Loving And Losing Michael Jackson

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Marie Nelson

Marie Nelson is executive producer of NPR's Tell Me More. Stephen Voss hide caption

toggle caption Stephen Voss

Michael Jackson: Full NPR Music Archive

Michael Jackson 300 i

Michael Jackson poses with the awards he won in eight different categories at the 26th annual Grammy Awards in Los Angeles in 1984. Reed Saxon/AP hide caption

toggle caption Reed Saxon/AP
Michael Jackson 300

Michael Jackson poses with the awards he won in eight different categories at the 26th annual Grammy Awards in Los Angeles in 1984.

Reed Saxon/AP

Michael Jackson was my first love.

It was the most intense and utterly unrequited affair of the heart. He came into my life at just the right moment. It was the early '80s and I was about 10 years old. My family had fled a military coup in Liberia, and we had sought refuge in America, moving to a suburban enclave near Baltimore.

As we worked to pull the pieces together, we lived in a house on a cul-de-sac with nearly 30 extended family members. With everything else that was going on, I was also dealing with the dawning reality that my father's absence in our home was permanent. And with my heavily accented English, schoolyard bullies taunted me with such lovely nicknames as "African Booty Scratcher" and "Jungle Bunny." It's no wonder that I fell mute for my entire fifth-grade year.

So, what's a girl to do when her world is dislocated, overcrowded and somewhat tortured? Hang out in her room, of course, which I did for hours on end, reading Harlequin romance novels and dreaming of the arrival of my own Prince Charming.

When Michael and I first met, he was literally wrapped in a bow and left on my doorstep. It was my birthday and my big brother gave me my first album. I think he knew that it would be love at first listen, and that I would have to rejoin society since the only record player was in the living room. The album was Thriller, and it was thrilling. Michael was brown and beautiful, gentle and genius. I loved his softness, I filled in the blanks of his sadness, and at night when we were alone in my room I promised to heal his heart. I would kiss my pillow and Michael would sing "Lady in My Life" to me and only me.

There'll be no darkness tonight, lady our love will shine
Put your trust in my heart, and meet me in paradise
You're every wonder in this world to me
A treasure time won't steal away
So listen to my heart
Lay your body close to mine
Let me fill you with my dreams
I can make you feel alright
And baby through the years
Gonna love you more each day
So I promise you tonight
That you will always be the lady in my life.

It won't surprise you that I cried when I learned that Michael was gone. To me he wasn't the King of Pop; he was my sweet prince. He gave me my voice back as I sang along with his melodies. He taught me about love, and ultimately gave me back to my family, as we sat together for hours watching each other try to moonwalk. He helped me move past the bitter to savor the sweet — after "We Are the World" came out, being a refugee held a certain cachet.

Michael may have died of a broken heart, but even all these years later, the mended heart of this "Liberian Girl" still beats for him.

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