“Hi, this is Cammie with Creative Counseling. Jackie had given me your number and indicated you may be interested in counseling, just wanted to see what days/times might work well for you to come in. Thanks!”
The reply came on Tuesday. I was taking a break between clients and eating a few grapes at my desk. I had just finished an exhausting hour of listening to a woman talk about how her children never called her. Sympathetic as I tried to be, I understood why they didn’t call. She was overbearing and narcissistic, and I found it difficult to deal with her just one hour a week. Remembering my phone in my desk drawer, I fished it out and my heart skipped a beat as I saw I had one new message.
“Hey, this is Nick Carter. I’m still interested in coming in but my schedule is crazy. Do you have anything available on Friday?”
I took a deep breath and tried to steady the phone in my shaking hands. I couldn’t understand my reaction. I tried to remind myself that this was just another client, potentially as draining and self-centered as the one I had just seen. But it was also him. Nick Carter.
Despite my general lack of interest in celebrity lives, this felt different. Growing up, I had a corner of my bedroom covered in magazine cutouts from Teen People, and Nick Carter was frequently the center of this shrine. To say I was an obsessed teenager was a grave understatement. I still remember clearly the day Millennium was released, almost 20 years later. I had begged my dad to drive me to Sam Goody after school, my babysitting money in hand. I was 15 and this felt like the biggest purchase of my life, I waited for in anticipation for months. I pored over that album for weeks, listening and following along with the lyrics in the liner notes until I knew every word and had memorized the thank-yous and acknowledgements. To this day, I should be ashamed to admit, I could still listen to any Backstreet Boys song and identify instantly who was singing.
At the center of this obsession was Nick. As a 15 year old girl, Nick was the only who seemed accessible to me, a mere 5 or 6 years older than me (the internet was new at this time and notoriously unreliable with these things. Kevin, more than 10 years my senior, may as well have been my grandfather. I traced pictures of Nick’s face into my sketchbook, trying my best to copy photos I had found on fan websites or from album covers, writing imaginary letter that he would never read (and, as an adult years later, hope I never tried to send).
I hit the height of Backstreet Boys fever around the time the internet was becoming easily accessible to suburban middle class teens. I spent hours (hours that prevented anyone else in my house from using the telephone) dragging the depths of the world wide web for any juicy tidbits of information. The coming of the internet age really aligned well with teenage obsession. It allowed us to find out anything we wanted about these mythical creatures, provided us free access to the information we yearned for, but couldn’t afford in magazines at the grocery store checkout. It was all there for us, the fans. And we took advantage. We created websites, we traded photos and quotes, we wrote fanfiction. It made them seem even more real to us.
I took a deep breath and replied. I would do this. I could face him. That was all in the past. We are both adults now, I can handle myself. I muttered this mantra to myself as I typed.
“I am free on Friday from 1:00 to 4:00 if that works for you. Anytime in between is fine if you have a preference.”
The reply came almost instantly, startling the phone still in my hands.
“3 would be great.”
“Okay, great. I’ll plan to see you then.”
I placed my phone back in the drawer and popped one more grape into my mouth before preparing for my next client. This would definitely not be cool. I would definitely not be cool.
The days between Tuesday and Friday drug on for years, and yet came crashing toward me like a freight train. I wasn’t prepared for this. Friday morning, I shaved my legs and put on a dress and heels. I used to dress this professionally when I first started counseling, a desperate attempt to convey a sense of professionalism and grown-up-ness that I didn’t feel. I was trying to cover up the fact that I often felt like a child in an adult world with designer handbags and heels I could barely walk in. But I looked nice. professional. Definitely not like a teenage girl obsessed with a boyband, right? I straightened the dress and gave myself one last look before leaving my apartment. I pet Misty on the head and threw a tube of lip gloss and my phone into my bag before shutting the door and calling out behind me “Wish me well, Misty girl”.
I’m not sure I heard a word any of my clients said that day, to be honest. I spent the entire morning and afternoon wondering what it would be like, what he would be like. Would I find the boy whose picture had adorned my teenage walls? Would I find this tabloid caricature that I had read about in years past? Would I find a normal human, insecure and anxious like me?
As three o clock neared, I reapplied my lip gloss and practice my greeting.
“Hello, welcome. I am Camille”
“Hi, I’m Cammie, Come on in”
“Hi there. How are you?”
“Hello, you must be Nick”
Each sounded more stupid than that last. I was deep in a debate between “hi and “hello” when I heard a knock on the door.
I plastered the most adult smile I could find on my face and inhaled as I took in the man in front of me. Tall, nearly a foot taller than me (even in my big girl heels) and muscular, smiling back at me.
He smiled at me and extended his hand. “Hi, you must be Cammie. I’m Nick.”
