The year was 1984, I was 6 years old. Michael Jackson's groundbreaking album Thriller had already been out for a couple years, but Michael-fever was burning as strong as ever in the suburbs. There was a boy in my elementary school that did a splendid Michael Jackson impression. The way he would moonwalk was like silky butter. He and his friend (who I suppose acted as a hype man of sorts?) performed lip-sync covers of Michael Jackson songs on two separate occasions during one school year. The first time they performed was in the school library for my sister's 4th grade class, and for some reason (who knows) my 1st grade self happened to be present. They lip-synched to "Beat It," and it was the greatest thing I had ever seen - these two cool older boys jumping around, wearing sunglasses, and moving their lips to this amazing, thumping, exhilarating devil music that had never passed through the walls of my house.
Later that school year, there was an assembly in the school gymnasium, and the boys were scheduled to perform "Billie Jean." It was one of those assemblies where the kids and their families are both in attendance (yes, one of "those" assemblies, I don't know. But that's what happened). I was so excited, I kept reading the assembly program out loud and repeating to anyone that would listen, "(The boys names), doing 'Billie Jean.'" The boys came out, and simply brought the house down. The main boy was wearing a Beat It jacket and moonwalking, and I shit my pants. I feel like I've talked about this on the site before, but I'm just laying the groundwork for what this is really about.
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A big event in my hometown of Aurora, Ohio is the annual Memorial Day parade. I'm not sure of the specifics of the event anymore, but when I was young the parade would traditionally start at the elementary school and then make it's way to the local cemetery, which was the resting place for many veterans. Once at the cemetery, the crowd would gather and stand in silence while the names of the veterans were read aloud. Once the names were done being read, a group of soldiers would fire a few rounds of blanks into the air in tribute.
On Memorial Day 1985, I was attending the parade with my parents, while my sister was off on a hike with a group of classmates. Nothing seemingly out of the ordinary happened during the parade, it wasn't until later that I felt troubled. My mom was in my sister's room brushing her hair, when I swear I heard my sister say, "The boy who sang 'Beat It' got shot," to which my my mom exclaimed "Oh dear!" I was also under the impression that my sister had previously named to my mom some other kids who got shot, but the "Beat It Boy" was the one that got my attention. I presumed that the kids must have gotten shot when the soldiers had fired their rifles into the air at the cemetery. I figured that they had been hiking in the woods behind the cemetery, and that the bullets hit the kids unbeknownst to the soldiers.
I was remember being a little shocked by the news, but figured it was just part of life. The kids went on a hike, some accidentally got shot and killed, so be it. It made the man who guided the kids on the hike seem rather callous when he thanked my mom for the Pepsi after the parade, but again, easy come-easy go. I'm not entirely sure why I didn't react more severely. My age certainly was a factor, but I also had likely already seen an open-casket funeral by then. It all made sense to me, just be careful and don't be in the wrong place at the wrong time.
It wasn't until I saw the boy who sang "Beat It" very much alive at the school that I realized that he and the other nameless kids had not been shot and killed. I was relieved, but uneasy. I don't know if it was my vivid imagination, or the fact that I was an easily confused kid. I mean, it was easy to confuse me. It still kind of is, to an extent.
I told Mary Alice this story a couple months ago, and she gave me that "that's not okay" look. This retelling was inspired by the blatant disregard for human life in this movie we watched last night, Death Race 2000. You should see it, it's good.