I saved this blog from my old blog. It was originally posted on July 28, 2009.
I’ll never forget the first time I ever saw Jon Knight as a child. I’ve told the story before about how my mother brought home a poster from McDonald’s and asked me if I wanted it even though I didn’t know who New Kids on the Block were yet. All it took was one look at the boy in the bottom right corner with heavy dark hair and hazel eyes to make me say yes, I wanted that poster. I grew up with those five guys from Boston. Back then, I was so naive that I had no idea what the, “Hey, hey, I feel all right!” routine was supposed to suggest (yet it was the cause of the uncomfortable mother-daughter sex talk). I had no idea that telling my mother I wanted a Nikko of my own was never going to happen because someone like Jon Knight was a zillion times wealthier than we were and Shar-Pei dogs were rare and expensive. I had no idea that the impact of those guys would stay with me for life, especially the “red shirt” poster of Jon straddling a backwards chair. I used to look at that poster while bandages were changed and wounds were cleaned from a few of childhood surgeries. Being bed-bound for huge chunks of time from 1989 – 1991 wasn’t easy but many of the memories from that time involve New Kids on the Block, especially the hazel-eyed quiet boy.
Those stories I have told many times over but now that the guys are on a long hiatus again, I find myself looking back on that girl in St. Louis, wishing I could tell her not to cry about missing the Magic Summer Tour because so many great things were coming when she grew up. I doubt I would have appreciated the blessings I’ve had during the last year as much if I had received them when I was a young girl. Back then, Jon and the other guys weren’t really human to us. They were glossy images in magazines and objects of worship. Had I met Jon in 1990, I probably would have sat there and stared without any intelligible speech abilities. I was painfully shy and I wanted to be like him, so I would not have absorbed seeing him in person as well as I did as an adult. I tell everyone all the time that everything happens for a reason. Not getting to see him in the ’90s afforded me the ability to appreciate him more now, with more than twenty years of life experience behind me.
Salt Lake City seems like a lifetime ago now. It was last November when I had my first concert with New Kids on the Block. At that time, I was in the last month of a relapse with my anxiety disorder and I wasn’t sure that I was going to be able to do it, nor was there even a guarantee that I would see Jon beyond my nosebleed seats. I met some other fans before the show and I had my first taste of strangers yelling my name from across a parking lot because they recognized me. “Did you see him yet?” I got asked many times that day. Salt Lake was the only city where I really went “bus stalking” and I remember seeing Jon through the bars of the gate. He was walking fast with his hood pulled up, sunglasses on and a Starbucks cup in hand, headed from the bus to inside the venue. I didn’t yell out. I didn’t do anything but look. I thought to myself, “That was my Jon moment,” and I went to dinner with friends. At dinner, I came very close to a panic attack just because the restaurant was so crowded and I began to wonder if I could go through with it. I had friends to see me through, though, and I made it.
As many shows as I’ve been to in the past year, the first one was absolutely the most thrilling for me, just because I never thought I would ever see their show live in person. Jon’s stage clothes were all black in those days for the most part and seeing that black silhouette cut across the stage is forever burned into my memory. So is the fleur de lis belt he was wearing at the time. I was so high up that he wasn’t very visible but the belt caught the stage lights and told me where he was. Back then, I didn’t yet know that it was a fleur de lis but when I found out, I loved it all the more. I come from old French origins and it felt like a personal connection, even though to him it was just a belt that looked good. I had been collecting fleur de lis things here and there for years, so it was another commonality, like loving horses, or having anxiety problems. People take small things like that with them for years and to me, that fleur de lis belt was and is something I love dearly. After the show was over, my friends were bound and determined that I get to meet him. We made our way behind the stage after the show and it was strange how no security stopped us. We talked to Zach and Robo — terrifying for me to talk to strange men but I had to do it — and between the two of them, they found Jon for me. I don’t know how long I waited behind the stage but it was surreal and I was starting to get panicky. Teri looked at me, smirked and said, “Are you still breathing?” and I quipped, “No!” Then I saw Jon coming toward me. He’s so much taller than me that my eye recognizes his long legs first, which I still find funny to this day. He came right up to me and hugged me with the warmest smile and no questioning looks about my disability.
