I haven’t posted in a week because some emotions are hard to put into words. (Bear with me; this is a longer post than usual.) On Friday, I got the biggest surprise of my life because of my friend and fellow New Kids on the Block (NKOTB) fan, Barbi. Now, I am no stranger to surprises. In fact, I’ve had many but most of them have sounded like this, “I’m sorry to tell you there’s been an accident,” or “You have an illness that only happens to one in 100,000 people.” I’m sure many chronically ill people can relate. But the past month has been one of the happiest in my life. After a five-year detour (due to illness), I’m finally getting my life back on track and getting closer to accomplishing the goals I had when I was twenty-four. So what happened last Friday night was really icing on the cake—really delicious, out of this world icing, that is. And I don’t even like cake.
Could It Be? It Can’t Be
Last Thursday I went to bed early because I had a 9 am test with a HuffPost producer in the morning. I woke up at 2:30 am. I wasn’t restless but giddy, happy, and nervous all at the same time. Still awake at 4 am, my thoughts wandered to the surprise Barbi had been planning for me that Friday. A month ago, she told me to keep September 26 free but she couldn’t tell me where we were going or any details. We became friends online a year ago through our mutual love of all things New Kids, especially Jordan Knight. Suddenly, I thought Are Nick & Knight in town this weekend? I googled his tour dates. Yes, Jordan was at the House of Blues Friday and Saturday. Could it be? No, it can’t be. But wait, what if Barbi got us tickets to meet Jordan through one of those special packages? (I’ve loved NKOTB since I was a five-year old in 1989. I still remember the first time I saw Jordan rock that leather jacket in The Right Stuff video and his falsetto in I’ll Be Loving You Forever.) Then, I thought, OMG! What will I wear? At 5 am, I was trying on clothes—many of them too big. I finally settled on red skinny jeans but then I remembered that Jordan often wears red skinny jeans. No one rocks skinny jeans like Jordan. No one. How awkward would it be if Jordan and I wore the same clothes? Finally, I settled on a green shirt and skinny jeans.
It Gets Better
Ellen, another NKOTB friend, picked me up at 1:30 pm. She also didn’t give me any details but I knew we were driving into the city. I had never met Ellen in person before so we spent the car ride getting to know each other. Finally, we arrived at the House of Blues so I knew that we were definitely watching the concert. Five hours before the show, there was already a long line of women who all identified as “Jordan girls.” (New Kids fans will arrive seven days early, unpack, and stay for thirty years if you let us.) Barbi and her boyfriend Jeff arrived. I was overcome with emotion that she would buy me concert tickets. (Focusing on my medical bills, I decided to skip the Nick & Knight tour and save up for the next NKOTB tour.) I embraced her. Jeff told me that he and Barbi read my blog together. I was overwhelmed by Barbi’s compassion. This was my first time seeing Barbi in person. I was already grateful for the concert tickets but then Barbi told me we would actually meet Jordan as she also got me the After Party Package! I asked her why she did all of this and she said, “It’s because of all you do for so many people.” Moved by Barbi’s thoughtfulness, I wanted to cry. But I couldn’t. Now that I knew we really were meeting Jordan, I couldn’t ruin my eyeliner.
A Group Effort
Aware of my cane, Barbi had put me on the ADA list. While she and Ellen took turns waiting in line, Jeff and I had a four-hour dinner at HOB’s restaurant. He told me how my blog inspires him. Jeff bravely shared some of his own struggles. Though they are very different than mine, we had a connection. He told me about all the things that almost went wrong leading up to Friday. Indeed, Jeff’s participation was key in Barbi’s well-executed surprise.
The disability section featured backless stools. After Jeff explained to the HOB staff that I couldn’t sit in a backless stool, they moved our seats. Our new seats were much closer to the stage; we had a great view! We also bonded with many other NKOTB fans; one of them is currently fighting cancer. Nick Carter and Jordan delivered a great show. After the show, the moment of truth came. The After Party started at 1 am at the Hard Rock Cafe. Unlike HOB, Hard Rock wasn’t disability accessible. Nick & Knight’s manager considered asking the guys to come down to the first floor but there were thousands of fans and it would have been pandemonium. To take the After Party pictures, I had to climb a long flight of stairs—the kind I haven’t climbed in years. (I stopped using stairs after getting Myasthenia Gravis because I don’t like falling down and having people step over my limp body. Without physical therapy, which I started this year, I’m not sure I could have climbed the stairs.) Jeff, Barbi, and Nick & Knight’s manager, Marcus D.L. Siskid, helped me climb the stairs. I worried I would become totally unglued upon seeing Jordan. Would I shriek? Would I lose my mind? Would I burst into tears and cry uncontrollably? I read an article a few years ago by a Chicago Tribune reporter who followed NKOTB around for a week; she marveled at how thirty and forty-something fans totally lost it upon meeting the New Kids. When Chicago’s Allstate Arena is filled with 18,000 fans, we scream like prepubescent girls who have just discovered the opposite sex.
Meeting Jordan and the Power of Words
The moment I saw Jordan, I’m not sure what I did. It was an out-of-body experience. He hugged me four times during the picture taking so at least I know I didn’t scare him! I probably reverted to my 1989 toothless, five-year old self and ran to him like an overwhelmed child. At one point, he tussled my hair. (Note: I think it’s rude when people touch my hair; this is the only time it’s okay.) But the thing that surprised me most—more than his perfect jet black hair or the fact that he looks exactly as he does on TV—is what he said when he saw me. I’m used to people saying, “What’s wrong with you?” Last week, I saw a Facebook post by a friend with muscular dystrophy (who is in a wheelchair) that said it’s not nice to ask people, “What’s wrong with you?” People have said this to me for four years and until that post and Jordan, I never thought anything of it. In fact, Jordan looked at my cane and said, “Oh no. I’m so sorry. What’s this for?” It wasn’t that something is wrong with me; my five illnesses are what are wrong. This may seem like a game of semantics but imagine what it’s like when someone gets asked, “What’s wrong with you?” for the hundredth time. After I told him I have an illness, he asked me what illness. I told him a little about Myasthenia Gravis. After hugging me (the first time?), he saw my Smurf-blue latex glove and asked me what it was for. I told him I couldn’t get any germs and that getting anything into a paper cut leads to infections. He nodded his head empathetically. It was so surreal; I’m not even sure if I noticed how he cocked his head and leaned in when we took pictures. Apparently, I had the most photos of any fan; all photos are supposed to be group pictures—no solo shots. And yet I had solo pictures with Nick and Jordan. I was barely cognizant of the photographer’s camera going off. I was supposed to only have one minute with Jordan but I had four! What meeting Jordan showed me is the power of words: When a person speaks with tact and compassion, it can bring some happiness to a person with a disability. It also helps when it’s a New Kid on the Block saying it, but I digress. The bottom line is: words are powerful.
A New Kids on the Block Emergency: The Best Kind of Emergency
After meeting Jordan, I had four hours of sleep before attending a whole-day debate tournament. For those who don’t know, I am a high school debate coach. When I told the head coach and president of the debate association why I was so tired, he said, “Oh in that case. I’ll bring you extra cups of coffee and you only have to judge one round.” I typically judge two rounds; one round is 135 minutes!
Whenever other coaches would ask me why I was tired, people would explain that I had a “New Kids on the Block emergency.” Indeed, it was an emergency and also the time of my life, a gift from fantastic friends. (I officially dedicate this article, my longest post, to all my fellow Blockheads, especially Barbi, Ellen, and Jeff.)
–Your Stylist, Jessica Gimeno
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