Childhood memories were brought to life in a giant flashback: white Christmas lights trimming the sidewalk, the pathway, the trees, the frame and gutters of his English Tudor mansion. He had them turned on all year round to make sure that "it was Christmas every day." A huge steam train ran between the shops and the movie theater, and a miniature train toured the circumference of the estate, via the zoo. In the main house—through the doors, passed the welcoming, model life-size butler with tray, up the wide stairway and down the hallway—was the playroom. Inside, beyond the full-size Superman and Darth Vader at the door, was the biggest table dominating the room. On it, a vintage Lionel train set was always running: two or three trains traveling the tracks with lights on, around a model landscape of hills, valleys, towns and waterfalls. Inside the house and out, Michael had built himself the biggest electric train set you could ever imagine.
Back outside, there was a full-fledged professional go-cart track with chicanes and tight bends, and the merry-go-round was spinning to music, a beautiful carousel of ornate horses. There was a candy store too, where everything was free, and a Christmas tree lit up all year round. In 2003, Michael said he developed the ranch "to create everything that I never had as a child." But it was also about re-creating what he had enjoyed for too short a time, rebuilding it in an exaggerated version. He called himself a "fantasy fanatic" and this was his eternal fantasy.
Neverland brought back our lost days because that is how he perceived his childhood—as a missing person; an inner child wandering around his past looking to somehow reconnect with him in the future. It wasn't a refusal to grow up because if you asked him, he never felt like he was a boy in the first place. Michael was expected to be an adult when he was a kid, and he regressed into a kid when he was expected to be an adult. He was more Benjamin Button than the Peter Pan comparison he made himself. However much I might remember laughter in our childhood, he struggled to recall it, which probably had a lot to do with the fact that I am four years older.
A friend, a nephew and I took quad bikes to explore Neverland's 2,700 acres, which seemed endless, rolling beyond every green horizon, scattered with oak trees. One dusty fire road took us climbing to the highest peak, far away from the developed area, and a plateau, providing a 360-degree vista. My eyes scanned it all—the property, the theme park, the lake, the ferris wheel, the trains, the greenery—and it filled me with awe and pride. Look at what you've created, I said to my brother in my head, and repeated it to him later.
"A place of ultimate happiness," he told me.