My old torn up sneakers stepped upon the dirty white rock, raising my thirteen year old frame above the imaginary church pews filled with grass shaped people. While my peers were off playing Cowboys and Indians, or pretending to fly with a red cape, I was off in a field designing a church. This imaginary congregation was a vision of the future I wanted. I had seen people in my life and on the news who had suffered and I wanted to protect and help them. I stood on that rock and preached about God’s mercy and love, promising that with His help we would all have better lives. I stood with hands raised and filled with a happiness that can only be had if you truly believed – and I did believe. I believed in God, believed in that possible joyous future, and believed I had a calling to help.
“Get that.” Sharon ordered as she turned on the TV in our second story apartment. I had just sat down on the couch and noted she was standing by the TV, which was next to the front door, yet before I could object, she added, “I have to find the right channel.” Another soft knock persuaded me to stand and take the four steps I needed to reach the door while my sister turned the plastic TV knob from one static channel to another. There were only three channels to view in the time before cable and finding “the right channel” was a job she had completed by the time I was standing next to her. Without looking at me, she adjusted the volume and moved across the room, taking the spot I had just vacated. Sharon was bright. She got the best place to sit and picked the show she wanted to watch. I thought about changing the channel, yet I wanted to watch the same show, and she knew that. All I could do was find out who was unknowingly helping her.
Any time you open a door, you are inviting in destiny. Until you open the door you have no idea what awaits you. There could be a salesman offering to take your money, missionaries sent to save your soul, or a serial killer looking for his next fix. Answering the door means something is going to change. Maybe it will be such a small change you won’t notice it or it might be a change that forever shapes you – but life will never be the same again. There is still a part of me that wishes I had realized what waited outside, yet you can’t escape fate, especially if you think God created it just for you. I did not know opening the door would be a life changing event and at the time I really did believe God had created this event for me. I could not imagine I would be ready to serve, however; when the light from outside fell on me, my time for standing on rocks had ended and my calling had begun.
Long black hair hung over the eyes of the nervous face of a boy I vaguely knew. Robert’s presence at our door seemed out of place because he was not a friend of mine or my sister’s and even though I had seen him with my brother a few times, they never acted like friends. He had never been to our apartment and I don’t remember Matt ever talking about him; however, I was never that curious about what my brother did so I figured they had made plans to meet after school.
“Matt is still at band practice.” I told Robert as I watched him bounce from one foot to the other.
“I know” he said in a deliberately low voice. “I need to talk to you.”
The confusion his words created kept me silent. Why would he want to talk to me? We didn’t go to the same school because he was at least two years older. If we had not lived in the same apartment complex I would not have even recognized him. The uncertainty in my face spoke for me because Robert stepped back from the door and motioned with his hand for me to follow. I obeyed and crossed through the doorway yet stayed within view of my sister.
“Close the door.” He whispered. Obediently I reached back without looking and closed the door. Robert’s voice had an edge of desperation, his skin looked pale and moisture covered his face. For a few seconds we stood in silence and I could tell he was uncertain on whether he should be talking to me, yet he did not leave.
“I need you to follow us tomorrow.” He finally said. His words seemed to give him a little relief although I was still in the dark. By “us” I knew he meant my brother and him. Where or why I was to follow was still a mystery. He sensed my unasked questions and this time he allowed his eyes to meet mine. “You know about your brother. You have to help me. You have to make sure nothing happens!”
This was the first time anyone had every talked to me about the known secret that hung over my brother. Robert may not have given it a name or described it, yet I knew what he meant. I was too young to really understand all that the unnamed was about, yet I was old enough to know that, “..make sure nothing happens,” meant sex.
“Why even go with him in the-” I started but was quickly interrupted.
“He does something to people, its… “ Robert stopped talking. His hands started to shake and he looked away in shame. Robert’s accusation about my brother’s ability to somehow influence his own actions was also a confession that this had happened before. I could feel his guilt and his face showed a young boy pleading for help – my help.
