Michael Jackson Saved My Marriage

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Michael Jackson Saved My Marriage
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Love

Michael Jackson saved my marriage. It wasn't him exactly, but the Jackson mania I uncharacteristically developed following his death in June 2009. Not long before, in the heat of battle, I had nearly told my husband to beat it.

Although we had once danced to his music and liked his videos, Michael Jackson had never been important to us, a typical middle income, middlebrow, nearly middle-aged, white suburban couple exhaustedly raising two kids.

Things used to be different when it came to music. Frank and I were both frequent concert-goers in our teens and 20s. A friend and I once traipsed around half the country after a mediocre cover band. Frank once sang with performing choirs, and when he sang in my ear I used to go liquid in his arms. When the boys were little, we took them to hear indie folk singers and sponsored drum and cello lessons. Except for Frank's adoration of the Beatles, that was about it.

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Except. I'm a Jersey girl with the requisite buzz on for The Boss. I always appreciated his lyrics. I liked his look. Listening to him made me happy. Bruce Springsteen had the opposite effect on my husband. In spring of 2009, while driving with our sons, Springsteen's "Our Hometown" poured from the car radio. I think I started singing along.

 "Ugh, I hate this guy," Frank growled, pounding the power button.

I seethed for days, and soon we were embroiled in an ugly fight. It wasn't about Springsteen or music, of course. That moment had merely punctuated other problems —about staying interested in each other after two decades of cohabiting, commingled income and co-parenting, and what often felt like codependence. At one point, I yelled, "You don't have to like what I like, but damn it, stop dissing my interests, especially in front of the kids."

Which brings us to  what happened next: the day Michael Jackson died, I became someone I barely knew. 

Overnight, I became obsessed with Jackson, staying up until 3 a.m. searching for fresh information. Here I was, a supposedly sane, slightly conventional woman, a mother, a reliable professional, a no-nonsense type-A type, spending hours watching videos about a controversial dead celebrity.

I invited my sons to watch his music videos, running nonstop on cable. Later, I invited them and Frank to watch a hilarious "Billie Jean" "literal music video", tipping us into an hour-long fest in which we searched for similar literal videos for other artists.

Still, this wasn't long after the Springsteen incident, and I was hesitant to indulge my new interest in front of my husband. But the kids helped lead the way. My 12-year-old proudly mastered "Beat It" on Guitar Hero, and always cranked up the song in the car, windows down, sunroof open, singing loudly off-key and smiling. I sang, too. (Apologies to the neighbors.)

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My 16-year-old, needing material for a must-improve-my-handwriting-or-my-Latin-teacher-will-fail-me project, settled on Jackson lyrics, and we discussed HIStory and "Stranger in Moscow" ("Wow — 'Armageddon of the brain' — cool line!").

First, I was riveted by the Jackson narrative — the pain, the pathos, the suggested improprieties, the percussive bursts of passion. Next, the music itself captured me, and from there, I wanted to know everything—about his creativity, songwriting, genius, anything. I didn't know what the hell was up with me. I had no other (dead or alive) celebrity obsessions, and here I was, going to see This Is It alone on a weekday morning. I was acting like a wacko.

My husband, my sons, didn't know what to make of my Michael mania. Mom's gone off the rails is what it probably looked like. I couldn't stop reading about Michael Jackson, talking about him, watching documentaries and interviews, listening. CDs and DVDs arrived. Books filled an entire shelf. I contributed an article about his music to a charity fund-raising book.

And all the while, Frank did not say one negative word.

He likely decided we were in a place where it was wiser not to question my behavior. He agreed, on a night I knew he'd rather watch Monday Night Football, to attend a Manhattan presentation where a scholarly critic discussed themes and iconography in Jackson's videos. Frank watched This Is It with me (again), and began alerting me to MJ TV coverage, bringing home magazines, and asking me to clarify Jackson song lyrics. My MJ mania ebbed at times, but mostly flowed, unbridled and baffling, even to me. Then, on Christmas day, I noticed the joyful anticipation on Frank's face, and I finally got it: I was mesmerized by Michael Jackson, at least in part, because he reminded me of my husband. I'll explain.

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Years ago, I'd found a coloring book and crayons at Frank's house, which I'd assumed belonged to his nephew — only the stroking was too precise, the colors correct, the lines unbroached. It turned out that my hunky husband-to-be liked to color when stressed. And have the occasional water balloon fight. And watch cartoons.

Not long into parenthood, Frank vetoed my no-fairy-tales, no "lies" plan.

The Tooth Fairy, the Easter Bunny and Santa existed in our house only because of Frank's "childlike, not childish" wonder (as Jackson once described it). Those videos of Jackson with a trailing line of kids? At every family gathering, I called Frank the Pied Piper. 

Then, there's the physical. Frank is not black, but neither, appearance-wise, was the post-"Bad" Michael, and that's the point: Frank has advanced vitiligo, and was already coping with the disease when Michael Jackson walked right past us on a Bermuda dock in 1992. When we first met, Frank had a long mane of curly, dark brown hair and, for a time, he could also sing falsetto.

Frank's smile is not as wide as Jackson's, but he deploys it often. When we dated, we danced a lot, and my husband—30 pounds thinner—once moved... well... not like Michael Jackson, but smooth. We'll never know certain things about Jackson, but it appears he was irrefutably a good father. Frank's first question to me, on our first serious date? "You want children, right?"  

In This Is It, Jackson repeatedly invokes the word love, and one can almost hear the eye rolls.

Frank tells me he loves me all the time, even when we're both furious, even when I'm not speaking to him. I began to ask myself how often I'd dismissed it. Maybe they both mean it. 

The longer I cruised the Jackson chronicles, the more I wondered: was my obsession on one level a way for me to reconsider the man I married? Sure, it's odd, but after 22 years of marriage, anything that rekindles love, and reminds us why we're with the person we're with, can't be discounted.

It's been a year now, both since Jackson died and since our Springsteen-induced fight.

I know now we won't spill blood, and sometimes now it even feels as if we're thrilled with the way we make each other feel. Maybe, deep down, he thinks I'm a bit of a nut job or wants to growl and switch off the CD player, but so far he hasn't. I think that's a good sign, and one I know has registered with our kids. 

My curiosity about Michael Jackson has also brought music back to our family. We play all kinds of artists now, and recently took our sons to see Bon Jovi, their first rock concert. I hope they remember the time. For my birthday, Frank surprised me with tickets to Bruce Springsteen.

"I wish I could have taken you to a Michael Jackson concert," he told me that night. But at that moment, all I knew was that Frank felt like another part of me. Again.

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Lisa Romeo lives in New Jersey with her husband and two sons. She works as a freelance writer and editor, and teaches writing online and in the Rutgers University Writing Program Extension. Her essays have appeared in the New York TimesO-The Oprah Magazine, online and in literary journals and essay collections. She is at work on a memoir. Lisa has written for YourTango before, about marrying her opposite. You're invited to visit her website, and her blog about the writing life, and to follow Lisa on Twitter.

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