Part 1 – One Summer Day
It started out as a typical summer day. The sun was shining brightly in that crystal blue sky that can only be seen in the most remote of desert locations. The heat not only took your breath away, but it intensified the smell of dust, sagebrush, cactus, and the used motor oil that was stored in the armaments dump near the housing unit on the military base my family had just moved to earlier that year.
There were four of us that day, all within a three year age range. I wasn’t the youngest at 8-years-old, but I wasn’t the oldest either. That distinction was reserved for Max, who was 9. All of us were the sons of Marine Corp lance corporals at the time. We were all we had, as we knew better than to associate with the children of the sergeants or regular corporals who lived around us. It was against the rules in base housing. Associating with someone, even the child of someone, of higher or lower rank outside work or school was strictly forbidden.
In the huge expanse of desert that separated our homes from the armaments dump, we would ride our bikes, play with our Hot Wheels and Matchbox cars, or just make plans for what kind of mischief we could get into during the day. Sometimes it was hard to decide if that mischief would be teasing the girl children of lance corporals, or jumping off the 30-foot-tall slide in the “big” park just to see who was brave enough to do it.
Once in a while, as we were in the desert, we would come across a scorpion or tarantula and, being the sons of macho military men, we would think up some unique torture for whatever poor, multi-legged creature we might find. Torturing ants was easy. The desert sun focused through a magnifying glass onto the entrance of an anthill would invariably result in a lot of dead ants. But scorpions and tarantulas created a whole new set of problems for us. These creatures required special care to torture, because they would have their own forms of torture for us if we allowed it to happen.
Scorpions required a stick to the back, which would anger them and get their stinger tails twitching. We would laugh as the tail would twitch this way and that, trying to sting the stick that was pinning it to the ground. Of course, this would only result in several stings to its own body.
Tarantulas required a mayonnaise jar. Each tarantula would have a jar placed over it, and it would be left to bake in the sun until later in the afternoon, when we would come back to our jars and see what happened with the tarantulas. Sometimes we would see it huddled into a little, black furry ball, dead. Other times we would find the jar turned over and the tarantula gone. But mostly, we would return to find the tarantula just waiting for the jar to be lifted. We would use a long stick to knock over the jar, trying to be as far away from the tarantula as possible. Who knew what a pissed off spider as big as our hands would do once it was released, and none of us were willing to get close enough to find out.
But on this particular day, it wasn’t some poor creature we found hidden in that pile of rocks. It wasn’t an animal at all.
It was something that would change my life far more than I would ever have expected at the time, and far more than I would ever admit for more than two decades. What we found that day was my death sentence.
Five magazines, sitting in a stack, haphazardly hidden within a pile of rocks, out in the middle of the desert, just waiting to be discovered by four very young boys with nothing better to do than get sunburned on a typical Arizona summer day.
But these magazines were unlike anything I had ever seen before.
The covers alone told me that I was too young to look at what was inside, but I was with my friends and we were all wanting to know if what was between the covers was anything like we saw on the outside. Opening those covers, we found ourselves overjoyed to learn that the covers were nothing at all like what was actually shown inside.
Within these pages, my friends and I learned what sex really was, and how some men and women preferred to have it. We saw things in those magazines that would have made Larry Flynt blush from embarrassment.
Then came that one picture. The one picture that would turn my world upside down, which is so ingrained in my memory that even now, more than four decades later, I can still see every single detail.
The man and woman were both completely naked: Him standing and her kneeling in front of him, just touching the tip of his penis to her tongue, the base of the shaft and testicles cradled in her hand, between her thumb and forefinger.
This picture caused the most discussion between the four of us, wondering if we would ever get to be as big as he was between our own legs and if a woman would ever do something like that to us, especially a woman as exquisitely pretty as she was.
Then, one simple question was spoken by Greg. Five simple words that were strung together in the mind and mouth of the youngest of our group. Five words that I should never have heard, for they would shake the very foundation of the structural construct that was me. And with those five words, my death sentence was spoken aloud: “I wish I were him.”
My other friends agreed with Greg. They wanted to be like this man as well, with the muscular body, the huge erection, the mustache and carefully styled hair. And once the others had agreed with Greg, they all looked at me for my conformity to their ideas, their dreams, their wishes.
Looking at their faces, it seemed as if time came to a stop.
The sight of that picture and the hearing of those words had triggered something deep within me, had brought to my mind a single thought that seemed odd, alien, terrifying… and yet, somehow perfect for me. And when Greg wished that he was that man in the picture, and my friends agreed, I knew that I was not like my friends. I didn’t think the same way they did.
I didn’t wish to be him, to look like him, or be like him when I got older. I wished I were her.
Not that I wanted to be a woman, but wanted to be her in the sense that I wanted to do to that man what the woman was doing in that picture, and those that followed.
The floodgates opened; questions poured through my mind like a torrent of newly released water over a dam. What did it mean? Why did I not want to be him, like my friends? What was it that made me different from them? Why wasn’t I “normal” like them? How could this be possible? Didn’t the four of us all like the same things? Didn’t we all hate the same things? Except for our ages, weren’t we all alike?
