In the mirror


For one semester in college, Mitchell and I did not speak to one another. There was a Cold War going on between us, and we now refer to it as “the Bad Time”. We were BEST friends, and yet we did not speak for 4 months.

We were doing a show, and once, before rehearsal, he and I found ourselves alone in the men’s dressing room, which was a long concrete room, with showers, lockers, and a line of makeup mirrors down the middle. Nobody else was around. Everyone left us alone at this point – the tension so huge you could smell it in the air, like ozone. We were FURIOUS with each other. But really what was going on was that we were so sad, we were so sad that we were in a fight, and that we couldn’t apparently be friends. I cried myself to sleep every night. I MISSED him. But I couldn’t give in. I just couldn’t.

And so he and I sat there in the now-emptied gray dressing room, tensely, quietly, not knowing what to say. Mitchell, to break the mood, turned on the boom box. We were all very into Michael Jackson’s album “Bad” at the time. It was all we listened to. You got that? IT WAS ALL WE LISTENED TO. I am unable to listen to that album now without immediately being transported back in time, specifically to that very time in my life, that one semester in college, when Bad was on constant rotation and I was in an awful silent fight with my best friend.

So Mitchell put on Bad and “Man in the Mirror” came on.

And without discussing it, without a word between us, without a noticeable thawing in the air or anything, Mitchell and I started dancing to that song, separately – not together – We remained stridently separate – but we kept dancing, dancing until we were completely lost in it. It was one of those times when you become completely unself-conscious. You completely lose awareness of yourself as a body taking up space. It is like you become your spirit. That was what that 3 minutes was like for us, in the dressing room. We danced separately from one another, he on one side of the line of makeup mirrors, me on the other side. The music was transcendent, that chorus bursting forth at the end, the glimmering line of mirrors, his reflection dancing, mine …

When the song ended, we turned the tape deck off, realizing that we both had kind of “been” somewhere. We were no longer really in the same emotional place.

The frozen silence between us had broken. There would be no more “bad time”. Somehow, through those weird separate dances, Mitchell and I forgave each other. Without saying a word. We found joy again. Joy in being together. Through the course of the song, all bitterness disappeared into thin air. Dissolved into the mirrors, never really to return. We would still need to have conversations about our argument, we would need to apologize and let go, and talk about it … but the real forgiveness began with no words, barely any eye contact even, dancing around to “Man in the Mirror” in the men’s dressing room. Lost in it.

I cherish that memory with my friend, dancing like mirror-image whirling dervishes, looking at our reflections, forgiving each other.

Unbelievable live performance of “Man in the Mirror” below the jump from the 1988 Grammys. He “goes” somewhere by the end, he’s off-course, he’s improvising, it’s an extraordinary moment.

Every time I hear that song, every time, I think of that dressing room, the echoey grey walls, blue lockers, the endless reflections, and Mitchell.

This entry was posted in Personal and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

19 Responses to In the mirror

  1. Stevie says:

    That’s just such a great story – thank God you and Mitchell came back together again, and thank you, Michael Jackson, for somehow being the catalyst through the sheer force of art. xxx Stevie

  2. red says:

    Stevie – that is just what Mitchell and I said yesterday! We both thought of our “man in the mirror” moment when we heard the news yesterday – i have a ton of associations with MJ but that’s the first one that always comes to mind.

  3. mitchell says:

    im sitting in a cafe on Newbury st..crying my eyes what else is new???

  4. mitchell says:

    btw…everywhere i go today people are singing Michael’s songs and talking about their loving it

  5. David says:

    Goosebumps! Fucking brilliant!

  6. De says:

    After I heard the news yesterday, I got online to start gathering information and my first thought was “I wonder what Sheila is going to say.”
    Then you blew me away. I keep thinking I’m prepared for you, Sheila, but you get me every time.

    I love that it wasn’t a resume of his work or a time line of his life but a real story of how his music affected your life.

    And “Man in the Mirror” is my favorite.

  7. Doc Horton says:

    He danced like a genius marionette.

  8. jean says:

    This made me cry

  9. sarahk says:

    That’s a fantastic story. You made me cry.

  10. JessicaR says:

    What a wonderful story. I still can’t believe he’s dead. I think on it and his songs have always been part of my soundtrack. I hated going to the roller rink because I couldn’t skate for shit but then they’d play Thriller and go crazy with the lights and I’d look for an excuse to go back. Feeling like the coolest thing on the planet in the fifth grade talent show wearing black sunglasses and dancing to “The Way You Make Me Feel”.

  11. Alex says:

    Oh God Sheila, thank you for sharing that. I always wondered about The Bad Time…it sort of haunts me. And in a weird way, scares me. I think:

    “What if they never would have made up? What would have happened? How would time have healed anything?”

    I think, if you two weren’t best friends, what would happen to the world?

  12. red says:

    Alex – it was so crazy! I was suuuuuuuch a bitch and then my pride kept me from making up with him and he just hung around waiting for my snit fit to end – thank you Mi-too!!


  13. red says:

    Mitchell – I love that you are now crying in public in Boston. We need to keep a running tally …

  14. Stevie says:

    I’ve been thinking about this ever since I read the post this morning, and what I realize is how often really exceptional pop music (or pop culture in general) often parallels experiences people are having in their lives. For me, it’s Madonna. So often I’ll be having a “The Power of Goodbye” experience right when “The Power of Goodbye” is topping the charts. It’s been uncanny how often this has happened for me with Madonna (not so much anymore). Her Ray of Light album felt like a personal advice letter from a close friend about what was going on in my own life. Pop music isn’t just great beats and catchy tunes and clever lyrics, but it’s really about TIMING, and how the right music at the right time can transcend the boundaries of earth and affect the lives of millions of people if it’s a direct hit. Amazing. Nobody was more phenomenal at this than Michael Jackson.
    xxx Stevie

  15. Kate P says:

    The power of music! MJ was one person who felt it–worked it, and you knew it whether you liked his musical works or not.

  16. Steven says:

    An amazing performance!!!!

  17. Peter says:

    THX for sharing.

  18. Eileen says:

    A beautiful memory, Sheila. MJ’s performance is brilliant. Genius.

  19. Rebecca says:

    WOW, thanks for posting that. I’ve never seen it before, and it was a MARVELOUS performance. Love the gospel choir, loved seeing Michael apparently express emotions.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.