It was our second to last day in Africa when we heard Michael Jackson had died. It was pretty shocking because we’d been without news the entire trip (although we did learn Ed McMahon had died, but not about Farah). Up until that time I’d felt fine news-less. The world had become a simpler place. If you don’t know what’s going on in the world, you can focus on the here-and-now. It really made for less stressful times.

We were in a camp with one other family. I was walking out to wash my hands before breakfast when I heard the youngest girl claim, “Wow! That’s the first news we’ve heard all trip.” Being the news junkie I am, I asked right away what had happened.

“Michael Jackson died.”

Wow, stunning news. I asked the camp staff if it was for sure true. They said it had been on the radio all morning. I walked back to tell the rest of our group. We were all kind of shocked. Right away, we all speculated it was an OD.

As we went on our final drive in the Serengit, it got lost in the scenery and animals. When we returned to camp that night, one of the staff ran out with a boom box that was playing an MJ soung. It made the news surreal all over again.

When we arrived in Amsterdam I search for a newspaper, anything to learn about what happened. Unfortunately there were no papers in English. So I just stood and read the headlines. Even in different languages it was clear the world was shocked at the news. Allison and Carmen came up behind me and asked what was going on in the world. I waved my hand at the stacks of papers and said, Well, Michael Jackson died.

I think because we were out of the county when it happened that it doesn’t seem real. Or maybe that’s just the way it still feels for everyone.

I was a huge MJ fan. Off The Wall is really the first time I remember him catching my attention. Don’t Stop Till You Get Enough. I Want to Rock with You. She’s Out of My Life.

Then came Thriller. It was HUGE my senior year in high school and freshman year of college. It just took the world by storm. I remember loving everything MJ.

I remember being devastated when his hair caught fire in the Pepsi commercial. Sitting in Sunday School after learning the news. Being so upset I almost burst into tears, so I ran for the room. I just didn’t know how to explain what I felt to my mom (who thought I was crazy just getting up and running).

Then came Prince. I mean, I still loved MJ, but it just wasn’t the same.

Then came the first rumors of inappropriate behavior with kids. And the really bizarre plastic surgeries. And Lisa Marie. And, well, just plain weirdness. It was clearly over between us. Even when he was exonerated, I could never get past it.

And now? I fall into the fans who want to exonerate him again. Allow him to just be remember as the great artist that he was. But his life will always have an asterik. To me anway.

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