Being dead wasn’t what he expected it to be. By the end of what had become his life, he was completely overwhelmed and inundated with all of the venomous scorn that The Great American Hate Machine could produce. He had become a walking nightmare. A cautionary tale. The punch line of every inarticulate joke told by the stumbling rabble that thought that he belonged to them. Because he was wealthy, because he was famous, because he was different, they felt they had the right to turn him into something less than human. He used to pull the strings, but at some point, he lost control. He became property of those who despised him the most. He loved the fame and the attention, but he never asked for the hate. They buried him under it. So, he died.
Two and a half years after his death, he stood alone in the living room of a small bungalow on a beach somewhere in the South Pacific. He was one of the few residents of one of those rare and unique places where even the most popular celebrity in the world could be ignored. Where he was, no one cared about his identity. It helped that the massive plastic surgery he had undergone made him look remarkably like the man he was in the late 1980s.
Science was a gift to Michael. It allowed him to be whoever he wanted to be. What he had once used to remake himself into the greatest attraction on earth now made him the world’s most famous stranger. At first, he reveled in the anonymity. Conversations with people who didn’t want to ask him about his baby hanging over a balcony or Bubbles the chimp or the Elephant Man’s bones or the latest Trial of the Century. Conversations about the sunset. Conversations about the weather. What is least available to us is often what becomes what is most prized. And to him, it was normalcy.
The routines of existence were, at first, poetry to him. He awoke at 7 AM and took a walk on the beach. He got home and fed his chickens. He read extensively. He listened to the beautiful sounds of Sam Cooke and Jackie Wilson howling away on his record player. He closed his eyes and sat peacefully in the sun. He needed no sleeping pills or locked doors to create a brief and artificial quiet. Real quiet was everywhere he looked. Real harmony, at last.
For the first year, it was like heaven on earth. About halfway through Year Two of his life as a dead man, a strange feeling began to well up in him. It was a longing for something that he could not name. Something was unsettling about his life. He was far from lonely. He had made friends with a few of the locals and was able to contact the ones that were closest to him. He wasn’t exactly bored. There was much to do, even in his idleness. He missed the music.
One morning he caught himself signing along to Sam Cooke’s “A Change Is Gonna Come”. It occurred to him that he had not sung in what felt like an eternity. By the end of the song, he was so moved he felt himself begin to weep. He had forgotten what the music could make him feel when it came out of his body.
A steady need began to develop…the need to share this great gift that was given to him with others. He remembered that night on stage in Japan where he looked into that woman’s eyes and had seen the most pure love that had ever existed. To know that his voice, his music, could create that love in a person was something beyond words. He missed that feeling, that connection. When he was onstage and his voice exploded out of his slight frame and filled the theater with orgiastic light it was a feeling that transcended anything that he believed possible.
As he looked deeply into the endless horizon, he began to understand what he had to do. Sometimes, the whole of a person’s being changes in an instant and there is simply no going back. He purposefully walked to his bedroom closet. Above his clothes on a white wire shelf was an oak box. He took the box down from its perch and laid it on the nightstand.
A cold feeling gripped him. Nerves? Fear? He opened the box. There, staring back at him with quiet intent was his white glove. The white glove. The glove had come to symbolize everything he loved about his old life. It was glamor, it was beauty, it was ecstasy, it was uniqueness, it was innocence, it was joy….all together in one perfect icon.
He picked the glove up and slipped it on to his right hand. He stared silently at it for what seemed like an eternity. The sheer magnitude of the instant radiated hope and inspiration as brightly as it had ever shone for him. He had reclaimed himself. In this moment, he had been reborn.