That’s the thing about Jon, something that I’m sorry to say surprised me. I’m accustomed to people being standoffish and completely non-physical with me because of my disability. People are afraid to hurt me or, in the case of a real ignorant person I encountered, are afraid my disability is contagious. Aside from my immediate family, normality and receiving affection are foreign things to me. I got so used to it over the years — the fear, the questioning stares, etc. — that I expected the same behavior from Jon. I thought at most he would say hi and there would be a few awkward words about how good the show was. I couldn’t have been more wrong about him. Every time I see him, I can barely get the word, “Hi,” out of my mouth before he’s pulling me into into one of his tight hugs (sometimes his hugs are so tight that they hurt but I love it!) and kissing my face. I don’t think I have ever seen him even look at my wheelchair. Jon has taught me a lot without knowing it. Through seeing him, I realized that I had been putting up a wall around myself for a long time to protect myself from getting hurt by the stares, whispers and lack of basic affection. I convinced myself that I didn’t need it. The first time he hugged me, it was a wakeup call, and every time after that, chunks of my wall have come down. People really do take basic things like hugging for granted.
I didn’t have a lot of money but I wanted to give Jon something that he could look at and be reminded of me, so I decided to do his portrait last winter. I made a progress blog out of it every week because people were asking to see it. It wasn’t until it was done did I find out that Jon had been looking at the progress too. I was due to see him again in Nashville that March and everybody was saying, “You have to give it to him!” but honestly, I was scared to do that because if he didn’t like it, my effort would have been for nothing. My brother was really the one who convinced me to do it. He said I don’t have enough confidence in my artistic ability and if I didn’t give it to him, I would regret it. So we went to Nashville together and we crammed the portrait in my wheelchair so that security wouldn’t take it away from me. As soon as I got into the meet and greet room, Jon spotted me across the room and waved. The first words out of his mouth were, “Did ya bring the pitchah?” I think I literally breathed a sigh of relief. Joe just stuck his hand in my chair like he owned it and fished out the “pitchah” and had a good look at it. I said, “I did that,” and Jon chimed in to explain that I draw with my mouth. I was very relieved that Jon took the initiative and told all the guys about it because I was not comfortable talking about it. Jon was excited and showing it to everyone. It was the best day. At the concert that night, Jon gave me eye contact, smiles, waves and stuff a lot. At the end of the show, he blew me a kiss, which started a bit of a tradition for him at every show after that for me.
I took my brother to Maine at the end of March for his birthday. We met his girlfriend there and we had a great time. We gave him a lobster dinner for his birthday and the next show was two days later. When we went into the meet and greet that night, the guys were finishing up with a group and Donnie saw me and yelled, “Where you been?!” I expected Jon to remember me but not the other guys. While Jon and I were talking, I didn’t notice that Joe was standing there and he piped up, “Look, I know you love Jon but can’t I at least say hi too?” Busting my chops. Then while we were lining up for the picture, Donnie said that he was singing to me at the last show but I was never looking at him and somewhere behind me, Joe piped up, “That’s ’cause she’s too busy looking at Jon!” We all laughed and the photographer snapped the picture while we were laughing. Donnie was bound and determined to get my attention at the show, so he sang Cover Girl to me. I got my NKOTB battle wound at that show too. A girl was trying to get to Jordan and plowed right over me and twisted my ankle until it snapped. Since I take painkillers anyway, I didn’t know something was wrong with my ankle until the next day when we were flying back home. I wore a big ugly leg brace for over a month (although I refused to wear it at my California shows). At the end of the show, Jon motioned to me that he was going to give me his jersey and he took it off and hopped down from the stage. He handed it to my brother and blew me a kiss. I had it for about five minutes before security came and said they needed it back for a charity auction. It was for breast cancer research, so I was okay with giving it back. Hopefully I’ll see it again someday.
I went to California alone in April. It was a very frightening thing for me to travel alone because I never even go outside without someone with me just due to the nature of my disability. The flight to LA was rough and I was air sick, which triggered a panic attack. Such is life for me! Jon was so sick for the Santa Barbara show that he hardly talked at all but as soon as I got there, he came to me almost immediately and gave me a friendly kiss (which turned into a friendly flu bug for me). Jordan is still a bit of a mystery to me. We have a history where he will come up to me and grin, but he won’t say anything. Finally, in Santa Barbara, I went, “…hi, how are you?” and he actually started talking. I think Jon and Jordan are misunderstood. Jon can talk your ear off in one-on-one situations, while Jordan can be shy and awkward in one-on-one situations until he’s comfortable, and on stage they are opposites.
