**This series discusses suicidal ideation I experienced in my teens. Take care of yourself. Read it if you have an interest and are in a good space for it.
For as long as at least high school, college, I think a little bit sooner, I’ve had this hunch, maybe what I would describe as more than a hunch, more just like a knowledge, an awareness —that I was going to die young. I didn’t really think much about where it came from. I never told anyone about it. (Kind of a weird thing to share tbh.) I just knew it. In the same way I knew that trees grow up and that the sun, at sunset, falls down. To me, it was just known.
I first became aware of my own immorality in 2006 when I was ten years old and my twenty-three year old cousin died. Nick tackled his life and this world on full volume. He was a professional aviation stunt pilot. For fun, he put himself into a tin can strapped to a jet engine and flew circles and spirals and loops. He drew crowds. He was on the cover of magazines. He lived in a beach house in Malibu.
Then one day while practicing, thirty miles from the house he grew up in, he landed funny. His plane jolted the ground. And he died. This person, this force, this light that traveled the world and spun around in a plane, died while at home and while landing. Nick wore a velvet green tuxedo to what turned out to be his last family Christmas. He told us they were making him into an action figure. Writers in Hollywood were working on a script.
I pulled into the garage on that Tuesday in March. Mom was in the driver’s seat. Dad stood in the doorway, the car’s headlights reflected in the tears that wet his face. We packed our overnight bags, loaded back into the truck, and headed to my aunt & uncle’s. That was the first time I saw my mom turn from blissful to broken, cheerful to wailing.
Nick was the one person in my family to break out and chase his dreams. He knew to not simply do whatever was expected. He knew that there was more to our circles around the sun than a promising LinkedIn and two weeks paid vacation. Nick knew the energy that wells up in one’s chest when one is doing what they were built to do. Nick had the courage to do it. He had the courage to do nothing less. He knew to dream and to do.
I’ve described myself to myself as gay since seventh grade, since 2007. I have memories from earlier, from kindergarten and second grade and summer camps, memories that I look back on and say, “Hmmmmm. That’s what that was.” But as far as myself knowing it, accepting it, having the word; I point to seventh grade, 2007.
I received the word from a bully. Gay was equivalent with “loser”, with “less than” on my junior high quad. When I was bullied for not being like the other boys, that is one of the words they gave me. I am pretty sure they meant to demean rather than to help me identify myself, but I know now that they did both. It was helpful to have something to finally describe why I felt different. But it was poison to forge my identity in an act that was meant to demean. That stayed.
In junior high, I figured out that if I stood behind a cinder block pole, a pole on the far side of the quad, people couldn’t see me. I was ashamed of who I was, and now I knew that “who” I was was the worst possible “who” I could be. So I hid myself. I didn’t want my body to be seen. I hid it behind concrete.
When I moved on to high school, I found a similar pole. Though, that pole wasn’t as fail proof as the others. Sometimes people would walk behind it. So I moved to the bathroom stall. There I ate my lunch, squatted over the toilet bowl, my feet balanced on the toilet seat. If my feet were on the ground, I could have been identified by my shoes.
I learned that I could cry in the shower, or in my closest, or with my pillow pressed up against my face and there wouldn’t be much left over evidence. Though the shower became my most frequent place. In there there wasn’t any evidence at all. Tears washed down the sink. There was no wet t-shirt or pillowcase or tissue to linger after I was done. I would lay on the floor of the shower, turn on the water to wash over my naked body, and convulse in my crying. When done I would step out, dry off, and pretend to myself and everyone else that what happened in there, never actually happened.
I don’t remember ever black-and-white telling myself, “You are gay. Gay is wrong. You must change. You must be like everyone else.” I remember telling myself that I needed to figure out how to get normal friends first before a girlfriend. But I don’t remember ever actually wanting that girlfriend. I think I just told myself that to buy my time, to push that problem down the road, to have an answer prepared for when someone asked me why I was single.
But I do remember those cinder block poles, and the bathroom stall, and the showers.
I remember trying to imagine what my future with a man would be like. I remember imagining me and some blurred male figure walking through a park, and sitting around a kitchen table, and embracing each other on a Christmas card.
I remember the way I felt equal anticipation and disgust. Anticipation for the future I wanted, the future I was made for, the only future I could ever imagine. And disgust because of the poison spit on me by a homophobic world. The poison that was deep inside me.
It is the way those daydreams of a romantic future made me feel that made me think about crashing my car in to a telephone pole. I knew what would have to be lived through to get there. I knew the horror of the conversations and rejections and devastation of everything I knew about my life, that that future would demand of. That seemed hard, impossible, unbearable. The telephone pole seemed easier.
***This is heavy three-part series. I want to include the National Suicide Prevention Hotline, 1-800-273-8255, for anyone who wants it. Suicide is not the answer. Suicide is preventable. There is no shame in calling this free and confidential support service. We need you here. There is hope.