In 1986 and 87, I was just starting elementary school. "Thriller" was EVERYWHERE. My aunt, who came to be my favorite aunt, was in her early twenties. She loved Michael Jackson, and she chose to share this love with me.
In my tiny bedroom, complete with bunkbead for myself and my little brother, she put up a wall-sized tapestry of Michael Jackson. I remember staring at that tapestry at night. In the morning when I woke up. When I came home from school. When I was playing with my toys, or breaking my toys. I remember looking to that poster for comfort when my father got a little too angry or hit me too hard. I remember crying to Michael Jackson.
She introduced me to hair gel. She spiked and slicked my hair for me. She showed me it was stylish to wear a t-shirt with an open-buttoned shirt over it. In short, she made me cool. She made me stick out among the other kids in kindergarten and first grade.
I remember my aunt treating me like an adult, or like a real person. Not like a child. I remember her listening to me. I remember he asking me questions and waiting for my response. I remember feeling important. I remember feeling included. I was "cool" for the first time in my life.
I will always think fondly of this time in my life. It planted the seed for my adult cooler-than-thou attitude towards pop culture and art. Even though millions of people loved Michael in 1986, not many five and six-year-olds in Ashtabula, Ohio did, and that made me special.
As Michael has passed away, it has brought into focus the number of changes that have taken place in our culture since 1986. It has brought into focus the changes in my life and my special aunt's life 23 years later. It is a pleasant reflection. I dont' feel so innocent nowadays. My aunt isn't some idealized giant in my life, but a real person, a friend, and she has flaws that were invisible to a five-year-old. With this has come a closer and more appreciative relationship than I could have ever wished for as a little boy.
When I heard that Michael Jackson had died, I felt sad for a number of reasons that aren't going to be listed in this space. But then I thought of my aunt Dea.