I had been taught that everyone needed to live a certain way to be happy – any other way would lead to destruction. Robert knew that how my brother lived represented damnation and for some reason he could not resist him. Robert needed someone who understood, and I did understand. I knew Matt was an abomination and I had to be his opposite. The things he liked, I loathed. Matt represented something so abnormally wrong it meant I must be perfect. There was no room for error, no stain of sin must ever be on my soul if I wished to be God’s servant. From the time I was taught to pray, my sincere prayer was for me to be a clean, sinless, perfect boy and the more I learned about my brother the more I pleaded with God to be that boy.
“I’ll follow.” I reassured him, as I tried to understand the emotions I was feeling. There was joy that he trusted me enough to be his confessor and fear of the responsibility that I now needed to help him “sin no more.”
Robert spent the next few moments giving me the details. He and Matt were going to play in a few wooded lots next to the apartment complex that we called “Sherwood Forest.” He told me the time they were leaving, how I should follow and that I should make noise if I saw or heard Matt do anything he shouldn’t. He kept looking down the stairs, checking, I think, to make sure Matt was not coming. As he started to leave I asked. “What if I lose you in the woods?”
“Don’t” he said as he fled down the stairs and disappeared around the corner.
That night I spent time studying my brother. We were not the same. His tall and skinny body were a contrast to my short and stout normal body. His longer brown hairstyle was rebellious while my blond short hair seemed more dignified, more pure. His gestures belonged to a girl, mine to a boy becoming a man. It was true he was smarter than I, yet he took that gift for granted and did not really try for the A’s he brought home on his report card. My C’s were earned with hard work and determination. I did not have his charisma, yet he used his gift in undignified ways; on boys like Robert. He corrupted innocents. We were not alike and for some reason I needed to believe that fact.
The next morning I ate a bowl of cereal and waited on the couch pretending to watch cartoons with my sister. As the TV played I followed my brother’s action through sound. I heard him in the bathroom taking a shower and listened to the bedroom door close when he was done. The squeaking sound of the closet door told me he was now dressing, and when the bedroom door swung open it hit the wall as he hurried out. I was a good observer. I knew when something different was going on with those around. I recognized when habits were altered, patterns of everyday life changed because something different was about to happen. I did not always know the details of what was going on, yet I knew the habitual normal had been replaced. This time I knew why. This time I had been warned in advance and was looking for the change.
I felt a tiny breeze as Matt hurried passed the couch and only when his back was facing me did I look at him. He quickly opened the door and slipped out, gently closing it so it made little noise, something none of us normally did. We were door slammers, more in a hurry to leave than think of any adult politeness or door etiquette. I had noticed, yet my sister did not. I counted to three and slowly got up. I wanted to look out the living room window, yet knew this might draw Sharon’s attention, so I calmly went to the bedroom I shared with Matt. The place was trashed with his discarded clothes. I pushed aside my disgust and went to the window. Below I could see my brother walk down the sidewalk headed to the back of the complex. It occurred to me that I had no idea where Robert lived. I pushed aside my panic once I realized it didn’t matter because they had to come back by our window to get to the woods. I had time.
I went to my closet and pulled out some clothes and quickly dressed in front of the window so I could see them when they passed. Unlike my brother I neatly placed my dirty clothes in the clothes hamper. When I got to my shoes Matt and Robert still had not emerged. Waiting was painful. I wanted it to be over, to have successfully fulfilled my calling, yet it could not end until they went into the woods, until my brother made his move, until Robert needed my help and I stopped the bad from happening. I started to think they might have gone another way. I wondered if I should go down to look for them and just before I was about to abandon my post I saw, them strolling down the sidewalk. At first I envisioned them as Tom and Huck going out on a big adventure, yet knew they were Cain and Abel, the good about to be corrupted by the bad.
I nervously opened the bedroom door. I went to the bathroom and flushed the commode so my sister would think that was where I had been. As I approached the living room I could see a cartoon was running, not a commercial. Although commercials rarely broke our comatose state I knew the actual cartoon would keep her attention on the TV. I followed my brothers path and went to the front door, never looking back. I too slipped out and quietly closed the door like an adult.
