Who'd have believed him?
They'd have patted him on the back and told him he just needed some time off. That he'd been pushing himself too hard again and that he needed some perspective. After all, they couldn't really have conceived of him feeling that way.
It would be absurd.
Imagine! Brian Littrell losing faith in God!
In the words of Mike Myers; "yeah, and maybe monkeys will fly out of my butt."
Still, there had been times…. Lord, had there ever been times!
Some had been silly - not crises of faith at all. Just him railing against fate. Like the time he realized he had grown as tall as he was going to. He was 5'8" and that was that. Not that it wasn't a great height - just not one that would put him front and centre on the basketball court. It was okay; he didn't have dreams of playing in the NBA. He just wanted to play college ball. To be a Kentucky Wildcat like all the folks he'd idolized as a boy. To don the UK jersey… the pinnacle of success…
So he'd prayed, begged, pleaded. Just a few more inches. He was a good player. Really good. He could beat most everyone he played against. And he was a devoted fan of the game, of the team. That ought to count for something. Even if he was just as tall as his cousins that would be enough. Then the coaches would at least look at him (not over him). They'd at least give him a shot…
God wasn't listening.
Then again, maybe He was.
While there was a lack of response to his personal basketball prayers, He seemed to answer in other ways. After all, Brian was a great player and his infectious love for the game made others want to play. Maybe that was an answer in and of itself.
Brian found himself thinking more and more about Bible College. It wasn't UK, but it 'felt' right. Church had always been a source of strength for him. Maybe that was what he was being told. He could become a pastor: teach others about the grace of God. He would be a leader in his community and the God who had helped him through so many things in his life would help him guide others. He'd spend the rest of his life spreading the word, surrounded by faith and music and love.
After all, the three things he loved most in the world were God, music and basketball. As a pastor he could preach, direct the choir and be a local coach. That would be perfection.
Then suddenly God threw him a curve.
He'd known that his cousin Kevin had headed out in search of fame and fortune. Hard not to in a close-knit family. And while part of him wished him every success, a small part wanted that search to be a hard one. After all it hadn't always been easy to be little cousin Brian to the multi-talented football hero. And Kevin had made his life a living hell more than a few times when they were growing up. Three years difference in age can seem like a lifetime when you are young.
Now suddenly he was offering Brian fame and fortune on a platter. The cousin who used to discourage him from joining in all of his games now wanted him to be part of his clique.
He'd wanted to go. He'd never thought about being a singer. Now, overnight, being a singer was all he could think of. Overnight it was the only thing that mattered. The voice that God had given him, the one he had been complimented on so many times, but never really thought of as anything more than a gift that would help him as a pastor, was suddenly so much more.
And even if he was scared and nervous and excited and exhilarated and so damn confused, his parents weren't. The overnight change really was overnight, because first thing in the morning he left the green hills of Kentucky for the stifling humidity of Orlando.
Funny how both Heaven and Hell can be so similar: Orlando, the lush green garden of Eden -- Orlando, the fiery abyss where dreams are made and shattered.
He'd loved it those first few years. Suddenly he had a close-knit group of friends who were all as tireless in their dedication as he was. He found a soul mate in Nick, a boy five years younger than him (Brian never made the mistake that Kevin had and discouraged someone just because they were younger than him). He found a beautiful girlfriend. And he found an outlet for the creativity that had bubbled away inside him for so long.
Sure there were things that made him uncomfortable. Lou, the Big Poppa, whom the others idolized, seemed to be a little to affectionate for his taste. And he often wondered about the times when Nick would refuse to go into Lou's office alone. Kevin always seemed to go straighten things out, and that upset him a little more. Kevin's eyes had gotten a lot older since his father's death and Brian was certain that there was a part of Kevin that operated on a totally different level than the one he projected to the others. He was afraid to explore that; was afraid of what he might find out about his gorgeous cousin.
The decision to try their luck in Europe was a hard one for him. Face it: his trip to Orlando was a big thing, now they wanted to take him to a totally different continent? He prayed long and hard about it, then finally decided that God had obviously wanted him to follow this path and he should have faith in it. So goodbye everything he had known; hello Deutscheland. 'Bye Mom's apple pie, hello Schwarzwaldentorte.
In the States no one cared for their style of music, while in Europe 'boy bands' reigned supreme, and suddenly the success they had hoped for at home was there in front of them. They were heady days; maybe of which he couldn't remember. It was an endless round of concerts, photo shoots and media interviews and the only way you knew you were in a different city were the colors of the walls in the hotel rooms.
