Draw the Curtain
(“I want you to know that you don’t need me anymore…” --U2)
It all comes down to this.
For days now, for countless days I’ve considered what to say, what final words of wisdom I could impart to sum up this tour in a single phrase.
None of us want to say goodbye. None of us want to make that final lap around a glowing stage, surrounded by well-wishers and friends and fans who have given us our dreams on a silver platter.
Things are different tonight…sweetness tinged bitter with the knowledge of long, lonely months to come…with the knowledge that after tonight, after good night…things will remain forever changed.
It’s simple to dismiss the rumors that we’re breaking up…at least, on the surface. We still owe Jive another album. We still have charity projects and public appearances lined up. We will still remain, collectively, *NSYNC, but the magic, the impenetrable bond that sheltered us from the brash winds of critical derision and public chastisement disappeared like the last plume of smoke from the pyro team.
I’ve always believed that this group was more than the sum of its parts. *NSYNC, together, is so much more than Justin or Joey or Chris or Lance or even me…and yet, now…we are about to put that theory to the acid test.
I’m not saying I regret it entirely. I signed the contracts, same as everyone else. I’d be lying if I said I didn’t want the chance to spread my own wings, to explore what I could in this endless world of music…and yet…the balance is off. It’s my call to do what I want, and though they’ll laugh at me when I tell them this, I will miss the dynamic between us when they challenged me or criticized something I would do. It pissed me off to no end when Justin told me that the sounds of the bass in my songs were too weak…but he was right. It pissed me off when Chris reminded me that “unperfect” was not a word…but he was right. And it pissed me off when they said they were tired of *NSYNC…but, once again, they were right.
We toyed, of course, with the idea of breaking up entirely. Fuck the fans. Fuck the expectations of everyone else. We were through with being pawns in someone else’s game, and for a few brief days it was decided that the end of this tour would be the end of *NSYNC…but then something strange happened.
It’s kind of odd that when your mind is focused on a specific topic, you can bend everything in front of you to fit that topic. It’s how horoscopes work; they’re just vague enough to tell a very fuzzy version of the truth…every time. It’s because you want to see it. You believe what you want to believe. So while we watched a rerun of NYPD Blue, complete with commentary…it hit us. We were gonna end up like David Caruso. Talented, but a joke. Throwing away everything before the time was right. Quitting before we realized our full potential.
Joey argued that we had reached our full potential. He said we hit it two years ago, at the Video Music Awards. He said we hit it with No Strings Attached. And as I looked into the eyes of my four surrogate brothers, I could tell they agreed.
I became desperate to prove that it wasn’t the case.
One after another, I pulled circumstances and events from my ever-growing memory, things better, more special that those fucking VMAs…the Super Bowl…Michael Jackson…the Star Wars…the PopOdyssey tour…but as those last two came out of my mouth I realized they were as bitter as they were sweet, and I fell silent.
“That’s what you want?” I said quietly. “To break up?”
The silence that answered me spoke louder than words ever could.
I moped around for days after that…watching the shows tick by like seconds on a time clock…trying to burn memories into my system, to capture the fleeting kiss of fame and glory.
I tried to talk to the others about it. So much had yet to be said, and each of us knew that once the lights went down in Orlando, those words would remain forever unspoken…but yet no one had the courage to say what was on all of our minds…and so we ignored it, smiling bravely as the days flew by.
I consoled myself, instead, by watching…standing off to the side, smiling as Chris played a practical joke on Joey…as Justin and Lonnie listened to some rap song or other…as Chicken and Lance conversed quietly, her fingers clattering away on a laptop. I was going to miss it all.
“You okay, Chief?”
One of our roadies approached me, a thick beam of steel over his right shoulder, and I smiled wanly.
“Fine,” I said quietly. “I’m just fine.”
As he walked away I realized I didn’t know his name. I had seen him every day for weeks, always doing the same tasks, and yet I didn’t know anything about him. We pride ourselves on being a family on this tour…and yet…this faithful worker who puts his hard work and sweat into ensuring our shows go flawlessly…was just another nameless face in the grand choir of voices singing praise to us.
I swallowed hard.
I stayed to myself the rest of the afternoon. I guess, indirectly, I was preparing myself for the months alone. I would still have visitors, of course, and with my bank account swelling to epic proportions there would be no shortage of fun things to do with my down time…and yet…I always manage to feel most alone when I’m surrounded by people.
Maybe it’s my immutable desire to protect myself that keeps me from forging steadfast connections with those who love me. Even with the other guys I feel, sometimes, like a stranger. I miss the easy private jokes shared between Justin and Chris, and I don’t crave the crazy glittering lights like Joey does. Sometimes I hang out with Lance but lately he’s been occupied with more pressing matters…so…it’s just me.
