“Gavin, come on!” Michael called after the boy introduced to me by businessman and comedian Jamie Masada. Gavin Arvizo had been suffering from a rare and aggressive form of cancer in his kidney. Doctors had given the boy one week to a month to live, and it was his dying wish to meet me. So when it came to allowing this young boy into my ranch, I had no problem with it. The ranch was created with children in mind. All children: healthy, sick, poor, needy, wealthy. It never mattered the background. Neverland was created for them. And that’s something that I’ve always stood on.
Of course, I thought of what happened almost ten years ago, but this family sees that I am not the way the media has portrayed me. Most of the time, I allow Gavin and his siblings to play with my children while I’m off in the studio or working on something else I’ve come up with. I’m not even around him most times. I just let Neverland do its work and help a child in need.
Since he’s been able to come to the ranch, the boy has grown stronger, healthier, and more vibrant. He completely bypassed that one week to a month time limit that the doctors had given him. Now, he’s going to live to grow old. That’s all I ever wanted was for him to live.
I’m not making the same mistakes I did the first time. When asked if the children can sleep in my room, I say no. Even if pressured, I say no. I say no to a lot of things. That’s one thing I’ve learned since the last time. The power in the word “no.”
Earlier this week, we had a sleepover in Michael’s room. After trying to go to my own room to let the boys have their own fun, Gavin, his brother, Star, and my son begged me to stay with them for the night. Had it been just Gavin and Star, I would have declined relentlessly, but Michael begged.
At first, I told my son that he and I could just chill out in my room if he wanted me to stay, but he insisted that we visit with his newfound friends. I thought about it for a moment and agreed.
I let the boys have the bed while I slept in a sleeping bag on the floor. Michael wanted to sleep on the floor with me, telling me that I taught him that we should share beds with our guests. I couldn’t go back on what I taught him, so I let my boy sleep in a sleeping bag beside me while Gavin and Star had my son's bed.
That was the first and last time sleeping in the room with the boys. I explained to Michael that there was no in-between next time; either I was going to my room or he was going with me. He didn’t put up much of an argument and just went back to playing with his newfound friends.
I just don’t want any word going out there that I slept in a room with boys just for the fun of it. I only stayed for my son.
Michael and Milan stayed indoors with Gavin and his family as Bashir and I walked out of the house to “The Giving Tree.”
Out of all of the trees on the property, this one remains my favorite. I’ve climbed up this tree, Shayla has climbed up this tree, the twins have climbed it. Maybe one day, my own grandchildren will do the same.
“Why are we out here, Michael?” Bashir asked me.
“I want to show you something. Something near and dear to my heart.”
“Can I ask you something?”
“Yeah,” I said as I led him to the tree.
“What’s the umbrella for? You didn’t need it a moment ago.”
“I’m allergic to the sun… The-the vitiligo made my skin really sensitive to the sun, so I use the umbrella to shield me. Now, this,” I stood underneath the tree, not wanting to talk too much on the topic anymore. “I call it my ‘Giving Tree’ because it inspires me. Uhh,” I looked up at the tree. “I love climbing trees in general, but this tree, I love the most because I climb up high and I look down on its branches, and it gives me…” I looked up at it again, admiring its beauty. “I just love it - so many ideas! I’ve written so many of my songs in this tree. I wrote, um, ‘Heal the World’ in his tree. ‘Will You Be There,’ ‘Black or White,’ um, ‘Childhood.’”
“You’re actually saying that you climb that tree?” Bashir looked between me and the tree, astonished.
“Yeah,” I nodded.
“Wh- How far do you climb up it?”
“All the way to that…” I pointed in the direction of the tree. “See. All the way to that… Kind of spot up there. Kind of like a deck, where it’s like a bed.”
“Do you want to climb it now?”
“Gimme… Let me hold that umbrella.”
“Yeah,” I handed him the umbrella and walked over to the tree.
“You go and climb it…and let me… when you’ve climbed it, let’s see how inspiring it is…”
I took off running toward the tree.
No one has really seen me up here aside from my family. It’s genuinely one of my favorite things to do. I think more people should climb trees. It helps keep you agile.
“Aren’t you coming?” I asked him as I climbed the tree.
“No way!” Bashir said as if shocked by my question.
“This is a big secret. I never show anybody my ‘Giving Tree.’” I continued to climb past the branches up toward the tree bed.
“Okay, I’ll try. I’m slightly worried about my shoes slipping.”
