Writers on Writing #41: Nancy Gold
The Day Michael Jackson Died
The day Michael Jackson died, my son was in a nursing home, slowly awakening from a coma. The TV in every room was on, and the staff of the nursing home gathered at the screens. When they tended the patients, their faces were detached, professional masks. Now they wept openly, watching scenes from Jackson’s life – concerts, Neverland, child abuse charges, clips from his videos, Jackson moonwalking across the stage, thrusting a single gloved hand over his head.
We watched the events unfold thousands of miles away: a 911 call, Jackson en route to the hospital, and the final confirmation that the King of Pop was dead. The staff called family members and passed on the news in anguished voices. “He’s dead, yes he is, turn on the news, look at the news.” A brief respite and then renewed tears, comforting each other across the phone lines.
My son had suffered a traumatic brain injury in a car accident. He was in restraints because even though he wasn’t conscious, he was still active. His arms would stretch, hang in the air, and then curl back like the fronds of a fern against his chest. His left leg worked its way across the sheets until it found the edge of the mattress and flopped over. He was secured at his wrists and ankles, but still managed to slide to the edge of the bed. Without the restraints he pulled at his feeding tube, tracheostomy, and assorted IV lines.
Later, when my son had regained enough awareness to understand where he was, he told me that he had, for a time, thought he had been imprisoned for giving Michael Jackson too many drugs and killing him. He’d tried telling people it wasn’t him, but they’d kept him shackled in a jail cell.
A confabulation, the doctor said. Not uncommon with a brain injury.
Actually, my son told me, he was in the hospital because he had been shot in the head twelve times. He’d had nothing to do with Michael Jackson’s death.
A confabulation is not a lie, because it is not meant to deceive. The confabulations are as authentic to the teller as any independently corroborated memory. They are created, scientists believe, to bridge gaps in our memory. Our brains don’t like these gaps. The brain confabulates to maintain an integrated sense of the world.
We create to try to understand and interpret the world around us with art. To cross the space between what is real, what seems real, and what could be real.
I write to fill in gaps. Call it confabulation. Or call it fiction.
Nancy Gold is currently living in Marquette, Michigan, where has learned much about writing, agates, and the generosity of the people who live here.