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I tried to write a column about Michael yesterday, but I was overcome. He has been such a presence in my life for so long, I feel I have lost an older brother. The memories were joyous and hence the sadness so much more. I’m just a fan, but when someone gives so much of himself to the world, we all feel we know him.
Next week will be better.
In the meantime, I hope you’ll accept this short extract, which was originally part of the last chapter of my book Two in a Million. In the end the book read better without it, but it seems appropriate now.
Rest easy, Michael. Some lives last forever, and yours is one.
My last hour of therapy with Dr Gina MacDonnell was held on Wednesday November 19, 2003. On the day before, members of the FBI and local police raided Michael Jackson’s Neverland Valley Ranch in Santa Barbara County, California, as news surfaced in the world’s media of an ongoing child molestation investigation.
I walked into Gina’s office dispirited. Since becoming a fan, I had, of course, read all about the first abuse allegation against Jackson, made by a thirteen-year-old boy in 1993. And, after perusing an article by Mary A. Fisher from GQ magazine’s October 1994 issue, I became convinced that in that instance Michael was utterly innocent, the victim of a diabolical scheme to extort money from him.
These new, emerging allegations upset me greatly. Not because I thought MJ guilty of any crime, but because I felt so angry and sorry that this was happening to him again. I loved Michael Jackson. His music had been there for me when nothing else was; it had lifted me up when nothing else could. I’d spent endless entertaining hours watching his videos and live performances, left breathless by the sheer magic in his movements. I wanted to be able to dance like him, to make music like him. But acting was the closest I got to dancing, and poetry was the closest I came to music.
I didn’t just love Michael Jackson because I enjoyed his artistry, however. To me, he was a paradigm of humanity. I didn’t care about his cosmetic surgeries or whatever eccentricities he may or may not have possessed – to me he was a beautiful person. The way he just kept on giving his music, his time, and his money to the world no matter what the media or other detractors threw at him; the way he strived for genius in everything he created… these were sources of limitless joyous inspiration to me. I’ll never forget Aisling’s comment the first time I showed her one of the King of Pop’s performances. ‘He makes you believe,’ she said, ‘that some people can achieve perfection in what they do.’ That’s how I’ve always felt.
‘One of the many contradictions that are Ben’ were the words Gina used to describe my faith in Michael Jackson. Given that my worldview was so cynical in other respects, I suppose there was a contradiction to be found. But in anybody’s life, there are absolutes. Faith in Michael Jackson was one in mine.
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In recent times I have thought a lot about friendship, what it means to me.
Some years ago I met a woman. Very quickly we became best friends; very quickly I fell in love with her.
She knew how I felt, but didn’t feel the same. Yet I would never say that she loved me less than I loved her. In some ways her love was purer and more fundamental. She called me her brother; family meant so much to her, I knew there was no higher title she could give.
Romantic attraction has little to do with merit or choice. You could be the finest guy in the world, but if you don’t possess the features (not just physical) that turn on the woman who turns you on, you will not end up with her. Attraction is a fitting together of genetic Lego blocks; it is largely controlled by smells that subconsciously tell us who we will make the ‘best’ children with.
So goes the cliché: we can’t choose our family, we can’t choose who we fall in love with, but we do choose our friends.
Friendship is a calm love. A great friend can be more of a partner through life than a ‘life partner’. C.S. Lewis wrote that lovers stand gazing into each other’s eyes, friends walk side by side facing the world. When I look at the collapse of romances in the lives of those around me – the ‘perfect’ girlfriend ditched after a few months, a marriage that falls apart after 30 years – it’s not hard to appreciate the security and value of a true friendship, untainted by the whims of the physical.
In my case, of course, there was the agony of unrequited feelings. It wasn’t simply a matter of falling in love; I was so irrepressibly drawn to my friend – I thought she was the sexiest woman alive, frankly.
At some point I knew that if I really loved her, I must tailor my love to her needs. She needed a best friend, that constancy that would be there for her no matter what – I knew because she told me – and I was lucky enough to be it. I needed a best friend too.
Keeping a lid on my feelings has required the most astonishing level of sublimation, so much so that I often wondered if I was poisoning my heart. But all the while our friendship grew and deepened and blossomed. We share everything and still talk or joke about my feelings – how it’s strange that there should be this open secret between us and still we’re so, so close.
In some ways our friendship is defined by that difference – her feelings and mine – it’s what makes it. I know that I would not seek to know her as much as I do, to pick the perfect present every year, and be there for whatever she needs, if my love wasn’t tinged with attraction. She knows that she couldn’t trust me the way she does, reveal what she does, and know that we’ll be here for each other forever, if she thought of me as a man and not a brother.
A friendship can be stronger and last longer than any other bond – life and fiction provide many examples (my own favourite is Alan and Denny from Boston Legal): but this friendship? Across the gender line, where one person clearly feels differently to the other?
I’ve got this idea of romantic love which has little to do with reality: that someone should come along and essentially make all other relationships in my life irrelevant; that while it would still be nice to have parents and sisters and friends, this person would become all I needed. My best friend, I know, could never feel that way: she could never choose me over her mother or a boyfriend over me. She has what I somewhat amusingly described to her as a healthy, multi-pillared emotional view.
I can’t deny that I have poured into this friendship over the years what I might have poured into a relationship – not because I expected anything, just because – and I wonder how my friend and I will be affected if I ever do, as I still hope to, meet someone and develop a long-term romance.
Life’s questions and the tension of our separate feelings, however – which is not awkward just a taut difference – are part of how my friend and I exist together.
Not long ago, she came up to my house. We talked into the night and she fell asleep beside me, as the half-light of the dawn washed onto everything.
Our friendship is like that half-light, to me: not quite free of the darkness, of the pain of never getting what I wanted so badly, yet filled with peace and promise and beauty, before we would get too involved in each other and the stresses of the world.
It’s a constant dawn. The best part of the day.
My new book is out now – so far the reaction has been really encouraging. Check out the details below!
Dublin on a Shoestring by Katherine Farmar and Ben Murnane – out now!
Opinionated, practical, entertaining, Dublin on a Shoestring reveals the Dublin of the quiet streets, the second-storey cafés, the little places tucked away in unlabelled cul-de-sacs and only advertised through word of mouth.
Whether you’re just visiting or planning to stay, this is where to find:
– Dub’s best pubs – find the cheapest pint in Dublin!
– The best and best value restaurants
– Where to shop (without a gold card)
– Insider recommended entertainments from cinema to live jazz
– Somewhere to stay and somewhere to live – personally inspected accommodation
– Dublin for free – enjoy the city without spending a cent
Dublin on a Shoestring, the brand new, completely revised third edition by Katherine Farmar and Ben Murnane, is available now at Amazon UK, in bookshops across Ireland, and directly with free shipping from Ben’s website.
€9.99, published by A&A Farmar
‘A cool pocket-sized treasure, telling it like it is… even tells the natives things they didn’t know.’ – Sunday Tribune
‘A little gem… researched by real people who have discovered how to have a ball in Dublin with as little cash as possible.’ – RTE Guide
‘Buy this book the second you get off the plane’ – Irish Post
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