“Come on!” I encouraged after I made myself comfortable in my usual spot.
“Is it safe?”
“I’m frightened,” he laughed. “I think I’m going to stop here.”
I looked over. He hadn’t even made it halfway to where I was. “You don’t climb trees?”
“No, I do not!”
I shook my head, “you’re missing out.”
“I’ll leave you to it.”
“Shayla has climbed this tree with me. My children. My brothers and sisters… You’re really missing out.”
“You mean to tell me you and your ex-wife would climb this tree?”
“Yeah!” I said as I looked down over the branches. Memories made here in this very tree raced through my mind. When I first introduced the twins to the tree when they were three, they couldn’t climb it, but I’d sit them right on the bottom branch, sitting right beside them. Over the years, we’ve climbed higher and higher.
I look forward to the day when they can make it to the top with me.
I climbed down and finally met Bashir, taking my umbrella back to shield myself from the sun. “I love climbing trees. I think it’s my favorite thing. Having water balloon fights and climbing trees. I think those two are my favorite-”
“Don’t you prefer making love or…”
“Hmm?” I looked back at him.
“Going to a concert or… You prefer… You really mean that? That you prefer climbing trees and having a balloon fight?”
“Yeah, a water balloon fight.”
He looked at me as if I had slightly lost my mind, but I paid no mind. “And you prefer that to anything else?”
“Well, as my past time fun, yeah. You know, not… You can’t compare it to performing. Other people play football, basketball… I like to climb trees.”
“Did you like to play water balloon fights and climb trees with Shayla?”
“Of course, we’d do that more often than not. My children really love it too.”
“And you preferred all of that over making love to her?”
I swallowed. Why is he asking me intimate questions like these? “Honestly, no matter how I answer that question, answering a question like that is disrespectful to the woman I once called my wife and who is the mother of my children, so that’s a question I choose not to answer.”
He chuckled, “it’s a yes or no question.”
“Next question…” I said as I walked back to the main house to meet the kids.
Whether I say yes or no, it would put Shayla’s and my sex life out there, and that’s not something I’m interested in putting out to the media. Sex sells, yes, but that’s never been the case with me. And I’m not going to start that just because Bashir wants to know if I enjoyed making love over climbing a tree.
I enjoy doing things with people I love with my entire being. If that includes climbing a tree and making love, that’s my business. Not the worlds.
As we walked into the kitchen, Gavin, Star, his sister, Davellin, and the twins were all dancing and singing.
“Daddy, look what Gavin taught me!” Michael galloped, singing the song Gavin and Star had taught him. “And we like to party! And we like to party!”
The entire room echoed with laughter at my son’s antics.
“Is that what you all have been doing in here while Michael and I were interviewing?” Bashir laughed.
Gavin laughed in return, “Michael lets us teach MJ games and dances all the time. We’re like the big brothers he never had.”
“Do you like having Gavin around, MJ?” Bashir asked my son.
“Oh yeah!” Michael nodded. “When he first started coming over, he didn’t have hair because he was sick. Daddy says that since he’s been able to visit Neverland, that’s why he’s better and has hair now!”
“That’s the abridged version,” I rolled my eyes. Kids say the darnedest things.
“Michael, can we go on with that interview with Gavin? We’ve already gotten his mother’s permission. I just want to touch on all you’ve done to help this boy,” Bashir asked me.
“Of course,” I nodded. “Ready, Gavin?”
“See y’all after the interview,” Gavin told everyone as he followed Bashir and me to the library.
This specific segment means the most to me because it’ll show the world who I am through a child’s eyes. Unfortunately, I never got that chance with Jordie all those years ago. I was painted as a monster through the eyes of his parents. Like Jordie could have done, Gavin will finally be able to vouch for me. I’m not a monster. I do help children. And at the end of the day, I’m just a child at heart like everyone else.
We sat down on one of the benches and waited as Bashir and my crew finished setting up the cameras and attached microphones to us.
“Daddy, can I be in the interview?” Michael walked in.
“Of course!” I patted my lap so he could sit.
“I just want to tell everyone how much you’ve helped Gavin,” he looked at me.
“Aww,” Bashir cooed as he sat across from us.
I couldn’t help but smile. “Thanks, Michael.”
“Gavin, make sure to tell Mr. Bashir about your hair!”
Gavin laughed nervously, “I will.”
“What is it, Gavin,” Bashir began. “About Michael that makes him connect so well with children? What is it?”