Like Robin Hood hiding in the shadow of tree tops, I stood on top of the stairs looking out at the mini-highway of sidewalks crossing a large open grassy lawn that had only two users. I watched the boys head to the edge of the road that circled around the complex. This private road had parking spaces that looked like wagon spokes and beyond them lay “Sherwood Forest.” There was only one tree at the far edge of the lawn and I realized I had nowhere to hide once I left the cover of the building. This wasn’t something Robert or I had counted on. My only option was to watch them until they entered the woods.
From a distance they looked like two boys off to play on a warm Saturday morning in a Norman Rockwell painting. I could see them talking and even saw Robert smile. He did not appear to be in danger, yet his image and words from the day before were fixed in my memory and I did not plan to let him down. When they reached the curb I took note of the cars they walked between and spotted a small bush next to where they entered the woods. Robert took a quick look back at the apartments and I thought about stepping out of my hiding place so he could see me. I wanted him to know I was covering his back, yet if he could see me so could Matt, so like a guardian angel, I stayed hidden.
When they were out of sight I ran across the open field and stopped at the two cars, crouching low to stay hidden. I scanned the outline of the trees but could see nothing. I rushed to the spot they had entered and stepped inside the tree covered lot. I walked about ten feet and realized I had no idea where to go. I looked to both my left and right, yet there was no clue I could see that would point me in the direction they might have gone. With no tracking skills my mission had just begun and I had already failed.
After more walking, frustration had replaced any faith I had. I battled the undergrowth and pesky tree branches while trying to catch up with Robert. I had burrs on my legs and more than one scratch on my arms. I knew this area was not that big yet somehow I could not find them. As I passed by another group of trees the ground ended. I found myself standing on a bank and five feet below was a creek bed with a small, shallow stream of clear water running through it.
The creek bed was flat ground with none of the trees or undergrowth I was battling and I knew they would be walking along it. I began looking for an easy way to climb down when I heard someone laugh. Instinctively I squatted and tried to stay as still as the trees around me. I then heard voices that became louder as each second passed and I moved behind a tree hoping to hide myself from whom I assumed would be my brother and Robert.
Long before I could see them I recognized my brother’s voice and soon I could see the tops of their heads bobbing along the creek bed. I was relieved. I may have lost them, yet now they were found. I could see them and I was not too late. Robert would be safe and I was not a failure. I stayed hidden until their voices had moved past me. I would let them stay ahead of me until I was needed. I slowly moved from behind the tree and looked at them and discovered that maybe I was too late. Both boys were naked!
The disappointment I felt in myself for allowing this to happen was greater than any I had ever felt. I watched their naked backs move away from me and knew if they had time to get undressed, they had time for other things to have happened. As they walked out of sight I felt heavy and useless. Their fading voices and another of Robert’s laughs, seemed to shut the door on this failed mission.
Yet, Robert laughed. He had laughed! This was not an action I would take if I had sinned as he had. He was not like my brother. He would feel guilt when it was over. He would not be happy. He would not be laughing. He would have gotten dressed and headed home and Matt would have gone with him. My brother would have gotten what he wanted and would have no reason to stay. This meant nothing had happened. It meant it was not too late! I still had time to be the hero, I still had time to save Robert.
The embankment where I stood had a steep slope and I could see no way to get to the creek bed that would not make noise, yet that was our plan; to make noise when I thought things could get sinful. My brother and Robert were naked. This was not some innocent skinny dipping trip or 70’s nature loving hike. This type of nakedness was a prelude to sex and that meant now was the time to act.
I scrambled down the embankment, slipping at the bottom, yet catching myself so I would not fall. I heard my brother yell, “Run,” and I hurried in their direction. The creek bed curved to the right and I found myself in a wider clearing just in time to see my brother disappear into the trees. From the sounds of the brush they both were still running and I smiled thinking about all those sharp branches hitting their naked bodies, physically they would be hurting, but at least their souls had been spared.
