Running Up That Hill – Day 1

“I should have asked
I could have helped
At least a fuckin’ thousand times before”

-Boxcar Racer ‘Letters to God’

It all seemed like it happened so fast. Leigh and I had gone out for brunch and as far as we’d known, everything was normal and fine. As normal and fine as things had been since the beginning of the tour, anyway. AJ’s attitude wasn’t anything new, and him having an argument with Kevin wasn’t out of the ordinary.

Coming back from brunch we found Nick looking confused, Kevin angry as hell and Howie trying to get our plans sorted out. We ended up going to the game – how could we not? It was what had started the drama of the day in the first place.

We had gotten back to the hotel to find that AJ had left and was checking himself into rehab. Counting our lucky stars that we didn’t have a show that night we were left with a decision. It was either make up a reason why our tour was going to be put on hold or tell the truth. On the surface it seemed like it should have been easy, but we agonized over it and went over the pros and cons of both choices.

In the end it was decided that lying to the fans would do us no good. If the truth were to come out it would only make us look worse. So, with heavy hearts and the most nerve-wracking television appearance of our careers to date, we boarded a plane to New York to do TRL.

Our flight left at six a.m. on Monday morning. Normally the plane ride would be full of antics from Nick, lectures from Kevin and sleeping from Howie. That day everyone was eerily quiet. No one knew what to say or do and we all kept to ourselves as much as possible. Nick was the one who worried me the most. While he would always pull pranks, he also hated flying and made sure that everyone knew that he was terrified. Instead he sat silently staring out the plane window, and only managed to mumble a quick “Good Morning.” to Kevin.

“I’m going to go talk to Nick.” I said to Leigh once the plane was at cruising altitude.

She gave me a sympathetic look. “I think he wants to be left alone.”

Leigh didn’t know Nick as well as I did. He may have acted distant, but Nick wasn’t one to approach anyone when he needed to talk. “I don’t think so.” I said, kissing her on the forehead as I got up. “I’ll be back in a minute.”

She just shook her head and I made my way a few rows over to where Nick was sitting.

“Hey buddy.” I said, sitting down in the empty seat beside him.

“Hi.” He replied, continuing to look out the window.

“How are you doing?”

“Fine.” He lied.

“You sure? You seem pretty upset.”

“It’s just really hard.” He said, looking down at his feet. “I can’t talk about it yet Bri. I’m sorry.” He glanced at me with tear filled eyes and then quickly went back to staring out the window.

I stood up and gave him a quick pat on the back. “That’s okay Nick. I’ll be here when you can.”