It is strange how achieving your dreams can cause one to lose faith.
It was here that he lost it for a time. The constant whirlwind just sucked the life back out of you and you did anything you could to get it back. It was easy to fall into despair and to do things you would never dream of doing otherwise. All day you smiled until your face bled, then little or no sleep before you had to do it all over again. And then there was the constant threat: we made it here - how long can it last? Can we do it in North America? Are we just a flash in a pan?
He'd tried to stay grounded. He spent so much time on the phone that his family complained about the late night/early morning calls and Lou complained about the cost. He played so many video games with Nick that they got sick of each other. He hid in his room, watching American television dubbed into foreign languages. Finally he gave in.
Looking back now, he was surprised that his "boy next door" image held. Either people didn't know, or they just refused to accept it. There were tales about how AJ had gone to strip clubs, but no one mentioned that it was Brian who took him. Kevin admitted much later that he'd enjoyed some of the benefits of stardom (nudge, nudge), but no one asked Brian about the many nights spent with some woman, or two, in his hotel room fucking each others brains out. No mention of the nights he was so drunk he could barely fend off Lou's advances. No mention of the drugs.
Yet while he succumbed to it, it was also what pulled him out. A bout with gonorrhea drove him to his knees in prayer, and it was as if God had just been waiting for him to call. His grace just seemed to roll through him again. The veil fell from his eyes. Suddenly he could see it all and how it was effecting them.
He saw the night that AJ came swaggering in, sporting a tattoo on his arm, only to have Lou grab him and drag him into his room by his hair. There were shouts and screams - no one ever knew exactly what was said, or done, that night - then AJ had lurched out, wiping reddened eyes and disappeared into the night. When he showed up the next morning he was hung over, sporting another tattoo and wearing a pair of dark sunglasses that would become his hallmark.
He saw how Howie worked hard to pump up his body, trying hard to imitate Kevin's muscular form. He knew it was because Howie was suffering from the same angst he had felt when he realized he wasn't going to grow anymore. Now that AJ and Nick had shot up, Howie was really feeling the pain of being shorter than all the others. Probably why he started to grow his hair more too. Anything to come across as older, stronger, more mature. And virile. Accused of being gay by his detractors Howie was becoming as much of a player as Brian had been.
He saw how Nick let his mother manipulate him more and more, preferring that to Lou's more double-edged machinations. She jumped on the fans' attraction to 'the cute one' and pushed it - getting his face on teen magazine covers and posters. She clued in very quickly that Nick was just too nervous for public speaking, but man could he smile. One flash of his choppers and little girls swooned. And Mrs.Carter's bank account grew.
He watched as Kevin continued his reckless pursuit of anything that would get him off. He had sex with tall women, short women, fat women, thin. He had sex in strange positions, with wild wardrobes, with various appliances. Heck, he even had sex with men - both as a top and a bottom. His popular but shy cousin was rapidly turning into the type of man who could kiss his girlfriend good bye one minute, then grab some groupie and make her/him drop to her/his knees in front of him the next.
Something had to be done and it seemed the God had chosen him as His messenger. So he went to them all, individually, and talked. And talked. Stories, thoughts, fears - they all had them. They had all been feeling the despair had been driving him - they were just all dealing with it on their own. They'd laughed then, about what fools they'd been. And suddenly they were all stronger, they all regained their faith, they regained their perspective.
And the success that had frightened then before wasn't so scary after all. They knew they could do it. They knew that, together, they would succeed. And if they stumbled along the way, the others would be there to pick them up and carry on the fight. This was their time. This was their Crusade. Their Holy Crusade.
The Lord giveth and the Lord taketh away.
The first battle they fought was with Lou. No more late night visits to their rooms. No more back to back concerts that left them so exhausted they couldn't see straight. And no more re-scheduling Brian's heart surgery just so they can make more concert dates.
It was a battle they won, only to almost lose it all.
They were getting famous now at home. No longer could they be famous elsewhere and relax at home. It was what they wanted, but they'd already learnt the lesson that what you want is one thing, what you get is another. Suddenly the short break for some surgery was a big thing. They'd all realized that it was a serious procedure for Brian, but just how dangerous was something they were only just discovering. It took the hysterical wails of some fans for it to finally click that they could say they weren't breaking up all they wanted… if he died on the operating table, what then?