I took his hand and suppressed my urge to squeal in the vocal register only possessed by teenage girls. “Hi, it’s nice to meet you. Please come in.”
He entered past me and I caught a whiff of his cologne. He took a seat on the large leather couch under my window as I tried to remember how to walk like a human.
“Should I lie down?” he said as he lounged on the couch across from me.
I almost fainted. “No,” I smiled and gave a small polite laugh.” I think that’s just in the movies. You can feel free to sit. Unless you want to lie down, I guess. I won’t judge.”
“yeah, that would be nice. The no judgement thing, I mean.” And then came the awkward silence. God, we hadn’t even made it past three sentences.
I took a breath and steadied myself. “Breathe, Cammie”, I chided myself. “You know how to do this. Just like any client.” I exhaled and spoke.
“I’m glad you made it in. Do you want to tell me a little about what brings you here?”
“Um, I guess I’m not totally sure. You know, it’s just been really stressful and my wife, Lauren, suggested that I might want to talk to someone about some things. I don’t know though”.
I could sense something shift within him as he stumbled through a reply. The confidence seemed to falter, the charismatic smile faded a bit from his face that now looked more adult than boyish. He seemed almost human.
“Well, I can certainly understand coming in because of stress. And it’s natural that people feel uncomfortable about coming in and sharing things with a total stranger. It’s really a weird process.”
He returned a small smile. “Yeah, it’s pretty weird. I’m just used to not really talking to people about things. Not knowing who you can trust, you know? It’s hard to know who you can trust. For me at least”
I took a stab and hoped I still knew how to do this. “And maybe people only want to see a certain version of you.”
“Exactly” he exclaimed as he looked up and met my eyes. “They want to see nick carter, the boy band member, the heartthrob”. He made air quotes with his fingers around the word heartthrob and flashed a toothy smile for effect.
“Yeah, I imagine it makes you feel like you can’t be real, that it’s not okay to have struggles at times, even though its a normal thing for everyone.”
“Yeah, or sometimes it’s like the opposite. People want to see me struggle, they want to see my fail, they like me when I’m broken. And that’s somehow even weirder, like people want me to be traumatized. I don’t get it.”
He laughed out loud. “Can you say that? Aren’t you supposed to like people?”
“I do like people”, I protested. “I really enjoy talking to people, helping them work through what’s going on, but to be frank, people can also really suck sometimes.”
“Agreed”, he said with a smile and seemed to relax in his seat.
“You’ll probably find out I don’t always have the tact you might expect and I can have a pretty terrible sense of humor and be pretty frank sometimes. Just letting you know what you’re getting into.”
“I can get down with that. I’ve had some counselors before…” He used his finger to make the sign for ‘crazy’, circling his right ear with his hand.
“Oh yeah? Wasn’t a good fit?”
“I think it just felt like people never really got me. Kind of like the people I come into contact with all the time in my life, they could only see a certain part of me and, and it was like they couldn’t accept me being any different. One therapist I think didn’t really get what I do, how hard I work, what goes into what we do. I think she thought I was just some spoiled kid who ‘shouldn’t have problems’. She was older, no offense to her, but it just seemed like she thought of me as this whiny kid who just needed to get over myself.”
“It sounds like you’ve certainly had some negative experiences. Is there anything I can say to help you feel good about this one? Is there anything you have questions or expectations about?”
“Um…I’m not sure. I guess I just want to feel like I can be a whole person, you know”. I nodded. “Can I ask you a question?”
“Sure, within reason.”
“Did you know who I was? Not to be presumptuous, but you seem like you’re the age where maybe you would have been familiar with me? Sorry, maybe I shouldn’t ask that.”
“No it’s fine, I’m okay answering that. Yeah, I know who you are. I grew up in the 90s, it was pretty hard to avoid knowing who the Backstreet Boys were.”
“Okay”, he said with some trepidation.
“How do you feel about that?”
“I don’t know. I mean, I think I expected you to probably know but…”
“but you’re worried that maybe I already have this idea about who you might be and that maybe I can’t see you differently than I did as a 13 year old.”
He laughed. “Yeah. That’s pretty much it.”
“Well, I can’t promise that I can erase anything I have known about you, but I can promise that I will try my best to set the past aside and allow you to tell me who you are, from your own perspective. I firmly believe in people being the authors of their own story. And if you catch me trying to write the story or influence it with what I think I know, I hope you will call me out on that.”
“I can do that”, he replied with confidence.
“I believe that!” I smiled in return.
He nodded, “you seem cool. Laid back. I think that might be cool.”
“I’m glad”, I said sincerely. “Now I know you said your wife suggested you see someone because of stress. Is there anything specific going on that’s contributing to the stress or going on that made you finally decide to come in? I assume there is always stress…anything different?”
