Let me preface this by saying that this story comes off sad and sounding desolate. While that was indeed how things felt at the time, it is certainly not indicative of where I am now. It gets better!
I have worked very hard to really BE who I am. It’s not been easy, but it has ultimately been rewarding. I have always been different. …an outsider.
I was a precocious kid from the beginning. That seems to pose a threat to other kids. I was taught always to be kind no matter what. So, I was kind to the kids who got teased. I was kind to the kids who were different. I was kind even to the kids who were unkind to me.
For reasons still not completely known to me, I became the biggest target on the playground. My guess is that it was fun to see if my buttons could be pushed. It seemed that there was an ever-increasing hunger among my antagonists to try to figure out just what it was that would set me off and make me fight back. I never did.
Teachers and principals tried, in vain, to come to my aid. As I got older, taunting gave way to shoving and chasing, then to hitting and kicking. Still, no response from me.
Then, about the time junior high rolled around , the kids gave a name to what I was…gay. I am not really sure I knew what that even meant at the time. But that was the verdict from a jury of my peers…gay. I routinely had my pants pulled down, my things stolen, received threats of bodily harm…then, often got the bodily harm. All the while, adhering to the rules that I was not to hurt anyone. I never raised a hand in self defense. I would always tell my teachers and parents what had happened. But, this only served to further provoke the bullying.
By the end of the seventh grade, it was clear that drastic action needed to be taken. My parents took a meeting with the principal in which it was decided I would change schools in hopes that my eighth grade year would not be as bad.
Sadly, it was at my new ‘gentler’ school that things really became out of hand. I worked much harder to fit in this time, but the results were no different. Despite having several awkward, and conspicuous crushes on girls… gay became the verdict among the new jury as well. Again the acts of cruelty, again the threats of violence. This time, however, my peers were willing to push the envelope even further.
During a cross-country practice one afternoon, I was followed the length of the course by two boys who spat upon me for the duration of our run. I did not respond, but did try to lose them by running faster. It did not work. Practice ended, and I attempted to go on about preparing to leave when I was suddenly pushed from behind into a locker door. My nose was cut deeply, requiring stitches, my lips were cut, and my braces were knocked off my teeth. I turned to see my attacker, a fellow runner one year younger than I. One of the two boys I’d been followed by moments earlier. He was ready for a fight, but visibly shaken from the amount of trouble he believed my badly bloodied face would get him into. He heckled me, attempting to provoke the fight that my ‘gayness’ entitled him to. I did not give it to him. I gathered the rest of my things, and proceeded to the school nurse. The ultimate sentence for his acts, incidentally, was that he had to apologize to me. His look of fear had been unnecessary.
Even with all of this, my life had one more blow to deal before I was allowed to escape those trying days of junior high. I had early morning band practice every morning, so I routinely found myself walking up to a completely vacant schoolyard. This particular school was comprised of three main buildings situated around a courtyard. Each one had a cinderblock facade that met the roofline about ten or twelve feet off the ground. When I arrived on this particular morning, as on many others in Huntington Beach, CA there was a fairly dense fog looming about. As I made my way into the courtyard, saxophone in hand, the fog began to give way to the building on the far side. It was then that I saw it. It could not have been a more perfectly scripted moment of horror. On the building, in letters that stretched from roof to ground, and all the way across the edifice read: “[My old name] IS A FAG” in bright red spray paint. I stood for a while, incredulous. The assistant principal saw that I had arrived, and quickly shuttled me off to her office. I never did find out who had done that. I do not believe that it was the same boy who had pushed me previously. The hate for me extended well beyond just him.
Throughout this time I found myself facing the impossible choice of what to do with my impossible life. Many times I concluded that the only humane thing to do would be to end it. After all, I was not needed. I was just a bother, a stain on the otherwise pristine earth.
I tried to drown myself in the ocean, but my primal instincts to breathe were too strong to overcome. I thought often about cutting open my wrists. I thought about jumping from an overpass. But the thing that really made sense to me was pills. On one particularly gloomy day during that time, I knelt on the bathroom floor, a fistful of my mother’s prescription drugs that I am sure would have been lethal, clutched in my hand. I struggled to down the pills, but alas, I was a coward (I thought at the time.) I just couldn’t do it. I sobbed and wailed and rocked on my knees as I tried to convince myself to end the pain and suffering once and for all… still no ability to do so.
I am able to look back now, and be glad that I did not succeed in taking my life on that, or any other day. But I did not feel that at the time. I truly wanted to die. I felt frustrated that my courage and resolve did not seem to be allowing me to take my life.
Unknown to me, at that time, was this simple truth: It gets better.
People in high school were more tolerant than those in junior high. People in college, and out in the world, even moreso. But I would never have been able to know all of that if I had taken my life. I am glad I didn’t, because it did get better.
I am now the proud parent of a healthy baby girl. I have an incredible wife who loves me in ways I am continually humbled by. I have terrific friends that accept me for everything that I am, and love me. My family, though far away are a source of love, support and guidance. I have a great life! …and I have this because I chose to stick around and live it. It does get better.