Still focused on the clouds, he nodded silently.

~~~

Terrible as it sounds, AJ was the last thing on my mind once we stepped off that plane. As soon as we got to New York I couldn’t stop imagining the fans reactions. Were they going to be angry with us? Would they be supportive? They’d all been supportive about Brian’s heart surgery a few years before (which is sadly more than I can say for the rest of us) but we hadn’t stopped a tour dead in it’s tracks for that.

Of course the MTV people were more than happy about having us on TRL to make the announcement. Why wouldn’t they be? Every Backstreet Boys fan in America would be tuning in to hear what we had to say. The whole thing was making me feel sick and all I wanted to do was rewind to the day before.

I knew AJ needed the help, but I couldn’t help but think if I had been the one to go wake him up instead of Kevin that none of this would have happened. That we would still be in Boston and somehow I would have been able to get through to him. Kevin can be convincing, but he can also be very intimidating and he’d already had many arguments with AJ leading up to that point.

Deep down I knew that there was nothing I could have done to change the situation and that this was a good thing. Because of that argument with Kevin AJ was going to get the help he desperately needed to turn his life around. The timing was terrible, but I guess there was nothing that could be done about that. My only hope was that the fans would understand, be supportive, and be able to wait a few more weeks to go to their concerts.

“You ready for this?” Brian suddenly asked me as we walked through the airport terminal.

“No.” I answered honestly.

He shook his head. I could tell that Brian didn’t know what to make of the situation. He usually just stayed close to his wife while we were travelling, but it seemed like all Brian wanted to do was chat with anyone else. Maybe it was because he felt we were the only ones who could truly understand what he was going through. I’d even seen him try to have a heart to heart with Nick on the plane – something that hadn’t happened in years.

“Me neither.” He finally replied. “I hope the fans don’t hate us.”

I sighed. “Me too.”

We were silent for a minute, much like the rest of the day had been. Leighanne caught up with us and took Brian’s hand. Still, he continued to try and chat with me.

“How do you think AJ’s doing?”

I hadn’t even thought about that. For all we were going through, AJ was probably going through much worse. The fans were probably the last thing on his mind. “I don’t know. It’s probably rough.”

“Probably.”

All we knew was that AJ had gone to a rehab centre in Arizona. The program was going to last for thirty days and at the end the situation would be reassessed. Somehow, Kevin had managed to get through to him. It was unfortunate that it had to be through a fight, we’d all tried our best to talk to AJ and be there for him in his time of need. I kept going over everything I’d said to him in the last few months, trying to think of something I could have done differently. Every time I came up with nothing.

“I wish there was something we could have done.” Brian said, as if he was reading my mind.

“There wasn’t.” I tried to reassure him, and myself.

~~~

We all waited impatiently at the MTV studios as they set us up for our appearance on TRL. It was the first segment of the show, and we weren’t even going to stick around to announce the videos on the countdown or anything like that. It didn’t seem right. This wasn’t a fun visit.

I’d been appointed the speaker. Carson had asked us who was going to talk and all the other guys had nodded towards me, without question. I knew it was because I was the one who usually acted as the spokesperson for the group, but I couldn’t help but feel as though they blamed me a little for having to do this.

The nice thing about that day was that they let us get set up and sit down before they allowed the studio audience to come in. Usually it was the other way around, but again it didn’t feel right for us to walk out and have the fans scream. Maybe we were being overly dramatic about the situation, but it was serious to us and we could only hope that the fans would take it seriously as well.

Apart from the fans reactions and of course AJ, the only thing I was worried about was Nick. He’d been having a hard time keeping it together all day. His strategy seemed to be just ignoring what was going on around him and keeping quiet. I hoped that he would be okay when we were forced to talk about it.

Once they opened the doors to let the studio audience in, I had a very strange feeling of fear and excitement. I guess it was because I was always excited to see the fans, but I was terrified of what they would think. Some of them screamed a little when they saw us sitting there, waiting for them. Others just looked at us and whispered as they took their seats.

The cameras started rolling and that was it. There was no turning back.

“Good afternoon everyone, I’m Carson Daly and welcome to Total Request Live.” Carson started as the audience continued to watch and be confused about what we were doing there. About why AJ wasn’t there with us. “Today we have with us the Backstreet Boys. Guys welcome, I’m sorry it has to be under these circumstances but tell me what’s going on, Kev?”

He passed the attention over to me as we had previously discussed. I’d never heard the TRL studio be as quiet as it was in that moment. “Uh…” I started, not entirely sure what to say even though we had talked about it beforehand. My mind nearly went blank. “AJ and we have, uh, come to a decision that he’s gonna receive treatment for depression, anxiety and his excessive consumption of alcohol.” I paused, nearly cracking. “Initially for 30 days.”

That was when the silence of the fans was broken. Some of them started to cry, others gasped, and lot of them just stood there with their hands over their mouths. They all looked so shocked. I felt terrible for putting them through this and I felt responsible for us having to even be at TRL in the first place. Over and over again I thought of all the times I’d yelled at AJ, and how I could have been more helpful. If I had been able to help him more before the tour had even started none of this would have been happening. We’d still be in Boston and we’d still be doing a show that night.