I stared ahead, but my son stared at his friend, wondering what he’d say.
Gavin nervously smiled after collecting his thoughts, “Cause… he’s really a child at heart. He acts just like a child. He- He knows how a child is. You know? So, he knows what a child thinks. Because I think that, um, you don’t necessarily have to be a child just because society says, uh, eighteen and up, you’re an adult. That doesn’t really matter. You’re an adult when you want to be one.”
“Is that so?” Bashir turned his attention to me. “Do you consider yourself a child at heart?”
“Absolutely!” I nodded. “I mean, I know my place as an adult and in this adult world, but no one lets loose like children anymore,” I shook my head in disbelief. “Everyone’s so uptight, but when I look at my son, my daughter, or Gavin, there is no uptightness. They’re so free. They have no care in the world. They can go about life easily because they have no hate or malice in their hearts. They’re just so pure. They’re not judgmental. Children are taught to be judgmental, and that goes into their adulthood, and now you have all these mean, rude, judgmental children in adult bodies and- and it’s just not right. If people had the heart and the gumption to be as free as children, I truly believe the world would be better.”
“So, because adults are mean, you’ve turned to children?”
I looked at him, “you’re misinterpreting my statement. I didn’t turn to children. That doesn’t sound right. I just want to help nurture the world’s children to become better adults. I want them to enjoy their childhood. Take pride in it. Because once you’re an adult, society says it’s over when it doesn’t even have to be!”
Bashir looked at me for a moment. I don’t know if he’s confused by my statement or not. I don’t see how he could be. I explained it clearly as day. Children should appreciate their childhood. Period point-blank.
“Gavin,” Bashir asked. “When you stay in the house, do you- does Michael let you enjoy the whole premises?”
Gavin smiled nervously, “One night, we were having a sleepover in MJ’s room.” Michael giggled behind his fingers mischievously. “And we all wanted Michael to stay, but he said he was gonna go to his room. We all begged and pleaded for him to stay in the room with the boys. We had had so much fun that day that we didn’t want it to end. So, Michael finally said yes, and he got a sleeping bag, placed it on the floor, and let me and my brother, Star, have the bed. I told Michael he could sleep on the bed, but he said, ‘no, no, no, you sleep on the bed. Sleep on the bed.’ And I said, ‘no, no, no, sleep on the bed!’ And then he finally said, ‘mkay, if you love me, you’ll sleep on the bed.’ I was like, ‘aw, man!’ And so, I finally slept on the bed. Then Michael and MJ slept on the floor in sleeping bags. It was fun that night.”
“I slept on the floor with my son,” I made sure to reiterate to Bashir. I know how these people can get. They hear one thing, spin it, twist it, and make it another.
“But Michael,” Bashir began. I turned my attention to him. “You’re a forty-four-year-old man now.”
“Yeah…” I nodded.
“Wh-What do you get out of this? What do you get out of this?”
“He’s not forty-four. He’s four,” Gavin told him.
“Yeah, I’m four,” I said as I stared ahead. “But get out of what? What are you asking me?”
“Why do you share the same room with children other than your own?”
“What do you mean?” I looked back at Bashir. “My son was in there. I wasn’t alone.”
“But you could have just left the boys in there.”
“My son begged me to stay. I told them all no and that I would go to my room, but my son begged me to stay, and my son wanted to stay in the room with his friends. Who am I to say no to my son?”
I rolled my eyes, “Okay, but it’s my son. He asked me to stay in the room with them, and I said yes. And after that, I told him that that could not happen again and that if he wanted me to spend the night with just him, we’d go to my room.”
“Yeah!” My son spoke up. “Daddy said we couldn’t do that again.”
“And why not, MJ? Do you understand why he said you couldn’t?”
“Daddy told me that if I wanted to spend the night with my friends, it’s okay. But next time, there is no in-between. He only stayed because of me.”
Instead of paying any further attention to my son's truth, Bashir looked back at me and asked, “what is it that you get out of this?”
“Out of what?” This is a blanket statement. What is he getting at?
“Out of spending time with other people’s children. What is it that you get out of that?”
“I’m not getting anything out of spending time with other people’s children. Gavin had cancer. He was told that he was going to die. When he came to Neverland, he got better. So much better. And to see him grow and beat cancer has been the highlight of this entire journey! I think what they get from me, I get from them. I told you- I’ve said it many times, my greatest inspiration comes from kids. Every song I write, every dance I do, all the poetry I write… It’s all inspired from that level of innocence. That consciousness of purity.” I looked down at my son. “And children have that. I see God in the face of children,” I looked back up at Bashir. “And, um, man,” I shook my head. “Uh… I just love being around that all the time.”
