Can we ever get our innocence back? That was a question that I asked my aesthetician while I was laying on my back getting a facial the other day. We were reminiscing about high school boyfriends and the days when our biggest worry was whether or not we were having a bad hair day, or anguishing over a pesky zit that wouldn’t go away. Years pass, life happens, poor decision-making inevitably occurs, you take a wrong turn (or 100), and you have a fair number of battle wounds from your journey. And it’s okay because those scars can make you a person of substance and depth. But can you ever reclaim your innocence? The kind most of us had when we were kids; when pure excitement and joy was easy to come by and not much weighed heavy on our psyche.
As I thought about that question, an old story popped into my mind. It’s a story about a boy. And the age of innocence.
When I was a teenage girl, I saw him every night before I went to bed. And again when I woke up in the morning. I even caught glimpses of him in between classes during my high school years (and I went to an all girls Catholic high school). He was perfect looking - blue eyes, flawless skin, nice teeth, and sandy blonde hair. I'm sure he had many talents (most of which I've forgotten all these years later). But what I remember as his greatest talent, a girl can never forget. The boy could sing! Sure, that statement was probably debatable among certain crowds. But to the millions of young girls who would gladly sacrifice their weekly viewings of 90210 for one chance meeting with him, he had the voice of an angel. His name was Joey McIntyre. He was a New Kid On The Block. And if he wasn't a young lady's #1 in the 90's, then Jordan, Donnie, Danny, or Jonathan were a pretty good bet. The truth is, if you loved this boy band, then you probably liked all of the guys. But every fan had their favorite. Mine was Joey. And my bedroom was a shrine to the band. NKOTB posters were taped everywhere, covering (and eventually ruining) the beautiful wallpaper that my mother had hung in my room. My school locker was dressed from top to bottom with pictures of my teenage dream guy. At school, it became a competition of sorts to see who could find the latest and greatest posters of the guys from Teen Beat or Bop magazine. And I took part in every activity a young fan does for her favorite music artist: I camped out for concert tickets, I wrote fan letters, I bought New Kids paraphernalia, and I'm pretty sure I joined the official fan club. I was a bona fide fan! All the while, I hoped that one day I would get to meet Joey McIntyre in person (and that he would have a “thing” for tall brunettes with long, curly hair). But alas, it appeared that the closest I was going to get to him was the time that I ran from my 10th row seat up to the concert stage when one of the security guards wasn't looking during the encore of The Magic Summer Tour. Eventually, the magic wore out and the New Kids slowly dissolved into a faded, yet joyful memory from my childhood.
Many years past and my non-famous crushes, which became relationships, weren’t always so innocent. They were filled with arguments, lies, manipulation, heartbreak - you know, all the usual crap. But while my relationships suffered from lack of maturity, my professional life was maturing. I was hosting a talk show in Cleveland and meeting interesting people all over the world. The show I worked on was live and we brought guests into the studio on a daily basis. Never in my wildest dreams, as a 16-year old girl, did I think that one day I would be sitting next to my teenage crush! Let alone interview him! But that day became my reality. And it gave me the chance to relive my age of innocence.
I remember the day that I finally got to meet Joey McIntyre like it was yesterday. My bedroom was no longer covered with the posters that once adorned the walls 15 years ago. And I no longer owned a cassette player to listen to my old New Kids On The Block tapes. Instead, I went to a local electronics store and bought the New Kids’ Greatest Hits CD. I played their music all week in preparation for my interview with Joey (along with his solo CD that he would be promoting on my show). The night before my interview, I laid out my most flattering dress. It was a black, halter-style Susanna Monaco dress. And I put on some flashy jewelry that I thought was very stylish at the time. I chose my shoes thoughtfully. I wanted to wear heels, but nothing too high that would make my 5’8” frame taller than Joey. I wasn't hoping for a love match, he was already married at this point in his life, but I still wanted to look good. My nerves were on high alert as I drove into work that morning. Not bad nerves, anxious nerves. And I made sure to put my deodorant in my purse as a backup in case my “sweats” got the best of me. But as excited as I felt on the inside, I was still conscious about being a broadcast professional. I didn't want to act silly in front of my famous teenage crush. When the moment finally came to meet Joey McIntyre face to face, I flashed a happy smile, offered a firm handshake, and conversed in a friendly and professional manner. But I couldn’t avoid the honesty that was always true to my on-air delivery. So, it didn't take long before I revealed to Joey that I had pictures of him in my high school locker. (And once wrote Andrea McIntyre on a piece of paper just to see how it would look. Yep, that's the kind of stuff teenage girls do!). He laughed at my stories and gave the perfect interview in return. I'm sure that Joey heard my story millions of times over the years from the mouths of other female fans.
Joey stuck around after the commercial break to perform a song from his solo CD. During his performance, he walked over to where I was standing and spent most of the song singing to me. It was slightly awkward because I didn't know what to do in front of the cameras while he was singing with his arm around me. But my internal joy far outweighed any awkwardness. I was in complete heaven! I would have died for this moment when I was 16! But the story gets even better from here.
After the show, Joey asked if he could use a phone to call for a cab. He had an interview on a college campus at one of the radio stations. I decided to seize this moment for a selfish opportunity! I told him that I was driving in that direction and would be happy to give him a lift. This was a complete lie. I wasn't going anywhere near the direction of where he needed to be. But I thought a small fib would be worth the chance to have a “New Kid” in my car. He gratefully accepted my offer and for the next 30 minutes, Joey McIntyre and I took a trip down I-71 and talked about our families, work, and stories about our lives. But I would be omitting the full truth if I didn't tell you that in my head, while he was talking, I was thinking, "Oh my God I can't believe that Joey McIntyre is in my car!!! This might be the greatest day of my life!"
I was 30 years old when that story happened. And I was no longer an innocent woman at that point in my life. But had I completely lost my innocence? Did it still exist somewhere inside of me? Does it still exist in any of us after a certain age? Sure, I had taken a few wrong turns. And sometimes the road I chose left me with a mouthful of gravel. But on that day, for those few hours, I felt young, carefree, and pure happiness. It was a similar feeling from my youth. And apparently it still existed somewhere inside of me.
That same night, I went to bed and pulled up my covers with a permanent smile on my face and joy in my heart. I closed my eyes and enjoyed the silence of the moment. And then, as I was getting ready to say goodnight to that perfect day, my phone rang. It was my co-host from the show. When I answered, he said, “Someone wants to talk to you.” Another voice got on the phone. It was Joey. Apparently they were both out and about at the same venue. Joey said, “Thanks for the ride today. It was great to meet you. Night, night.”
My favorite New Kid On The Block just verbally tucked me into bed. And everything about it was completely innocent. It took me back to my age of innocence. And I realized that, even with the scars we accumulate over time, it’s still possible to find our innocence.