Now that they were gone I was certain Robert would be safe. This would give him a good reason to go home and maybe stay away from Matt. It also meant I was not a failure, I had succeeded in helping someone who had wanted my help. Someone who believed I could help. My heart raced with an incredible happiness. I looked up at the trees and smiled at the sun weaving through the branches and leaves and I thought I might walk around for a while and enjoy this wonderful feeling.
Then I saw something on the ground to my left and realized it was someone’s underwear. As I walked closer to them other clothing came into view; one white sock with stickers clinging to the sides, a pair of faded jeans, a black t-shirt with some type of band logo, and sneakers with a sock stuffed inside lying on its side.
Robert had dropped his clothes when he heard the noise and now was not only alone with my brother, but naked with no chance of returning home untouched. In the distance I could still hear them moving further away. I knew I could not leave the clothes there, yet wasn’t sure what I would do with them.
Smiling I bent down and picked up Robert’s white underwear. If it weren’t for the consequences to Robert it would be a funny story to tell someday, yet I knew Robert would not want anyone to know about it, although returning home without his clothes meant the odds of someone finding out were high. I needed to find Robert and give him back his clothes. Maybe he would hide along the edges of the woods, waiting for either Matt to bring him something to wear or to come back and find them. Certainly he would think I would have retrieved them. Now I wished I could go back and find a way to have kept them from undressing in the first place.
Then a tree moved. My eyes shifted to a group of trees beyond a larger pool of shallow water. I waited and heard a noise and another movement. It was not coming from the direction the boys had scattered. Was it an animal or was there someone else coming. I thought of running away, yet stood my ground searching for movement and listening for new sounds.
It was then that I saw what looked like the top of someone’s head emerging from behind a clump of downed trees. Slowly Robert’s face rose from its hiding place and his wide and frightened eyes started to sort out who had made the ruckus that sent him and my brother in opposite directions. His eyes seemed to grow smaller and a smirk spread across his face once he realized it was me. He stood up like a man and moved out from his hiding place.
“It’s you.” His shaken voice said. “I thought it was when we heard someone coming, but I wasn’t sure.” His once red face was drained pale white, though I could see the stiffness in his neck relax. “I’ll get dressed.”
He slowly started to make his way across the water with no attempt to hide his nakedness from me. He felt no shame in his body and had no concern about me as he had with my brother.
I said nothing and did not move my eyes off of him. This was the first time I had seen a naked male body this close up, with enough time to really examine what I was seeing. In locker rooms I had always turned away even as someone took off their shirt.
Robert seemed like some exotic angel with the sun pouring through the tops of the trees and highlighting his muscles as they moved when he moved. First a thigh on the left leg would bulge as weight was added when he stepped. Then his arm would move back to maintain his balance which caused his chest muscle to tighten until his other leg moved forward allowing the arm to relax as the chest on the next side tightened when the other arm took over. Occasionally he paused as his foot hit a sharp rock, arms spread out and moving to help keep his balance. His stomach muscles seemed to move like an escalator with each step. I had never seen such beauty before.
My eyes moved to the one part of the male body that I had always wanted to see close up and it was just as amazing, flowing and moving with each step. I stood there, dumbstruck, heart beating, sweating and feeling like the blood had flowed out of my head. I was not thinking, only experiencing the most fascinating moment of my life, an image that is still chiseled in my memory.
When Robert made it to me he casually took his underwear from my frozen hand and for the first time realized I had been staring at him the whole time. For an eternal second our eyes locked and there were no more hidden secrets, only a deadly understanding.
Robert stumbled back a few steps looking down at my belt line and could see my intense interest in him was more than curiosity. When I realized what was happening it was too late. There was no doubt about my sinfulness and my shame did nothing to deflate the obvious.
I watched his face fill with disgust, and anger. He bent down and hurriedly put on his underwear, took another step back, bent over picked up his pants, stuffing one leg then another into them. He zipped and buttoned as he jammed his foot into one shoe, bent over and used his finger to pull the back of it over his heel, turned and pulled the sock out of the second shoe while placing his foot into it. Before grabbing his shirt he jammed his sock into his pocket, he then stood up straight holding his shirt, his eyes burning with fiery rage and staring me down. His bare chest moved unevenly as his shallow breaths entered and exited through his nose, his lips pressed tightly as if he was holding in curse words or a scream. I was too afraid to move or talk. A new reality was flooding over me, a deeper understanding of what had always been lurking inside that was now visible to both of us.