Bashir inhaled, “when people hear that children from other families have come and they’ve stayed in your house, they’ve stayed in your bedroom.”
“Very few,” I took my son's hand in mine. “The only ‘other’ families have been my nieces and nephews. That’s it. No child from another family has entered my bedroom. Both when I was married and now.”
“So, Gavin has never been in your bedroom?”
“Other than to tour it, no. I have a two-story bedroom. He toured it and that’s it.”
“Okay, but when people hear that other children have been in your room,” he completely disregarded the explanation I had just given him. “They wonder, ‘is that really appropriate for a man, a grown man, to be doing that? How do you respond to that?”
“You know what?” I shook my head. “I feel sorry for them because that’s judging someone who wants to really help people.” I looked down at the floor and thought back to the sleepover in my sons room. “Going back to the sleepover we had in my sons' room, why can’t you share your bed?” I looked back up at Bashir. “The most loving thing to do is to share your bed with someone. My mother taught me to give up my bed to a guest. I teach my children the same. So, that’s what I do. I share my bed. Michael’s bed wasn’t my own, but because Gavin insisted that I sleep in the bed, I told him no and made him sleep in the bed. Because I love him, and I know he loves me back. I love all children, not just my own. So, I gave him my sons' bed. There’s your answer. That’s what I get out of this. I just want to give. Is it so wrong to give to people?”
“…you-you really think that?” Bashir looked at me, dumbfounded.
“Yeah! Of course!”
“You’re taking the thing that you use every single night,” Gavin began. “That you go into. You sleep, and you’re sharing it with another person.”
“Grandma Katie and Grandma Gigi teach us to share. We share our beds with our guests,” Michael nodded in agreement.
“You say, ‘you can have my bed if you want. Sleep in it. I’ll sleep on the floor. It’s yours!’ Always give the best to the company, you know?” I confirmed everything that I taught both my son and Gavin. It’s common courtesy. You don’t invite someone over and let them sleep on the floor or the couch. No, I was taught to give my guest the bed, and I’ll sleep, not the floor or the couch. I sleep in the bed every day. What difference does it make if I miss one night? “Like to him,” I pointed to Gavin. “Cause he was gonna sleep on the floor, I said, ‘no! You sleep in the bed.’ And my son was even in the background saying that. Because we give our guests the best!”
“But, haven’t you got a spare room or a spare house here where he could have stayed?” Bashir asked.
“Yeah, but- Yes! We have guest units! But whenever we have kids come here, they always wanna stay with my children and me.” I laughed. “They never wanna stay in the guest room, and I have never invited them in my room other than to tour it. They always just wanna stay in this house. They say, ‘can I stay with you tonight?’ I go, ‘if it’s okay with your parents, yes, you can.’ And I normally go to my room, and they can stay in their room. But for this specific instance, we were having a sleepover, and the boys and my son begged me to stay the night with them.”
“Gavin, were your parents happy when you were here with-with Michael?”
Gavin nodded, “yeah, my mom was very, very, very happy and I know they’re happy ‘cause I was happy.”
“Did they come with you?”
“Yeah, most of the time,” he shrugged. “But I wasn’t mainly with my parents. I was mainly with Michael.”
“Whenever I was around, Gavin was with me,” I told Bashir. “Most times, I may be off in the studio, and he may be playing with my children. But yeah, he was probably with me whenever I made my presence known. Other than that, the ranch is his to explore.”
“But they were happy you were here, Gavin?” Bashir asked, ignoring my comment.
“Yeah,” Gavin nodded.
The room got silent. A shift occurred in the room. I don’t know what it was, but it’s strange.
“Well,” Bashir sighed and signaled to his crew. “I think I have everything for today. Gavin,” he stood up to shake the boy's hand. “It was a pleasure meeting you. Michael,” he turned his attention to me. “Do you mind if I go with you and your family to Vegas to get more footage?”
I shook off the weird shift in the room. It must have meant nothing. “Sure.”
“Vegas means a lot to you, I’ve learned.”
“Yes. A great deal,” I looked down at my son, who was watching our exchange.
“So, we’ll see you then.” And with that, Bashir left, leaving me somewhat stunned.
What just happened?