I should be happy, right? It’s what I’ve wanted, what I’ve complained about for years…time to myself. Time alone. Time to think.
Be careful what you wish for…
“Hey, C,” They said in unison, peering around the doorway, and I cracked a smile. Clockwork. Like old times. Fitting that we were ending it as it had begun…
“What do you want?” I said, smirking, crossing my arms over my chest.
“Want?” Chris echoed, widening his eyes impishly and hiding a grin. “Why, what ever do you mean?”
“Y’all are up to no good. Now tell me what you’ve got behind your back…Justin,” I said, shooting him a pointed look.
“See, y’all think I’m up to something every time,” He laughed, feigning hurt. His smile faltered for a beat and he shuffled his feet against the ground. A second later a plastic package landed in my lap, and when I looked down at the object, tears filled my eyes.
“I…um…well…we thought you seemed a little upset…and…these always seemed to help…y’know…just for old time’s sake…” Justin stumbled through his words, tears in his eyes, voice soft.
Oreos. My bribe of choice for as long as I could remember. That single package of cookies conjured more memories than any photograph, and to my embarrassment my tears began to flow again, unchecked.
“I…uh…wow…” I croaked, sniffling, wiping my hands hastily across my face. “You guys…”
“Shut up and have a cookie, C,” Chris choked, the same way he had for five years whenever I was down or sad or pissed off or depressed. He was wearing his very best “brave” face, and my heart gave a mighty tug at the look in his eyes.
“It’s okay to cry, Chris,” I whispered, and our eyes met.
A moment later and the five of us were crushed together, tears streaming down our faces, laughing and crying and giggling and holding each other so tight, so tight…
I ripped open the bag, still blubbering, and started passing cookies right and left like a deranged Girl Scout.
”Here…” I cried. “Have a cookie, you bastards…have a cookie…”
Time flew like lightening.
The last hackey, our last prayer together, was done in relative silence. We sent Johnny out to announce us…and dispel the rumors as best we could.
None of us felt much like lying that night.
It wasn’t so much that we hadn’t done it before…Lord…we’ve told some amazing tall tales and covered up so many skeletons in our giant graveyard of secrets and lies…but that night, we felt, should be pure. I’d never lied to fifteen thousand people at once, and I wasn’t about to start now. So we tapped Johnny to deliver the line…we figured he could earn his paycheck that night.
The crowd went wild when it was announced that our next tour
would start in
When the lights finally went down and we hit the stage, it was all I could do to hold things together. Every step, every note that came out of my mouth was done with a conscious awareness that it was the last time…maybe not literally…but the last time things would ever be the same. I threw my heart and soul into the performance…watched the crowd give us their very best, just as we gave them everything we had…watched wistfully as Justin and Joey and Chris and Lance supported me, lifting me up, elevating us to that special place where music is supposed to reach but seldom does.
The last notes of “Pop” faded…and the tears came again…torrents…floods…emotions a raging waterfall…hugs all around…I closed my eyes in the darkness, listening to those screams float through the air…and I felt Justin’s hand on my arm.
“Time to go, C,” He whispered, though I heard him with perfect clarity. “Time to say goodbye.”
Together we returned to the stage, joining the members of our extended family…hugging and laughing and crying. It hurt me to see the tears in Justin’s eyes…to see the relief on Chris’s face…to see the smiles in the eyes of our fans. I lost it. The moment had come. The years of yearning for this, for this level of acceptance…the years of yearning for this…the return to a life as normal as I would ever know…the years of yearning for this…the chance to be SOMEONE…I had achieved it. I had done it. And for the first time in my career, I allowed myself to savor it. I didn’t think about what was coming next, or where we had been…I immersed myself fully in the present, standing shoulder to shoulder with those I loved and loved me…and smiled. It was watery, weak…but a smile nonetheless.
And one by one…they began to leave…walk off the stage…away from the life we knew…toward the life we would come to know. I caught Joey’s eye for a second and he pulled me into his arms, and I knew by the feeling in his embrace that he felt as I did. They all did.
And finally…as I walked away, I raised a hand in salute, and steeled myself for the word I had been dreading for five long years:
But they never heard it. My mic had been silenced, my voice melting into thousands of joyous screams…a fitting tribute to a life spent dreaming out loud. The words of wisdom I had desperately been searching for didn’t seem to matter. In the end…the music spoke for itself.
I smiled again…but this time, there were no tears. As I watched us race away from the arena, I pressed my fingers to the glass and sighed happily.
“Good night, my friends,” I whispered, as we merged onto the highway. “Good night…”
© 2002 ~A.