Robert moved closer to me, his face looking down into mine, a face that seemed confused, yet his lips finally parted and his voice pushed out an angry order. “Let’s get out of here!” He stepped to the right and as he passed, my eyes glanced downward in shame as he pulled his shirt over his perfect torso.
As I stepped in behind him and kept up with his rushed pace, my excitement and wonder was replaced with my own fear and disgust. Robert had come to me as his savior. Someone to protect him from the evil we both believed my brother posed. Yet it was now clear to him that I too could not be trusted. I was not a hero, not a savior. I was the villain. I too was a demon. All this time I simply believed I was being influenced by Matt and needed to escape, yet now I knew that nothing I ever thought about happened because of my brother, those thoughts were mine. Every immoral thought and every evil feeling was not planted by anyone, they all came from within.
Climbing the embankment I could not escape the ghostly images from the Bible, all of God’s words I had been taught, that I had read, that I believed. “You shall not lie with a male as one lies with a female; it is an abomination.” Each time the sole of my foot touched the dirt another scripture echoed inside my brain. “Men committed indecent acts with other men, and received in themselves the due penalty for their perversion.” Dirt from Robert’s shoe hit my face as he ascended up the embankment. I stumbled. My energy and will had fled my body, my legs trembled with every attempt as each step tried to pull me upwards. “An abomination.”
My foot slipped and I moved backwards. I took a deep breath, grabbed at the earth with my right hand, pulling my foot and body forward. “..they shall surely be put to death. Their blood-guiltiness is upon them.” My heart ached and what used to be easy now seemed an impossibility, the embankment seemed like a mountain.
Robert reached the top and looked down at me, his face still filled with disgust. I looked up at him, my eyes pleading forgiveness for my impurities, his eyes showing only anger, his body turning and taking a step away from me. I fought back tears and decided I had to show him I was not a weak, pitiful boy. I took another breath gathering what energy I had left and pushed my body upward to reach the top of the embankment. I succeeded – then fell forward landing like a fallen tree, arms sprawled across broken branches and rocks, my mouth filled with dirt, glasses twisted and scratched, my disgrace finalized at the feet of the boy who was betrayed.
Lifting my head I spit out a mixture of dirt and saliva and sat up. The skin of my left hand was embedded with small pebbles and those were connected by a growing mortar of blood. Robert had stopped and turned to look at me. This time his face had a new emotion. Was it forgiveness? Understanding? I watched him, not knowing what to do next. His foot had located my glasses and he started to bend down, then froze, straightened and kicked them close enough for me to retrieve them.
“Get up.” He demanded. It was then that I recognized the emotion on his face, pity.
By the time I had stood up Robert was once again making his way out of the woods. I rushed to catch up, strangely needing to be with him, to have him relieve me of my guilt. I needed things to be the way they had been. In the absence of innocence I needed ignorance.
When we made it to the edge of the apartment complex, Robert’s walking became faster and I pushed my legs to keep up with him. Without stopping he turned his head and with a sound of harsh desperation yelled. “Stop! Go home!”
As ordered I stopped and watched as he started running away from me. It would be the last words he ever spoke to me. The last time he ever looked at me. Earlier he came to me for help, now he ran away like I was a plague. I looked back at the woods I once thought were beautiful, yet they now seemed menacing. I would never step inside them again, although a few times I would sit and stare into them, wishing Robert had never knocked on my door and never made me aware of my true nature.
When I got back home Matt was sitting on the couch watching TV with my sister. He looked at me as I entered and I knew he recognized something. I don’t know if he knew it was me in the woods or knew I was like him, or maybe both. We never talked about it. What he knew was no longer important, that I knew was. I closed the front door, went to my bedroom and wrote my first suicide note.
I was just a boy.
There should have been no shame, no pressure, no reason to think I should be dead much less want to die.