“Um, I guess just mostly it’s been stressful being here and performing as much as we are. Being in Las Vegas feels different, you now? Bigger. When we were doing our shows, it was us traveling to the people who wanted to see us, showing up where fans were already at. Here, we are asking a lot more of people, you know? We are charging more for tickets and people will have to travel farther to see us for the most part. So, there have been a lot of nerves, I guess, about whether people will want to come all that way to see us. Like, are we good enough for that? Is this sustainable? Are we too old for this?” He laughed and ran a hand through his hair. “I mean, I’m pushing 40 and in a boy band. Kevin’s practically getting a senior citizen discount and here we are dancing around like teenagers. It feels a little weird sometimes.”
He paused telling his story as if he suddenly remembered I was in the room.
“Is it weird to talk about other people?”
“You mean like Kevin?”
“I mean, not really? I guess it’s a little odd because like you said, I have this idea in my head about who some of the people in your life are, have some concept of them. But to be honest, it’s not that much different. People often talk about other people who are important in their lives, and I never get a complete picture. I only know people through their eyes, so I imagine it will be like that with you as well. I will get to know the Kevin that you know, through your perspective. Does that make sense?”
“Yeah. Well anyway, there has just been a lot of stress. Plus, I don’t know if you know, but I have a son, He’s two and it’s been stressful at home with him. I feel super guilty that I’m not around him as much as I want to be. I feel like I didn’t have the greatest upbringing and I don’t want that for him. And I know things are different, I know the situation isn’t the same, but sometimes when I leave him, I feel like I’m a crappy parent”.
I saw the color drain from his face and for a moment, the façade crumbled . I wondered if he would keep going and talk about his family, but I didn’t think it would be that easy. I had learned, especially with high-profile clients, they are usually reticent to really open up about how things are and often struggle to get past the surface level story telling. But it was only our first meeting. I figured I would let it go for now.
The smile returned and I could tell he hit something a little too deep and was now retreating. “Plus, he’s two, you know? It’s just a challenging age. He gets overtired and I think the stress of traveling makes it hard for him to have a schedule and structure sometimes.”
I could sense we wouldn’t get much further today. but at least we were talking. And somewhere in the conversation, I had reverted back to what I knew, forgotten who I was talking to and approached this like I would any other client.
“Well, are there other things that you think are important for me to know?”
“Um, I guess maybe just to be patient with me? Like I said, I have tried the counseling thing in the past and I never really felt like I could talk to them, and I think they got frustrated with me. I felt like they wanted me to talk about something, but I didn’t always know what it was, and they were waiting for me to say something so then I felt like I was just guessing at what they wanted me to say and I felt like I wasn’t doing it right.”
“That sounds frustrating. I bet it was hard to keep showing up when it felt like that.”
“Yeah I would go for a couple of times and then just make up excuses not to come anymore. I do travel a lot so it was hard sometimes to make appointments and I guess I just let it go.”
I nodded. “That makes sense. I want to assure you that this is your time, and these sessions are for you to decide what to talk about. I’m not expecting to talk about anything specific. You can bring whatever you’re comfortable talking about. If there’s things you don’t want to talk about that’s fine too. I imagine it will take us a while to get comfortable so I really don’t expect you to open up your entire life to me today. it’s okay to take some time to build trust”
“Yeah, that makes sense.”
“And I hope you will tell me if something isn’t working for you. I know you haven’t had great experiences in the past, and I don’t want that to happen for you. So, if for some reason you don’t think it’s going to work out, please let me know. Not everyone is a good fit for everyone, and I want you to be able to have a good experience and work with someone you can trust.”
He smiled “Thanks. I feel comfortable with you so far. You haven’t like asked for my autograph yet or anything like that.”
“Oh shit, I was just about to pull out my backstreet boys poster for you to sign. Too soon?” I teased.
“You’re funny, I like that.”
“Thanks. I’m glad you can appreciate it. I hope it will end up being a good fit”
“We’ve got a few minutes left. Anything else you want to talk about today?”
“Nah, I think I’m good. I actually talked more than I thought I would”, he confessed”
“Okay, well I know your schedule is a little crazy. How often are you wanting to meet?”
“Maybe next week?”
“Sure, do you want to keep the same time?”
“Yeah, that should work”
“Okay I’ll plan to see you then.”
I stood up and opened the door to let him out of the office. He had returned to the charmer persona and flashed me a winning smile and a small wave as he said “see you next week.”
I closed the door behind me and breathed a sigh of relief. I did it. I made it through a session without squealing, blushing, or actually asking him to sign something (I didn’t really have a poster ready for him to sign, in case you were wondering. I’m at least somewhat professional).
Now I had a week to game plan how we were going to approach this. I had a feeling there was a lot more to the story than I had heard yet. And I would try to stay true to my word, to set aside my expectations of “Nick Carter” and allow him to write his own story.