The show that night proved that there are a lot of good blockheads out there even if many prove themselves to be bad. Several people helped me get to the front of the pit so I could see the show as close as possible and they promised to try to get Jon’s attention for me. During the show, Donnie spotted me first and he was visibly touched that I was there because he touched his heart and tilted his head. There were two girls in front of me yelling at him, “Get Jon! Get Jon!” So Donnie went and grabbed Jon by the wrist and pulled him over to where I was and pointed me out to him. Jon’s face burst into a bright, laughing smile and he mouthed the words, “How can you see?” I just shrugged. I could see enough. Once he figured out where I was, he smiled, waved, gave eye contact, pointed, etc., like he always does when he sees me. The funny thing is during one of the songs, he saw people in front of me and tried to hold his mic and make the motion for them to move so I could see and when they did, he gave the thumbs up to them. Even while he’s performing, he’s concerned about the audience having the best possible experience.
The next night, I went to the show in LA. I got into the meet and greet and Jon had his back turned so I saw that he was wearing his fleur de lis jeans (don’t judge me — you’ve all looked at his butt too). I said, “He’s wearing the jeans!” before I could stop myself. I don’t think he heard me but Donnie probably did. Donnie came up to me and started to reach for my chest. My initial reaction was to freak out but then I realized he was going for the laminate around my neck, which he signed with, “Love U – Donnie Wahlberg” and I thanked him. Donnie pushed my chair over for the picture and Joe leaned over and said, “I like your dress!” Split second? Hardcore Joe girl. Sorry Jon, but I never get compliments about my appearance! 😉
The last time I ever saw Jon was on the cruise in May. We saw each other all three days, although he may not totally remember with all the partying and fun he was having. While we were all getting seated for the Family Feud game, my two friends started yelling out, “Jon!” and when he looked up to the balcony, they pointed at me. He grabbed the mic and said, “Hiiiii Jessicaaaa.” I also got to meet the infamous Jared, Lord of Ning, later that night with Jon. Even in a chaotic situation like a cruise ship with two thousand people, Jon and Jared both separately expressed concern that I had everything I needed with my cabin and how I was doing and if I was having a good time. Jon left the VIP party on Saturday night to come and see me and we got to talk for a few minutes. I talked to Danny a little bit that night too. The next morning (aka about three hours later), we went to the meet and greet. I was very seasick, to the point where Angela couldn’t get me to finish my breakfast muffin. I was so sick that I was in line praying to God, “Don’t puke on Jon. Don’t puke on Jon. Don’t puke on Jon.” We got in the room and I realized he looked worse than I did. He looked at me, bleary-eyed and smiling wobbly, and said, “When did YOU go to bed?” I said, “About 5:30,” and he lethargically chuckled and shook his head like he knew exactly how tired I was. Later that afternoon, I was getting sun by the waterslide and Jon came out with Fish and his baby. As he was leaving, he waved at me and yelled across the deck, “Don’t get burned!” I yelled back, “I’m already burned!” That night, the party was so wild because there was almost no security and the wheelchairs on the VIP deck were getting crushed into the railing. My two friends were trying to protect the wheelchairs from getting crushed and one of them got Donnie to come over at the end of the night (morning). Donnie gave me a big sweaty hug and asked how I was doing. I was upset because there was no security to make sure crowds didn’t get out of control and he said he was sorry and that all the guys know me and love me and they all look forward to seeing me at shows. We hugged again and he kissed my forehead and moved on to the next girl.
There is so much that I couldn’t possibly fit into one blog, nor would I want to share with everyone. There are so many new friends and new memories of singing, dancing, laughing at ours and NKOTB’s fashion disasters from the 80s, etc. My brother is getting married to another blockhead that he met specifically because of this reunion. We are moving to New York and starting a new life. I have been seeing the country and I actually went to the Bahamas. NKOTB has encouraged me to expand my comfort zone and try things that I thought I couldn’t because of my physical limitations and my anxiety disorder. Donnie keeps saying that nothing happens by accident and that is completely true. Had NKOTB not reunited, I don’t know what direction my life would be going right now. For some, the reunion has been something fun to do, but for me, it has literally been a life-changing experience. I’m grateful to all five of them for their love and attention, but most of all, I’m grateful to Jon. When I look back on this time in my life, I will be able to say, “I once knew a man named Jon Knight a little bit, who showed me by example that not all people are bad and not all people are afraid of me or pity me.”
I don’t think this is the end. I don’t think this is goodbye. I just hope we don’t have to wait another fifteen years to see each other again.