In the winter of 1982-83, my second grade gym class at Central Elementary held a mini make-shift Olympics. In retrospect, this was a little weird, considering it wasn't an Olympic year. But we were 8, we didn't ask any questions.
We had to pick an Olympic event in which to compete. I don't remember all the events that were offered, but I do remember which event I chose: roller skating.
I was tasked with choreographing a roller skating routine to then perform in front of the class, kind of like ice dancing only not quite as graceful.
I worked hard. I practiced every day in my grandparents' basement. The linoleum floors down there were perfect. My roller skates were snow white leather with orange wheels and an orange toe stop, a gift from my grandmother.
She was a practical woman, and being a practical woman, she liked to buy things a bit big, so that we kids could "grow into" them. She made no exception to this rule when it came to my roller skates, which were something like a size 8 or 9. I had to wear 2 pairs of ski socks to even attempt to skate in them. But it didn't matter; I loved those skates. And I knew that I looked really good in them.
I'd take my "boom box" down to the basement and skate my 8 year old heart out in too-big roller skates, grooving to my newest favorite album, Thriller. I can't even hazard a guess how many hours I spent down there, skating figure 8s in their basement to that unforgettable album. To this day I can't hear that Eddie Van Halen guitar solo from "Beat It" without smiling. With great difficulty, I finally chose the song "PYT" for my Olympic debut.
The Olympic competition itself was relatively unmemorable. I think I only managed to skate in circles around the gym because I was so nervous. But what I do remember, was how cool, how hip, how utterly cutting edge I felt in those white roller skates with the orange wheels skating around the gym to the best album I'd ever heard in my 8 years. It was a moment.
Michael Jackson might not have lived up to everyone's expectations. He's hardly the first artist to achieve artistic greatness and still succumb to personal ruin. But his detractors--even his own personal failings--cannot take that moment away from me. Michael Jackson is an inextricable part of every Gen Xer's past; he's a part of our youth. He reminds us of a time when we were less cynical, when we dreamt big and when all it took to make us happy was a pair of white roller skates with orange wheels and a linoleum floor to use them on.
That's why his death is so significant. And sad. Because it's a reminder to an entire generation of the distance between us and our easy-going, roller skating days.
So, R.I.P. Michael; may this part of your journey be less painful than the last.
I'm going to see if I can dig out those roller skates. I think they may just finally fit.