you: bleached skin, a discolored penis and now an official charge of child molestation. The world awaits Michael’s next move, and as if we are on a death watch, we want him to stand trial in a court of law, confess or even, for a melodramatic end, to kill himself. Then the story of his fall will be finished.

But while we wait breathlessly for Michael’s comeuppance, I can’t help wondering if he has read William Faulkner’s short story “A Rose for Emily,” that cheesy masterpiece of thwarted sexuality. Michael calls to mind Emily’s plight: Obviously she was mad, and probably as much victim as perpetrator. The tension and pleasure in “A Rose for Emily” is in the unraveling of the depths of perversity. In the end we learn, with the discovery of an “iron-grey hair” found in the indentation in a pillow, that Rose slept for years next to the lover she had killed.

Top that for sick!

I bet not even the sheer spectacle of Michael’s slow and tedious fall can provide such a satisfactorily, ghoulish conclusion, but maybe we’ll be surprised.

And while I may enjoy ghoulish conclusions as much as the next media consumer, Michael, at one time, meant something to me. His success represented inclusion, unlimited possibility and potential.

Everybody liked Michael. He was bigger than the Beatles, even bought the Beatles’ songbook. Like Cosby, Michael was emblematic of the brilliant mainstream success of the 1980s that black folks had achieved for the first time, and we reveled in it even if we were suspicious.

How could we not be seduced by Michael’s success? He had arrived after coming a far ways, and we had made that journey with him.

I can see myself holding up a wall at a house party, red-light illumination, watching seventh graders maneuver through the cha-cha while I cursed myself for not being able to keep the beat to Texas Hop. But when someone threw on the 45 of “Never Can Say Goodbye,” I hated myself for not having the courage to ask a girl to slow dance. I hated Michael for making me long for girls I’d never have, who wouldn’t dance with me even if I could overcome my shyness.

By the time I reached high school, Michael’s Afro and his lanky style and dance moves convinced me that I should never dance, at least not around black folks, though I could grow my own Afro. Michael’s relevance diminished because he couldn’t speak to the brutality of the streets as bands like War did, or to the need of an inclusive spirituality that Earth, Wind and Fire satisfied.

But by the time I was a senior in college, Michael had begun his ascension to otherworldly superstardom. At the AKA’s sorority dances, young black women did amazing dance steps to Off the Wall, particularly “Workin’ Day and Night.” I never cared for “Thriller” as a song — it just seemed silly to me — but Thriller the short movie, which I saw in a packed theater with my girlfriend, was a weird kind of revelation.

Michael seemingly had perfected himself in a surgically cosmetic way, his Jheri curl was state of the art, and he exulted in the torturing of the beautiful Ola Ray. Oddly enough, now a decade and a half later, Michael resembles more the zombie monster of Thriller than he does that pretty brown-skinned young man with the slenderized nose.

Soon, I imagine, he’ll be convicted of child molestation, and that will be that, though I suspect he’ll never make it to prison.

Whatever conclusion comes of this mess, I suspect that it’ll resemble something more in the vein of “A Rose for Emily” rather than Michael in an orange-colored, government-issue prison jump suit.

Then Michael will belong to the academics as they dissect his meaning and his pathology. Those of us who still have a bit of affection for him will mourn him and his fall and wonder about the depths and breadth of his delusion and self-loathing. And that might be a job for a lifetime.

Jervey Tervalon’s current novel is Lita, and his forthcoming novel, Serving Monster, will be the story of the personal chef of an infamous celebrity.