Here we were, in the middle of the desert, looking at magazines full of naked people having sex in a way that most people might consider to be “normal” and I was thinking of something different, something strange, something… abnormal.
What was wrong with me? Why didn’t I think the same things my friends were thinking? And what was this feeling in my gut, this strange sensation that was taking over? Why did I suddenly feel sick to my stomach? Was it the heat, the sun, the stench of the used motor oil carried on the breeze from the armaments dump, invading our nostrils much like the soldiers living on the base would invade an enemy camp?
I remember thinking there must be something wrong with me, and I instinctively knew that if I revealed my difference, there would be some sort of problem between me and my friends. It’s always that way in the world of kids. We shun what is different, and it doesn’t matter who the person is, or what the difference may be. If there was something different about you, you weren’t allowed in the group.
If my friends found out I was somehow different from them, they wouldn’t be my friends any longer, and they were the only three boys I was allowed to hang out with because my father was still just a lance corporal, not a sergeant. I couldn’t live in this new place without having other kids to hang out with, to play with. Sure there were those two girls, but they were GIRLS! I was eight-years-old, and like every other eight-year-old boy I would rather die than play with girls! YUCK!
But my mind took over, and time started to move again at its normal pace and I did the only thing I felt I could do: I lied. I told my friends that I wanted to be just like the man in the picture, and let a woman do that to me, just like they did.
We continued looking at the magazines, but the more I looked, the more I started to feel like something was physically wrong with me, like whatever that strange feeling in my gut was, it was going to make me throw up everything I had eaten during that day. But even this physical illness, which I was starting to feel get stronger by the minute, could not render impotent the mental anguish I was feeling. It was going to take much more to get that anguish out of my thoughts.
I told my friends I was sick and going home, and ran back to my house. I then ran to my room, climbed into bed, and just laid there, thinking about that picture, worrying about how different I was from my friends.
By the time I left my room again, it was evening. I vowed that no one would ever know about what I was truly thinking or feeling about that picture. No one would ever know that I wasn’t “normal”, that I was somehow different from everyone else. I tried my hardest to put all of those feelings of difference and strangeness in some small, dark recess of my mind, never to see the light of day again.
But thoughts like that, hidden away in the dark, have a way of festering and gnawing away at a person. And eventually the thought comes back, and it comes back with a vengeance.
It would be 20 years later that my thoughts would fester to a point that I could no longer handle, could no longer shove back into the dark recesses of my brain, and I found myself having to make a choice: face the truth of that thought from two decades earlier and face the truth of myself, or face the death sentence that was pronounced on me all those years ago.
So I made my choice.
My death sentence would be carried out, and my execution would not get a last minute reprieve from the Governor.
Part 2 – One early summer morning
For two decades, the events of that summer day in Arizona would haunt me. I would sometimes wake in a cold sweat at night, the memory of that day invading my dreams and making them nightmares. At times when I would be able to sit back and chill out, I would suddenly find that picture and that day at the front of my mind, ruining whatever relaxation I had hoped to achieve.
Two events happened that led me down a path I had hoped, wished, and prayed I would never have to travel, but travel it I did.
At 28, I found myself back in Arizona helping my father and step-mother move into my older step-brothers home. It was during this two-month trip/vacation that I met my step-brothers wife for the very first time. We found ourselves alone in the house every day because she worked evenings, and she became the first person to ask me the dreaded question, Are you gay?
She did this just a few days before I was supposed to leave Arizona to return to New York. I, of course, denied it. There was no way I was ever going to admit to the “flaw” I had been hiding for the last 20 years. I could never tell her, because doing so would mean my death, and she might let it slip out to her husband, my step-brother. And if he knew, he would make sure everyone in the family would know.
And I couldn’t, I wouldn’t, let that happen!
The next event was even more personal, and would not only bring that putrid truth of my death sentence to the surface again, but, at the same time, would shatter my beliefs in the Baptist religion I had grown up with, a religion my family still practiced.
It was the Sunday after I returned to New York. My pastor asked me to stick around after the services that Sunday because he wanted to talk with me regarding a question I had posed to him. So I stayed on the couch that I had been sitting on in class as he said his goodbyes to the others in our group. He then sat next to me, put his hand on my leg, and suggested that we go back to his place to discuss the questions I was having. But it was when he leaned in closer and squeezed my leg and suggested that a few glasses of wine might be in order as well that I knew he had more on his mind than whether or not human beings were supposed to be vegetarians.
I declined his offer, telling him I didn’t drink, and I had other plans for the afternoon. I then said that if he didn’t have time to discuss my question now, we could discuss them at a later time. I was lying to my own pastor, making excuses because that is what I had been doing for 20 years, to myself and everyone else I knew.
I left him on the couch in the room and went home.
The next Sunday, the sermon was about the sin of homosexuality. It wasn’t the sermon itself that upset me that morning. I had been telling myself it was a sin for 20 years. Hearing it from someone else didn’t bother me.