I was just a boy.
The message that I was an abomination, a demon, that I was damned didn’t just come from religion. It came from family, from friends (peers), from school, from the government, from books, from movies, from the news, from music, from the health experts, from everywhere.
I was just a boy.
I listen to the radio as “Billy Joe McCallister jumped off the Tallahatchie bridge.” I watched as Martha in the Children’s Hour said, “Oh, I feel so damn sick and dirty I can’t take it anymore!” and then went upstairs and hung herself. I read the news as Dan White received a light sentence because sugar made him kill Harvey Milk and Mayor Moscone. People I knew at the time said if he had only killed the “queer”, he wouldn’t have spent any time in jail. He got out in less then two years, that’s how much a gay man’s life was worth.
I was just a boy.
My only crime was that I was attracted to the same sex. So, I hid who I was. I escaped into religion, losing God in the process. I got a boner while watching a boy two years older then me and for that I was punished, and even to this day I am still paying a price. In 1973 and years after I wanted to die because of it. Today I want to turn my pain into something that might help. I guess you can say I am back on my rock. Some say I never got off the rock, I just change my message.
Yes, this was my first suicide note, however I’m still here. I want that understood so that no one will think that this is about death as an answer. It s about understanding. This is what triggered my long path of depression and suicidal obsession. Everyone’s trigger and circumstances are not the same, yet suicidal thoughts can lead to suicidal attempts and sadly to suicidal deaths.
I share because it is my hope that the more we all understand where the destructive path might start, maybe we can understand how to help others from driving off the cliff. It will also help us understand why someone wants to die is not as simple as one thing or one event. It is built over time and over a number of events. During the years of hating myself for being gay, my religious beliefs were at the heart of my suicidal desires, yet I was also bullied for being gay, bullied because my brother was gay, and bullied because I never fit in. No one ever told me that it was ok to be gay until I was about 20, and that came from my ten year old brother, Alvin. (A great story of a great soul – I just wasn’t ready to listen to his wisdom.) Not only did I not have any support, I saw how my brother Matt was treated because he was gay. When I was growing up almost every part of society had laws that lead to confirmation that homosexuality was a sin and a crime. There were no protections if you were gay.
My religious upbringing had taught me that sex was wrong, yet the desire was normal. I was aware that masturbating was a sin, yet that sin was forgivable because for some reason it was normal. You should not do it, yet it did not make you evil. The same was true about thinking about sex. It was wrong, sinful and you should not do it, yet if you did, it was forgivable.
My religious teaching had also taught me that homosexual thoughts were worse then sexual thoughts “normal” people had. These thoughts were wrong and sinful, yet were also an abomination and pure evil. Masturbating to such thoughts raised the level of that sin to a sickness worse than death. Acting on those thoughts placed you in a perverted level of sin that could not be tolerated, nor easily forgiven. It made you Satan’s evil monster. At 13 that is what I discovered; I was a perverted monster desperately trying to be an angel.
The faith I would not relinquish and the reality of a sexual orientation I did not choose and could not change, clashed at the core of my soul and the longer these two sides battled each other the more desperate I became. As each position stood their ground, I fell deeper into depression and the more death seemed the only answer. My faith could not be compromised and my homosexility could not be “cured”, so there never was an end to my suffering and I could never look into a future where I would not be hurting. When you cannot find any relief, when it seems everything is getting worse and will never get better, when you cannot help yourself and no one else is willing or able to help you, when even God seems to have abandoned you, that is when suicide makes perfect sense.
What I went through is not what everyone goes through and so I hope others will share their stories. Our stories are complicated, yet no matter how difficult life might be – it is still life and I have learned that the sun does shine on the darkest of times. Life changes, you change, others change, society changes and those changes give the greatest hope. All of the suicide notes I wrote, the one silly suicide attempt, and one serious commitment to kill myself are all behind me and I am so very grateful that none of the pain I went through did not lead to a grave. I hope that if you feel death is your best option, please wait, because one day you may wake up to a beautiful sunrise and think as I do today: I am glad I am alive!