there’s just so much that i wanna say…
all my thoughts get in the way…
i’ll be loving you forever.
My life on The Block began in 1986. I was in the first grade. I’ve spent more than two decades trying to accurately express my love for the New Kids on the Block, and the gratitude I feel. Over the years, I’ve come to believe that very few people will ever grasp these feelings – the NK themselves, and my fellow Blockheads. Most of us believe it’s something that can’t really be explained to the rest of the world because you just have to experience it to ‘get’ it. It might be possible, however, to grasp it through the eyes and life of someone who’s been there…
I can still remember my very first New Kids experience. I was seven years old, in the record store with my brothers (all four of them), the self-titled NKOTB cassette tape in my hand, asking them “you don’t know who they are?” incredulously. I, of course, had never heard of them either, but I thought they looked great and wanted to be ‘in the know’ before anyone else. It was the first cassette tape I ever bought with my own money.
That same year, I was abused by an older boy I knew and trusted. Further complicating matters, I repressed the memories of the trauma. Unconsciously, I quickly taught myself to be mean – a defense mechanism I must have believed would keep me from future betrayal. I guess I thought that if I could keep people at arm’s length, they wouldn’t be able to hurt me. For nineteen years, I couldn’t explain why I unintentionally hurt so many people I loved. I never meant to be so mean, I just couldn’t control it. I left a trail of human shrapnel in my wake.
There were happy times, too, of course. The New Kids brought a lot of positivity into my life. I grew up pretty sheltered, all things considered. I went to a small private school with the same group of kids from kindergarten through seventh grade. I missed a lot of the New Kids’ TV appearances because my parents’ religion prohibited me from watching on Saturday. (Many years later, thanks to eBay, I recovered a lot of the cartoons, pay-per-view concerts, Saturday morning appearances, and other missed opportunities on VHS.) I didn’t have access to the kind of kids who cut class, dropped out, or did drugs, but I still appreciated the messages of “don’t do drugs!” and “stay in school!” Donnie (my rebel sister’s favorite), in particular, was extremely vocal about peace, clearly taking his opportunity to be a role model seriously. I will always be grateful for that.
One of my closest friends in elementary school, Kristi, shared my love for the New Kids. We even had the same favorite – Joe. I remember spending hours in her room (hot pink because, though we both had the sheets, she had the New Kids comforter as well), screaming out “YES!” to Joe’s “tell me do I tell you that I love you?” We also had the dolls, the t-shirts, and posters and pinups that we would kiss goodnight. When the guys did a Coke commercial, we swore off Pepsi forever. (And though I’m not really a soda drinker anymore, the preference is with me to this day.) I remember the day the guys were on Oprah for the entire hour…Kristi and I raced home from school as fast as we could. (And you better believe the VCR was already taping!) Just the other day, in fact, I heard someone whistling Strangers in the Night…it still takes me back every time.
In 1990, my parents bought me tickets to the No More Games Live tour for my birthday. I was eleven going on twelve, and the memory of that night is so permanently etched in my mind, I could describe in detail not just the sign I (of course!) took with me (“I’ll be loving JOE forever!!”), but my entire outfit. My poor dad had no idea what he was in for – he took a Walkman with him, hoping to catch a little of the Warriors game and tune out the show. Even if that had been possible amid the thousands of screaming girls, I was definitely screaming too loudly in his ear for him to have had a chance at hearing anything at all. It was my first real concert, and I watched in awe – I couldn’t believe how it felt to realize they were real people. I had seen them on TV a million times, and loved them for so long, but to see them live and in person truly rocked my world.
Over the next year or two, the New Kids’ popularity began to decline. The boys had always made fun of them, but when the girls I knew started abandoning the NK for Motley Crue, Poison, and Warrant, I wasn’t ready to let go. I felt scared and alienated. I didn’t realize it at the time, but the New Kids on the Block were a safe place for me – a warm, happy, innocent place of comfort. I couldn’t imagine leaving that behind. Kristi dropped them for rap and we grew apart. I had a hard time coming to grips with all the ridicule, and grappled with being teased about my preferences. For a brief time, I even pretended not to like them anymore. I will regret that forever, but at the time I didn’t have the courage to own my choices. I loved the New Kids on the Block – in some ways, it was about cute boys. In some ways, it was about the music: it was fun, it was catchy – I still love it. But it was so much more.
The year I started high school, the New Kids changed their name officially to NKOTB, released Face the Music, and eventually broke up. My life was spiraling out of control personally, and I drifted for a few years, feeling completely lost. 1997 was my senior year of high school, my friend Betsy and I got to talking, and I don’t remember how, but we started reminiscing about the good old days of the New Kids. One of us dug out old videotapes, and I discovered that old safe, comfortable, happy feeling. It’s the only thing I know that makes me smile so hard it hurts, every time. I began to recognize this pattern in myself – when things were difficult, I returned to the New Kids. Though my love for them has always been real, I started to realize that it was more than just that – it was the nostalgia I felt, safe in my happy place.