He prayed. And he prayed. And he prayed. He thought about all he had been through and realized that, all in all, God had been very generous with him. He'd stumbled sometimes - really, really big stumbles occasionally - but God had shown him how much he was loved, and he'd always felt it. Even when he had been blind to it, it had been there. Patiently waiting for him to open his eyes and see the Light.
He had gone into the operating room with his faith in God strong, and come out of it, hours later, with it just as resolute. Hadn't He seen to it that Brian survived? Sure, there were complications. That was just God wrestling with the demons that Brian had let into his life. But he'd won clear. All was going to be well.
If he could just survive through the concerts.
Not all of his demons were internal. Some were actually in control of his work life, and they wanted him up, performing, as quickly as possible. Heck, for them it was easier and cheaper to have paramedics on hand in case he collapsed rather than push back some dates so he could recover properly.
And then there was the money. How could you explain the sold out concerts - stadium ones in Europe and arena ones in North America - but not enough money for the Boy's salaries? Why were they still doubling up on hotel rooms when Donna and Johnny had suites? Why was he worried about covering his hospital bills while Lou was buying luxury cruisers and expanding his business?
They came together again… well, not all of them… Nick was still a minor and Jane was not going to sign the legal papers that could mean cutting her from the trough. She'd go along with the decision, yes, but she had other children to worry about. Aaron's career was on the rise and it wouldn't look good to bite the hand that feeds before it started to really feed.
Anyway, they came together and fought for their freedom. And won. They took some losses… having to pay Lou in perpetuity was not something they wanted, but a small price to pay to ensure that some of the things they had gotten into in Europe stayed behind closed doors. There was no way to predict what could get out from other sources, but if Big Poppa decided to open his big mouth… Better safe than sorry.
Of all of them Kevin suffered the most from their break with Lou. He hadn't exactly seen him as a father figure - there had been too many late night parties with record execs where he'd been forced to display his Mr. Body Beautiful abilities for that. It was the extent of it, Brian surmised. It was one thing to know you were being screwed over, another to find out just how much.
He was okay with it - alright not okay, but resigned. After all God had shown him the way. He'd gotten him, them, out of a situation that was little more than indentured servitude. Yet another sign that God was looking out for him.
After that the years past quickly. They were on top, they were down. They rode the waves of music tastes - sometimes winning sometimes losing. They fought the constant assailment from 'Nsync, trying not to denigrate those five men while always gritting their teeth in anger at the impresario who had orchestrated their rivalry. They stood together as Nick threw off the shackles of his mother's interference. She whined to the tabloids, implicating his none too stable girlfriend because she knew she couldn't blame the others. They knew too much about her too.
When AJ went into rehab and they had to postpone the tour things looked bleak. Brian knew he came across as overly moralistic whenever they were interviewed about it, but he was afraid he would break down if he didn't keep himself under rigid control. After all, hadn't he been the one who had helped AJ start down the path to alcohol abuse? And the depression... he should have gotten AJ to talk more. To open up. His concentration on his new marriage and being the best husband he knew how to be had caused him to ignore the ones around him. They'd been together for so long that they had started to take each other for granted, and he'd just shrugged of AJ's behaviour instead of continuing the call that God had given him. He was supposed to minister to them - his small congregation - instead he'd been reveling in the perfect little life he thought he'd built.
And AJ had been stronger than he was. Sure, he'd shown up to rehearsals and recording sessions drunk, but he'd never done that for concerts. Brian couldn't say that. There had been a few concerts in Europe... and they'd all joked about how he was a great athlete, but was never good at the dance steps. That was just a cover for all the times he'd been too out of it to remember them.
They'd survived that hurdle, though it cost them lots of fans. And money. Howie's been really pissed about that - something that annoyed Brian. Sure he'd grown up poor; hadn't they all? Supporting each other was more important than cash and Howie should have known that. For a while things between Howie and the others was a little stilted, then the truth came out. Howie's father had cancer. A lifetime of pipe smoke had done a great deal of damage, and having the doctors miss it before hadn't helped. He had a long and painful - and expensive - recovery process ahead of him. Howie'd tried to hide it from the others, but truth will out after a while.
Just get out from under one thing and another hits... that's the way life is. Kevin went into a deep funk; memories of his father's battle with cancer coming to the fore again. AJ was trying really hard to stay on the straight and narrow: Howie's dad had been almost a surrogate father to him for a while there. Howie was even more family focussed than usual. And Brian? The crisis of conscience he'd had over AJ hit him even harder then.
