February 10, 1997
“Are you sure I can ask any question I want?” Lisa Canning asked me as the make-up artist finished my eyeshadow.
I granted ET exclusive coverage of the babies provided I chose the host I wanted to interview us; they only get ten shots of me, Michael, and the twins, and that the interview only lasted fifteen minutes. They were grateful that I afforded them that much time since their show was only thirty minutes long. And knowing it was a fifteen-minute exclusive, their ratings would go up significantly.
As the only woman of color on board, it only made sense to have Lisa interview us. She was new, vibrant, and I knew giving her this interview would boost her credibility in the entertainment industry.
“You’ve got fifteen minutes to ask whatever you want,” I told her, opening my eyes to look at my face. Well, I look better than I have in the past couple of weeks.
“You look beautiful, Shayla,” Prince came over to me, holding Mimi. “When was Michael supposed to show up?”
I shrugged. “He’s got ten minutes. If he wants me to do this interview alone, you know I have no problem with that.”
“And make you look like a single mother?” His eyebrows rose.
“Once this divorce is finalized, that’s what I’ll be, right? Doesn’t make much of a difference.”
“Not when you’ve got us,” he gestured toward Mayte and Mariah, cooing in MJ’s face.
“Thanks, but I’ll still be checking off ‘divorced’ in upcoming questionnaires.”
He looked down at Mimi, brushing back any hairs standing atop her head. “Your daddy messed up a good thing, baby girl.”
“Don’t fill my daughter's head with nonsense,” Michael walked into my dressing room, done up from head to toe.
Prince raised an eyebrow at me and slowly turned around to face Michael. “It’s not nonsense when it’s true.”
“Yeah, well, if you actually became a father, you’d understand how it feels to be lied on.”
“Nigga, I will-”
“Baby!” Mayte gave MJ to Mariah as she hurried over to calm down her husband.
“No, because he done lost his fuckin’ mind bringing my child into his bullshit!” Prince handed my daughter to me. “Nigga, if you had handled your business as you were supposed to, maybe you would have been at the hospital to actually witness the birth of your children.”
Lisa took that as her cue to leave. “Five minutes.”
“Baby…” Mayte tried again unsuccessfully.
Prince sucked his teeth. “I’ll bust you upside the head. Matt must not have hit you hard enough. We gon’ be outside, Shayla” He took his wife by the hand and left me, Michael, and Mariah alone with the babies.
Michael clenched and relaxed his jaws as he looked me over. “What was he doing holding my daughter?”
I sighed. “Ain’t nobody scared of you. Let’s get this over with. You know we have court right after.” I got up from my seat and wiped my lap of any lint.
“I don’t want him around my children, Shayla.”
“Why? Because he knows what you did?”
“No. I just don’t want him to rub his bad habits onto my children.”
“Bad habits?” I scoffed. “Lisa’s waiting. Come on, sis.” I told Mariah as I walked out of the room.
Michael followed close behind me. “Did you give her a list of questions that she could and could not ask us?”
“What? Why not?”
“Because I told her she could ask us anything.”
“Here you go, Mrs. Jackson.” A producer came over to attach a mini microphone onto my collar and did the same to Michael.
“Anything,” I repeated as I kissed Mimi on the head before handing her to Mayte.
“Are you out of your mind?”
“No. I’m giving the people what they want. Isn’t that what you always do?” I walked up the stairs to the infamous burnt orange and yellow set.
Once I sat down in front of Lisa, out of the corner of my eye, I could see Michael standing in place, stunned at my answer.
It wasn’t until Lisa began speaking to the camera that he finally decided to join us on stage.
“And with us, we have Mr. and Mrs. Jackson,” Lisa beamed as the camera panned over to us. “Can I just say how exciting it is to have you all here in front of me?”
“It feels great to be here,” I smiled.
“Okay, first, I have to ask…” She looked between Michael and me. “The pregnancy. How did you all keep it a secret for so long before finally telling everyone while you were on tour?”
Michael opened his mouth to speak, but I interrupted him. “Honestly, with Michael going on tour, it was easy. He was gone and, because I wanted to make sure everything went perfect this time, I just stayed at the ranch, unbothered.” From the corner of my eye, I saw Michael lick his lips and nod as he looked at Lisa.
“So, you just stayed at the ranch?”
“I just stayed there. If I needed anything, someone would go into town to get it for me. Other than that,” I shrugged. “I just stayed inside.”
Lisa turned her attention to Michael. “How excited were you to find out that you had another chance to be a father?”
He sighed and shook his head, “elated. That’s as best as I can put it. We had been trying for a while, so for it to finally happen again, I knew that God had heard my prayers.”
“And how excited were you all when you found out it was twins?”
“Overjoyed,” I said.
“Blessed,” Michael nodded. “One child had been taken away from us and, now we’re being blessed with two. It just couldn’t get any better than that.”
