I still think about it all the time,
Nothing stays the same.
Maybe I’m to blame,
Oh I, I’d do it all again…

It’s been ten years, ten years since Brian published your story. We never knew you’d left instructions for him to do it till after it came out. The introduction you’d written broke us all down again, opened wounds we never quite let heal. It’s been seventeen years since we made the decision to put you in the home. Despite knowing it wasn’t really a choice, and more inevitability, it still managed to be the hardest choice any of us ever made. We hated doing it. You seemed to accept it better than we did, back when you were aware of what was happening to you. Your clear moments back when they still existed. They got fewer and farther between and it got harder and harder to see your face and the blank stare, without a spark of recognition of everyone who cared about you.

Twenty years.

Twenty years since you confessed to me on a cold night in New York City, me fresh out of a show when I was still doing Broadway. Your confession was unplanned, you were broken and needed me to save you. I knew that. You told me what was really going on when everyone else thought you were off getting high. You let them think that too, to protect them from the ugly truth as long as you could. I never got resented you for being unable to keep it from me. I was supposed to protect you, of course you came to me. Sometimes I’d wish I didn’t know, but at the same time I was so touched I did. I hated leaving the group back then and now I regret it more than I can ever say. I wasted precious time, time I didn’t know was fading fast. I sometimes think about what could’ve been, maybe having come back in 2012 like I once toyed with doing. Would you have tried to hide it from me had I been back in the group? Could I have seen the signs?

Maybe you could’ve lasted longer if we’d known sooner.

Twenty years is a long time to watch you fade away Nick.

We never visited you as a group. It was just too hard. Sometimes we’d pair up. We always made sure someone went with AJ. He relapsed in the first two years after you moved into the home. Went straight to a bar after visiting you alone. He got better but, after that we made sure he always someone with him to help with the stress. Howie stopped making music entirely after that final album from us as a group. He focused on real estate, something unconnected to you. I couldn’t blame him. Music is a release but it’s also painful because it was always the five of us, even after I left the group. And we could never be five in that way again.

I’m more contemplative than normal. Kristen wants nothing more than to help me, I know. Same with Mason. But there’s no real way for them to help me. Not today. Did you know I had a son after Mason? You never had a chance to meet him, you’d been in the home two years. Maxwell. I’ve shown him videos, Youtube is an archive of everything we’ve done. I’ve shown him all those home videos I made that you hated after the first month of us as a group. I wanted to make sure he knew the real you. We showed all the kids between the five of us old videos, just on random occasions so they can see who you were. Only Baylee and James were old enough to really see you before everything began to fade.

In the end it was almost a blessing to get that call from Brian less than a week ago. He stayed your legal guardian down to the end, just like you wanted. It’s full circle, how he was your guardian back in our early days as a group too, when we went overseas and you weren’t even sixteen yet. He’s the one who gave me the news. It was a heart attack that finally ended your long journey. Alzheimer’s, even Early Onset…all it does is steal away everything you are till nothing is left. It doesn’t end anything. That’s what so cruel about that damn disease.

Sitting here at your funeral feels like I’ve failed you. Failed everyone. It was my job to take care of you. As the youngest of the group you were my charge even if it wasn’t officially. You should’ve outlived all of us. Fifty-five isn’t even that old! God, I’m sixty-three but today I feel like I’ve lived a thousand years. If life was fair, you wouldn’t be in that casket. You would’ve never been committed into a care taker’s home for others like you who’d been twice your age. But life is far fair.

It’s beautiful outside today as the priest goes on about your life despite having never known you. I told Brian he should have done it. I know technically he’s never come close to doing anything like that but it would’ve been more fitting. I glance beside me, at my cousin. The four of us are sitting in the front row, apart from everyone. Our families are behind us, along with yours. You were our brother Nick, blood never mattered. I understand why Brian said he couldn’t talk about you here. He’s fighting so hard to stay strong but he’s having the hardest time of all of us. He was the one who never stopped praying for the miracle the rest of us gave up on. I can hear Baylee crying behind us. Did you know he had a son two years ago? He named him Nickolas.

You were never forgotten, Nick. We kept you alive the only way we could – in our memories.

Despite all the pain, even if we knew back then how it’d all end…I’m glad you were our brother.

Goodbye Little Man.

I wish it was the same,
I guess no one’s to blame.
No nothing stays the same,
And everything must change,
Oh I, I’d do it all again