Dammit, these were his people! He'd helped AJ, but just gotten angry at Howie for what he considered poor behaviour. He hadn't dug any deeper, he'd just put Howie in the role of bad guy and let it go. Maybe it was a blessing that he hadn't become a pastor - he was obviously too self-centred.
God works in mysterious ways
It was Nick who pulled them all back together. When Howie's dad went into remission, he insisted that they all come out to the Keys for a meeting. None of them wanted to go, but he insisted - something he didn't do often. Then he'd gotten all five of them out on the boat and driven it out a couple of miles from shore and refused to take them back until they all fought it out. LOL, typical Nick logic. He'd come a long way from the little boy who got his way with his fists, but fighting was still part of his worldview. Must have been the influence of all those video games.
It was well after dark when they finally pulled back into dock. A little bruised, somewhat bloody and all soaking wet - a punch may not just land, it'd make you fly over the side - but finally all smiles. The record company hadn't been too pleased when they'd shown up for their meeting a few days later with black eyes and split lips, but the recording schedule that the Boys laid out was enough to cheer them up. They did NOT like the requirement that all songs on the album be written by the Boys - either individually or as a team. "Don't fix what isn't broken," was their refrain, but the Boys had held strong. Yes, we have a contract with you to produce albums, but we really hope you recorded some of those concerts for several 'Best of' albums because its our way or the highway, was their response. And playing one off against the other - a favorite Jive trick. They must have learnt it from Lou - just didn't work.
Sure the album didn't shatter any records - Soundscan was still under investigation at the time - but it made them feel happy. They were justifiably proud of it, and the number of Grammy nominations they got that year made them feel a whole lot better. They didn't win any, of course, but hey, neither did 'Nsync.
Looking back, he felt that was one thing that really hurt. They never managed to win one. All the pain, the struggle, the loss, and not once could their peers bother to acknowledge them. Even years later, we were still mocked for our beginnings. It just wasn't fair, God. Can't you see that? You sent us all those challenges and we overcame so many of them… The ones we couldn't fight we learnt to live with. But once it would have been nice to know we had an impact. To get a little respect.
He sighed. That probably wasn't fair. They got lots of respect from their fans. They never left them, always supported them. Their numbers rose and fell over time, but that made sense. The Boys' interest in what they were doing rose and fell too. Life had a way of getting in the way. And heck, they'd recorded with just about every legend in the industry. The songs they wrote were in high demand (now that had been a turnaround), but they still never won a Grammy.
Time passed, as it will and lots of changes took place. He had a son, a beautiful sun, with his smile and his wife's face. God, how he'd loved his son, and been so proud of everything he did. It frustrated the others somewhat, his constant shrugging off of meetings so he could go to school plays and so on, but after a while Kevin, then Howie understood as they became fathers too.
Yet with every blessing seemed to come a loss.
So for every big joy came a big loss.
Like when Nick sailed off with his new bride on their honeymoon, and the boat sank. One minute they were celebrating the wedding, the next searching the waters off Florida with the Coast Guard.
Four days later they called off the search.
Nick Carter: Dead at 29.
He never even made it to thirty, God! Why? Why couldn't you let him live?
Leighanne had tried to get him to cheer up, but he'd sent her away. Sent her away so often that she finally got the message. He didn't know where she was now, and cared less. He missed his son though.
AJ climbed into a bottle and hasn't come out since. Not surprising considering how close he and Nick had gotten over the years. Frick and Frack had long passed away; it had been Kaos and Bone for years. Together they had reeked more havoc and broken more hearts than Brian could even have imagined. It was never mean in spirit - they could be selfish pricks from time to time, but they never meant to hurt anyone. They were still the same goodhearted guys that he'd met the day he landed in Orlando.
But now Nick was dead and AJ was guzzling Jack Daniels like it was mother's milk.
I wish I could join him.
I don't have it anymore, Lord. I'm sorry. It's too much. You ask just way too much. We've been through a lot together, and I've tried to understand your plan, but not anymore. It's been over a year and I still ache. I still can't see why.
I suppose it could be for us to become ever better writers - to write about our loss. But none of us can put pen to paper. Maybe it is so we can sing our pain away, but none of us can sing. To bring us closer together? We can barely stand to see each other. Kevin's taken off home to Kentucky with his family and seems to be more interested in politics than anything else. Howie's locked away in Florida creating some sort of real estate empire. I told you where AJ is, and me? Well, I'm out of here.
I don't want music. I don't want basketball. I don't want family or friends. And I don't want you, Lord.
All my faith is gone now. I wish I could say it had been a slice… Goodbye, God. I won't be back.