“Agreed.” I nodded.
“Okay, I’m just going to cut to the chase since we have limited time here.”
“How was it even possible for you to go on tour while pregnant with twins?”
I chuckled to myself. “I had a nurse with me. It wasn’t too bad.”
“Michael, I’m sure you were excited to have her with you after all that time.”
He nodded, “of course. I missed most of, if not all, the pregnancy because I was on tour. So, when I invited her out, and she agreed, it meant the world to me. She and our babies needed me.”
“Michael, there are reports of you not being at the birth. Is that true?” I stared forward. God knows I want to say something smart, but I won’t.
He nodded slowly. “Well, Shayla came back to the states ahead of me because the twins were giving her a hard time.” Oh, so we’re lying on our children now? “And because she went ahead of me, unfortunately, I missed the birth. From what I was told, though, it was beautiful.”
“Shayla, how did you feel giving birth without your husband?”
I looked at the clock behind her. Ten minutes left. “Alone. I never expected to give birth without him, but I did.”
“So, what was it that made you leave ahead of him? Was everything okay with the twins?”
“Everything was fine. Just fine.”
Lisa’s brows furrowed together. “But I thought he said the twins were giving you a hard time.”
“They weren’t. I guess that’s what he was told. The twins were fine until I got to Las Vegas. That’s when they started to give me trouble.”
“I needed privacy. After the tours first leg, everyone expected me and Michael to either go back to LA or the ranch. So, to stay away from all the mayhem in my third trimester, I chose to go to Vegas.”
She nodded. “Well, we have Prince, his wife, Mayte, and Shayla’s sister, Mariah, here. Come on up on the stage. You guys have quite the support system, huh?”
“You have to these days,” I nodded. Michael wasn’t saying much of anything. Good, because if he decided to lie on my children again, I don’t know what I’d do.
“You all want to introduce the twins?” Lisa smiled as Mayte and Mariah handed the twins to Michael and me.
Michael smiled down at Mimi. “This is my beautiful little girl, Milan Nicole Jackson.”
“And this is Michael junior.” I smoothed my son’s hair back.
“How old are they now?”
“Five weeks.” Michael nodded. “We do everything for our children. After praying for them for so long, they deserve nothing less than the world.”
“Now, I’ve heard some rumors around. And I know you shouldn’t believe tabloids and whatnot, but it’s been said multiple times, and since I have you all before me today, we can just squash this right now. There are reports that you all are living in separate homes. Shayla, you hired a nanny and bought a house in Calabasas. Is that true?”
“Yes,” I said as I adjusted MJ’s onesie.
Michael quickly turned to look at me. His eyes wide with shock as if I wasn’t supposed to tell the world that.
“Raising infants alone seems kind of tough, right? Is there something wrong or…?”
I rubbed my lips together and looked Lisa in the eye. “We’re getting a divorce.” Michael’s stare became more intense. For a split second, he had forgotten we were being filmed. But once he remembered we were, he failed at an attempt to make himself look unbothered and like this wasn’t news to him.
“Divorce?” Lisa looked between Michael and me. “Michael, you look just as shocked as I am. Is this true?”
He took a deep breath. “What Shayla meant to say was that-”
“No, I meant what I said. We’re getting a divorce, and it will be finalized very soon.”
Lisa and Michael had the exact same facial expression. Shocked and confused about what to say next. That revelation certainly changed the dynamic of the interview. She looked down at her notes because clearly, her next question had nothing to do with this. “Was this decided before the twins were born?”
“After thirteen years, it’s been thirteen, right?” I nodded. “Okay, so after thirteen years and the two infants that you all are happily holding, were there just differences that couldn’t be fixed?”
I nodded. “The reason why we’re getting a divorce will remain private. But essentially, yes. Some differences cannot be fixed.” I turned to look at Michael, who was in disbelief. His face had gone pale out of embarrassment. He didn’t know what to say.
“Michael, you seem awfully quiet over there.” Lisa pressed her lips together. “This doesn’t seem like something you wanted. Was it?”
All he could do was shake his head no.
“Do you all still love each other?”
“I’ll always love him. That’ll never change. We just grew apart.”
At first, the set felt warm and inviting. Now? It felt cold. Desolate. Awkward.
Lisa looked behind me, did a quick nod, and looked back at us. “Well, we at ET pray that you all will eventually be able to work this out. After all, you are America’s favorite couple. The twins are so beautiful, and we know that no matter the circumstances, they’ll be raised by the best parents in the world.”
I mustered up a smile. “Absolutely. Thank you for having us, Lisa.”
“Thank you for granting ET this exclusive interview.” As she turned to face the camera now focused only on her, Mariah hurried to come up and help me from the set.
Michael looked down at Milan. Defeat clear across his face.
