I hadn’t had a good night sleep in three weeks and the upcoming airway infection did nothing to support my case. I was relieved to see that only Howie and myself were the first ones to arrive. He offered me the master bedroom, which I gladly accepted without thinking twice. I’m sure Howie thought I was selfish.
Which was so true. The first few days in London we were meant to reconnect, -as Nick had so desperately put it- I was doing the exact opposite. I kept them at a huge distance and pushed anyone away when I felt they were trying to come close. I foolishly thought that if the time came when we would have to start recording and I would have to tell them what was going on, it wouldn’t hurt as much. If I build a ten feet wall around me and kept my bandmates at a distance, I wouldn’t be affected by their shock and disappointment. I wouldn’t be hurt, or feel guilty when they were unsupportive or harsh.
It didn’t work.
I felt like having a nervous breakdown when I stopped talking and waited for their reactions. They were unusually quiet when you considered the news they just got. My heart hammered a mile a minute as I watched their faces one by one. I could easily see the confusion as they tried to fathom the story I had just unclearly blurted out. For a moment, I was taken back to that day I had to tell them about that heart surgery. They had the exact same expressions on their faces then, only now, they were older.
I shifted uncomfortably, the kitchen suddenly seeming very small and running quickly out of oxygen. They stared back at me with unreadable faces, suddenly a united front of four. I was, not for the first time in my life, the complete outsider. But then again, I put that on myself. I had gone over this conversation ten million times the night before when I figured I wouldn’t be able to sleep anyway. I now came to the conclusion that I had never been able to predict how they would react. I finally realized that it didn’t matter that I spend almost twenty years in close proximity of these guys; I didn’t know them at all.
Howie was the first to recover, asking in a stern voice what the prognosis was. I saw the other faces looking at me questioningly, the undisguised hope evident in their eyes. Although it didn’t come as a complete surprise that something was wrong with my voice; now that they heard it had an official name; it sounded so much more serious and undeniable. When I remained silent for a few moments longer, I saw the hope slowly diminishing from their eyes and the fear and worry grow.
I opened my mouth, choosing to only focus on Howie instead, “W-well,” I said, cursing softly as my voice choice that perfect moment to give out, “there’s not a surefire cure, actually.” I watched their faces fall for real now, and brought my hands up in defiance, “but I’m going to therapy, I’m taking medication... you know? I-I’m trying to beat it, I just need time, and support. I can’t do this without your support, guys.”
It remained silent again for a few moments and they all looked at me like they’d never seen me before. Kevin studied me intently and I moved nervously under their burning gazes. “How long have you known this?” Kevin asked eventually, in that slow, thoughtful way I had come to dread over the years.
I bit my lip and shot them a desperate look, feeling like they were ganging up on me, while there was no indication that they actually were. I am very certain that the desperation and frustration I felt were completely shining through on my face. My gaze dropped to the table’s surface and I suddenly became very aware of the various irregular patterns on the table. It was bothering me.
“F-for about a year and a half,” I whispered so softly, I was sure they couldn’t have heard me.
“Over a year?” Nick exclaimed incredulously nevertheless. I looked up; his face was a pure image of disbelief. “You’ve known this was a serious thing for over a year, and you never told us?” he stated the obvious and I dropped my eyes back down to the table, tracing my fingers over the irregular shapes that were nagging me to no end.
“I-I...” I stammered. I didn’t usually stammer and I wondered why I was starting that habit now, “I was dealing with it. I thought it would be handled by now, but...”
“But it’s not,” Nick finished my sentence, trying to poorly disguise the roll of his eyes that he couldn’t control. “You’ve waited until we are actually in the studio to record stuff and until all contracts for a new album were signed before you dared open up your mouth about it. Wow. Real classy, Brian. You just fucked all of us big time.”
His statements hurt and they weren’t entirely true. Or maybe they were. I honestly didn’t know anymore what I was thinking at that point. Had I really consciously waited for us to be forced to continue a new album cycle before I opened up about my problems? Had I consciously condemned myself to a torturous hell for the coming three years? Why would I do that? Was I that afraid of them kicking me out? Was I that afraid of being cast out of a life I had lived for almost twenty years? Was I that afraid of change?
Yes. Yes I was.
Because I didn’t know what else to do. I was a singer.
I had identified myself as a singer for such a huge chunk of my life that without that identity, I had no freaking clue on who I truly was. I would be damned if I let them take that away from me. I had spend a large amount of time pretending that my job wasn’t that important to me; that it was just a job. That I could identify myself apart from it, but damn if that was true. Was I being selfish for not telling them anything sooner?