That year, I had access to the internet in my home for the first time. That opened up endless new possibilities for a girl like me hoping to connect with others who shared her passion. I met Laura, a young girl in Ohio, and we instantly connected. We used to stay up all night emailing back and forth, reminiscing and laughing. I felt like I was loved, understood, and accepted. We had a mailing list set up for all of the fans to communicate on, and when it needed to be named, I came up with “New Kids Underground.” The owner of the list liked it, and it stuck. Through NKU I met Tera in 1998. Joe and Jordan were both beginning solo careers, and Donnie had begun acting. In hopes of meeting Donnie, I went to a screening of Southie in LA. That night, not only did I meet Tera in person, I also met her best friend Jen, and we all managed to meet Donnie. That year, I also met both Joe and Jordan. It was amazing to fulfill a lifelong dream, though I would have been entirely unsuccessful if I’d have even tried to tell them what they meant to me – I couldn’t even put it into words if I tried. In part, that was because I didn’t fully know yet. I decided, instead, to get a tattoo of an NKOTB logo. I didn’t realize at the time how frequently I would be asked about it, and feel like I should explain or defend my choice. Two years later, I grew tired of the questions, and had it covered up. I still wasn’t ready or able to express myself accurately. Tera was appalled at my decision, and we didn’t speak for several years after that.
Though both Jordan and Joe continued their solo singing careers rather steadily, as did Donnie with his acting, I felt like I was in a New Kids wilderness for the next several years. I didn’t see Jon and Jordan’s appearance on Oprah from 2001 until years later, but I heard about Jon’s struggle with anxiety. It broke my heart. I felt as though Jon had sacrificed his own health and happiness for the fans, in some ways. I will always feel so appreciative for his selflessness and courage.
In 2005, a breakup triggered the repressed memories from my childhood, and my life was immediately turned upside down. I suddenly found myself living alone in a city with no close friends, 500 miles from home. I had never felt more alone in my life. I was forced to take a long hard look at who I had become as a result of what had happened to me at so young an age. Eventually, I was able to forgive myself as I sought forgiveness from those I had hurt. I spent time tracking down many of those I’d lost touch with simply to tell them I was not that same hurtful person, and that I was sorry for how I had treated them. It was a new day dawning, though – I realized that I had the power from that moment on to choose the person I wanted to be. I felt as though I had spent my whole life trying to run a marathon without ever having learned to crawl. I decided I needed to go back to the start and learn how to be a human being. I gave myself permission to feel things, stopped trying to be so tough, and let my guard down. I got back in touch with Tera and mended fences. Through her, I met Jennifer, who lived in San Diego, too. Once again, I turned to the New Kids on the Block for comfort, and as always, they were there.
Over the years, I never completely lost touch with Laura. We had a major falling out, and even then, I could never completely turn my back on her – we had been friends for too long, been through too much together. We lived eight states apart, and still, she had become like family to me. Jen, Tera, Jennifer, too. These women share with me something so rare and so precious – I don’t know what I would do without them. I’m sure that most of the world thinks we’re just a bunch of overgrown groupies, teenyboppers, or freaks, and that’s fine. The truth is I no longer care what people think about it. I finally feel freed to love them the way I always have, and now that I can finally express my true feelings about them, I also don’t feel the need to. It’s something that’s so inherently a part of who I am, you either get it or you don’t. Either way, the only choice is to accept it.
We never really gave up hope for a reunion. I also must admit, I never really thought it would actually happen. It seems it all happened so fast, it didn’t seem real. Maybe it isn’t that it really did happen fast, but just that we had waited and hoped and prayed for so long, when it was truly becoming reality, it was hard to believe. The first appearance as a group on the Today show gave me chills. The day The Block came out, I cried as I listened to it. I couldn’t believe that after fourteen years without new music, I had eighteen new songs. In late 2008, Jen, Tera, Jennifer and I assembled in Las Vegas with a few friends to see the reunion tour together. The entire experience was surreal. At one point, I remember Donnie saying something about “the last time we saw most of you, you weren’t even legal!” He was right – I stood there watching the five of them back together after so long, and realized I hadn’t been in the presence of all of them like that in eighteen years. I was so emotionally overwhelmed, I didn’t even begin to process until days later. I think it was the most fun I’ve ever had in my life. That night meant more to me than I can ever say.
The New Kids on the Block were there for me when I needed them – all those times over so many years of my life when I needed a safe, happy place to retreat to, they were it. Nothing in the world has ever made me feel the way they do. Whether it’s listening to The Block or Hangin’ Tough, watching Wildest Dreams, or just reminiscing, nothing in my life has ever come close. My gratitude to them for that is immeasurable. Though I’ve met three of the five, I still hope for a “do-over.” I won’t feel right until I’ve had the chance to meet Danny, and to tell Jon how much his return to the group means to me, how much I respect his courage, and to tell all of them even just a fraction of what they’ve meant to me. In Donnie’s words, I need a little “face time.” I would give anything in the world to have the chance. If it doesn’t happen, I hope somehow they know – the New Kids on the Block saved my life.
I’ve been writing since I was a kid. It’s always been my dream to be published in one way or another. I’d like to one day publish this memoir – “My life on The Block,” in some kind of magazine one day (after I’ve met successfully finished the end of the story).
we’ve come too far to ever turn back now
this love will last forever,
i can see it all now…
Pssst! Some things have changed since I wrote this post. Click here out for updated details!