He once claimed that I kicked him when he was down, and I’m sure he’s going to think this was one of those moments. It was not. The world was going to find out anyway. Instead of letting them find out amongst a bed of lies, now they could hear it from our own mouths.
“The residence at 5225 Figueroa Mountain Rd. Located in Los Olivos, California. Most famously known as ‘Neverland Valley Ranch.’ Mrs. Jackson, is that something you’re interested in keeping for yourself?” Judge Whitmore asked me as he looked at photos of the property.
“No, your honor. The ranch is in Michael’s name, and I have no interest in obtaining that. It’s his pride and joy. I want him to keep it.” That place is Michael’s. It has his mark all over it. He worked his whole life for that ranch. Although he had me in mind before ever actually purchasing it, that was his idea. His dream. I’d be evil to take that away from him.
“Mr. Jackson, is this something you agree with?”
“Yes, your honor.” Michael’s voice was somber yet strong. He didn’t want to be here, and I know for a fact that he couldn’t believe this was really happening.
“Here, it states that you’re requesting shared custody. Are you sure about that, Mrs. Jackson?”
I nodded. “Yes, your honor.”
“Among few things, the one thing Mr. Jackson requested was a restraining order against your brother, Matthew Johnson. And in that restraining order, he included Michael Jackson Jr. and Milan Jackson. Do you understand that Mr. Johnson cannot be within fifty yards of the children?”
My heart dropped as I turned to look at Michael. “So, you’re going to keep my children away from their uncle?”
Judge Whitmore tapped his gavel twice. “Mrs. Jackson, this courtroom will remain in order. Do you understand that your brother, Matthew Johnson, cannot be within fifty yards of Mr. Jackson, Michael Jr., and Milan Jackson?”
Michael continued to stare forward, ignoring me and my question.
I sighed and turned to face the judge. “How long will this be in standing?”
“Until Mr. Jackson feels safe.”
“As of right now,” Gerald, Michael’s lawyer, spoke up. “Mr. Jackson still feels unsafe, so this order will be carried out for a few years. Mr. Johnson has already signed the order.” He held up a piece of paper showing my brother’s signature.
I took a deep breath and nodded. “I understand, your honor.”
“This means no family events with Mr. Johnson around the children can be conducted, Mrs. Jackson. Is that understood?”
“Understood,” I said quietly.
This is Michael’s way of getting back at Matt. And his way of spiting me for going through with this. I understand the restraining order to protect Michael, but my children don’t need protection from their uncle.
My eyes welled up with tears, but I will remain strong through all of this.
Even though he’s shown me his scars and told me why he did what he did, I must walk away from him. I must maintain my sanity for myself and for my children. They don’t deserve to be raised in a family where the parents don’t love each other. Shoot, they barely deserve to be raised in a family where they’re protected from an uncle who would do nothing but show them unconditional love.
I looked down at my wedding ring. Since nineteen eighty-three, this ring has remained on my finger. Still looking as new as the day I got it.
I exhaled and rotated the ring slowly as I carefully began to slide it from my finger.
Michael turned to look at me and watched as I semi-struggled to take the ring off. “Don’t you take off my ring.”
Judge Whitmore looked up from his papers.
“After everything you’ve put me through, this ring has to come off.” I finally got the ring from past my knuckle and slid it off my finger to place it on the table.
Once the ring was off, his entire demeanor changed. “You really expect our babies to be raised in a single-parent home? How do you expect to raise these babies by yourself, huh? How do you expect me to raise these babies by myself? How could you do this, Shayla? Are you really this selfish?”
I never imagined that I would raise my children as a single parent. Being raised in a two-parent household, I always pictured I’d do the same for my own children. But we can’t all be like mommy and daddy, can we?
“Shayla, you can’t leave me! You can’t do this to us!” Before, he was emotionless. The only thing on his face was defeat. Now, hot tears streamed down his cheeks. He could no longer hold back his feelings. His once pale face now a deep shade of red.
Judge Whitmore sighed. “Tensions are high in here. Let’s calm down and take a fifteen-minute recess.” He tapped his gavel and stood up to leave.
Howard helped me collect my belongings and escorted me out of the room.
“No! No! I loved her with everything I had!” I heard Michael shout at Gerald. “And she does this to me? Separate me away from raising my children with her. Leaving me?! No! She wants to play hardball? Fine. She’s not allowed on any of my properties. If she even attempts to place a foot on my grass, I want her arrested for trespassing.”
Howard and I had just stepped out of the room, and all I could do was stand in shock.
Michael’s punishing me for what he did. Had he never cheated, we wouldn’t even be here.
Tears began rolling down my own cheeks.
“Are you okay, Mrs. Jackson?” Howard asked me.
“I’m fine.” I sniffled.
I knew my account would come in handy one of these days. In the beginning, I never agreed with it, but upon making my own big-time money, there was no way I was going to put all of that in our joint account.
This is how he wants it to be? Fine.
He never has to see me ever again.