When I looked back up to face Nick’s drilling stare, I could see the worry behind the anger and it made my throat tighten up a little more. I saw the desperate need for an explanation as to why I had tangled myself into such an intricate web of trouble. I saw all the countless questions that he and the others were ready to fire at me that I couldn’t answer. Howie had discreetly pulled up a laptop and was searching the web together with Kevin. I saw his lips move and his brow furrow in concentration as he looked up any info on muscle tension dysphonia he could possibly find. At points, he would read some of the sentences out loud and look at me for confirmation. I would nod silently, avoiding his calculative eyes. His question were stern and business like, just like I had expected from him. I answered each of them curtly, just as stern and business like.
“So, you’re doing therapy and meds, right?”
“How’s that coming along?”
“Surgery an option?”
“How frequent is that therapy?”
“Three times a week.”
“Are you planning on doing it here in London?”
“I don’t have a voice therapist here.”
“But I can do the exercises alone anyway.”
“Okay. When can you start recording?”
Howie and Kevin looked at me thoughtfully. I cleared my throat; the sound getting stuck somewhere half way. I could feel the muscles in my throat working to let through the air and I winced. It really did hurt sometimes. The others looked at me, absolutely unimpressed by my statement to start recording now.
“Look, we can wait,” AJ suggested softly, his sympathetic eyes taking me in as he spoke for the first time that morning, “We can push it back until you feel better. We’ll just have to figure something out with management.”
I smiled sadly at him and shook my head, finally letting the tears of frustration spill over. I didn’t dare telling him that I hadn’t felt better for the better part of a year, “We’ll totally lose our momentum,” I muttered instead.
AJ sighed, but I could see that he agreed. Nick looked in confusion from AJ to me and back, “So what are we supposed to do? Make a so-so album for our twentieth anniversary? We can’t do that!”
AJ looked at him angrily because of his harsh wording and I lowered my gaze once again to the table, my breakfast feeling like it was trying to make a grand comeback as I stared at my now empty plate. Life as I knew it was slowly deteriorating around me and I couldn’t control one single aspect of it. I heard AJ answer Nick that we didn’t really have to give me such a huge role on this album anyway and I could feel his sentence physically stab my pride and smack it down in the sand. He was right, of course, but there was this irrational part of me that felt that I was entitled to have the same lions-share I’d always had on an album.
Had I not carried this group on my back vocally for the past nineteen years? What was going to happen to the sound when I had no prominent part in it? What was gonna happen to the sound if I had? How was I supposed to take back control of my life when I was forced into such radical changes? Why was it not enough that I was doing all I could?
“I’m-” I cleared my throat again, my voice completely destroyed now, “I’m just asking for your support as my friends and as my co-workers. I’m doing all I can to heal this thing. Please don’t ask more of me than that. I can’t use anymore pressure right now.”
Kevin nodded quickly and to my relief, I saw nothing else but compassion in his eyes. He knew the enormous bouts of nervousness and anxiety that had most likely caused this condition to begin with. He knew about the huge amount of tension I felt when I took the stage; the weight of delivering to the expectations had been slowly crushing me for years now. And he also knew the pride I took in being able to deliver to those expectations every single time, without faltering. That was; until one and a half years ago. I felt like throwing myself down into a bottomless pit whenever my voice would horribly crack in the middle of a line during the tour with the New Kids. My nerves and anxiety had been multiplied exponentially over the last eighteen months. I still can’t believe no one had the guts to confront me about it when they must have noticed the unhealthy sound and tension too.
Were they afraid of how I could have reacted?
I thought about this while the others awkwardly got up and filed out of the kitchen one by one. I felt AJ’s heavy hand press down on my shoulder and he leaned close to my face with one of the most serious expressions I’d seen on him in quite a while.
“We’ve got you, bro,” he mumbled before leaving the kitchen.
I let out the shaky breath I had been holding for the entire conversation. I stared aimlessly into the now empty kitchen, not bothering to stop the tears from flowing freely down my face. I had dreaded this talk for so long, and although it had brought some relief and had gone better than I had expected, I still wasn’t able to see a silver lining throughout any of it.
That night would be the first night of many nights I would wake up at three am to find Nick Carter practically curled up beside me. In the morning, he would say that there was no air conditioning in his small loft room and that the heat was killing him, so ‘suck it up, bitch, you have the largest room and I need my sleep as well.’ But the fact that he had no problem lying next to me, where he would have had one a day before, was very noteworthy. He reminded me of a loyal dog that would stay beside its owner when they were wounded or in trouble. It made me think that maybe my friends wouldn’t be so harsh and judgmental and insensitive when it came to a huge problem nobody really knew how to deal with. It made me appreciate them a little more for sticking by me no matter what.
They wouldn’t let me down, not really. They would support me and help me in every way they could.
Boy, was I wrong.