I just had to keep reminding myself that this was a good thing. He was finally getting help.

~~~

I barely heard Kevin as he explained everything to Carson. I hardly looked at anything except the microphone in my hand. I didn’t know why they bothered to give me that – I wasn’t planning on saying anything and I was really hoping they wouldn’t ask me to.

It was times like this that I was thankful for Kevin being the guy who always took charge. Sometimes it annoyed me how he always answered questions or never let me get my word in, but that day he understood. I felt like he was the only one who did. If there was anyone I was going to talk about my feelings with, it would be Kevin. It definitely wouldn’t be Brian.

I wasn’t mad at Brian or anything, I just didn’t feel comfortable talking to him about that stuff. He and I used to be so close, but everything had changed. He rarely wanted to hang out with me like old times, it was almost like he was too good for me. But as soon as he was all in distress about AJ he came running to me. It doesn’t work like that. He didn’t get it.

AJ. I still couldn’t believe that he was gone. I couldn’t believe that things had gotten so out of hand with him that he needed to go to rehab. He and I were always bros, the young ones who got into trouble all the time. I always knew what was going on with him. I knew he’d been having a hard time, all of us did, but this seemed to come out of nowhere. At least to me. Maybe I’m just not good at picking up on the signs for that sort of thing. I have no idea.

I missed AJ. I didn’t really miss new AJ. New AJ who drank all the time and did fucking cocaine. It wasn’t that I didn’t drink, AJ and I would drink together all the time. He’d sneak beer into my hotel room when I was sixteen. It wasn’t the same anymore, obviously. There were a couple of times he’d even offered me drugs in the last couple of months. I’d never accepted, and I never told Kevin either because I knew he’d lose his shit.

I wonder if I had told Kevin about that if he would have flipped out sooner, and if AJ would have gone to rehab sooner. I still didn’t know if I was going to tell Kevin. There wasn’t really a point anymore.

I wanted the old AJ back. I didn’t know what he was going to be like when rehab was over. I didn’t know if he’d be all changed and have some new respect for life or if he would go back to how he was before he started drinking too much. What if we had to walk on eggshells around him all the time and we weren’t able to talk about anything related to anything bad? I didn’t know how I would deal with that. I didn’t need another person looking down on me for bad choices I might make.

There was nothing I could do but wait. We couldn’t talk to AJ until the first or second week was over. I didn’t even know if I wanted to. We’d just have to be in the dark until then, with nothing to do but sit around with a bunch of time off. A month off would have sounded like heaven under any other circumstance. All I wanted to do was go back on tour and have everything go back to the way it was.

We didn’t stick around to do the top ten most requested videos thing. We just left after making our big announcement. At least, I thought we were going to leave. Turns out that after the TRL taping, they wanted us to do a couple more interviews with MTV. Hadn’t we been through enough? I was having trouble talking to the others about this stuff, I really didn’t think I’d do any better talking to John Norris.

“Kevin.” I whispered when we sat down in the interview room. “I didn’t know we had to do another one.”

“Me neither.” He replied. “I guess they wanted to talk about it more.”

I didn’t want to talk about it more, or at all really. I get that MTV needed to have more than just us at the beginning of TRL for five minutes, but it still really sucked.

“I don’t know what to say if they ask me.” I said, looking down at my bandaged up hand. It seemed like such a long time ago that Howie and I played basketball like nothing was wrong.

“You’ll do fine, Nick.” He reassured me. Sometimes Kevin would get annoyed with me feeling inadequate, but that day he was only supportive. “It’s hard for us, they know that.”

It was hard, but I think Kevin was right, the MTV people seemed to understand. I did end up answering a couple of questions, mostly because they kept talking about the tour and it was pissing me off. It wasn’t about the tour. I didn’t give a shit about the stupid tour. I mean I did want to go back on tour but I mostly just wanted AJ to get better. I wanted my friend back to normal. I wanted him to be happy.

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