What bothered me was the way he kept staring at me during his sermon. If he wasn’t looking down at his notes, he was staring directly at me. Others in the room started to notice how he was acting as well, and started to look over at me with questioning glances.
Finally, I had had enough. I stood up in the middle of his sermon, glared at him for a few seconds, and said “You fucking asshole” loud enough for those around me to hear. I stormed out. I never returned to that church, and I ignored all calls from anyone associated with the church.
It was those two events that would lead to my death just two short weeks later.
I was living with my sister at the time, and had been given a computer by my father. I had dial-up internet access, and found that there were many places on the internet to get information on an unlimited amount of topics.
And there was something else the internet had: chat rooms.
I would find myself in chat rooms talking to other people about anything and everything. Nothing seemed to be taboo in a chat room.
I was so upset and angry by what the pastor had done during his sermon that when I got home I logged onto the chat rooms and started to vent. I was disparaging homosexuality and religion, and was pissed that my own pastor, after making what appeared to be a pass at me the Sunday before, had accused me of being one of “them” in his sermon. I was calling him a hypocrite, and calling “them” useless.
One person who I spoke with regularly in the chat rooms suggested that I try going to one of the gay chat rooms and get to know some of the individuals there. He suggested that by talking with them, maybe they could change my mind about how awful and sinful being gay was. I laughed it off, telling him there was no way in hell I was going to chat with a bunch of faggots.
One night, it seemed like I couldn’t get into the regular chat rooms I frequented because they were maxed out on users. I was about to give up and find someplace else on the web to go. Then I remembered what my friend had said about the gay chat rooms, and I figured that maybe it wouldn’t hurt me to just see what they had to say. It was here that I started to talk with other men, and where I learned that it was okay to actually be gay. It was how you handled it and how other people perceived it that was the problem.
And that’s when that putrid, steaming pile of stench I had been trying to hide for two decades came right up front in my mind and sat there, just daring me to recognize it and accept it as part of myself.
But it wasn’t as simple as just saying “I’m gay.” I could finally admit it to myself, but there was no way that I could ever tell my father or sister. Both of them had made it clear in their own way what they thought of gay people. For my father they were “useless cocksuckers breathing air that only real men should be breathing” while my sister, who worked with a few gay men, couldn’t stand “those limp-wristed fudge-packers” where she worked. Both had even gone so far as to say AIDS needed to be specifically given to gay men so that the world would be rid of them.
How was I to now tell them that I was one of “those people” that they hated so much?
It was then that I decided that there was a solution. They were never going to find out, and that death sentence that had been pronounced upon me twenty years earlier was going to happen.
I got onto the computer, and for three days I researched drugs a person could buy in any pharmacy. I discovered that there is a mix of drugs, readily available that, when combined in the human body, will actually kill a person. (Please read note at the end of this story.)
I finished my research at around 11:30 PM on a hot, humid August night in New York, the type of night that makes it difficult to breathe and keeps you awake in your own sweat, praying for sleep or, in my case, death.
It was about 3:30 in the morning, and I had been laying in bed thinking about that mix of drugs, and decided it was now or never. I got into my car and drove to Wal-Mart. Grabbing a basket, I immediately went to the pharmacy section, and selected the deadly combination of pills and liquid that would give me the sleep I was missing that night, the sleep I was missing in my life, that eternal sleep that I was longing for, yearning for so achingly.
I had to work my way around pallets of merchandise that had been placed into the middle of the aisles so that the overnight employees could put the products into their proper places. I could hear the employees calling out to each other, yelling out any special instructions regarding placement of certain products.
The only instructions I remember hearing was someone yelling to make sure that the Playtex Tampons were placed onto an end-cap, because they were going on sale the next day. Why that particular yell has stuck with me, I do not know. But that was one of the instructions yelled out as I headed to my destination.
It only took a minute or two in the pharmacy section to gather my deadly cocktail into the basket, and make my way toward the one open cash register, where I placed the basket onto the belt and waited for the lone elderly cashier to ring up my death.
The first package beeped through the scanner, then the second package beeped through, then the third. But then something happened. The elderly woman behind the register stopped scanning the items I was buying, looked at what was in the basket and then looked up at me.
“Whatever it is,” she said quietly, “it’s not worth all of this.”
Those words pierced into me like a well-targeted arrow, penetrating me right through the heart and burying itself up to the quills into my very soul. I couldn’t stop the tears that suddenly welled up in my eyes, and I couldn’t stop myself from suddenly running away from her, out the doors and into my car.
I went home, climbed into my bed, and cried until the sun rose later that morning. And through all of the tears my mind kept going over what had happened and what I had been planning to do. And as that golden orb of fire rose in the sky, the person I was had died.
When I climbed out of my death bed, I had only one thing on my mind: I didn’t give a fuck what my family thought of me. It no longer mattered. They could hate me all they wanted, but I was no longer going to hide. I was no longer going to cower at the truth of who I was just because someone else didn’t like it.
The rest of the world could go to hell for all I cared, but I was going to be the true me, the person I was meant to be, not the coward that was going to bend to their will any longer.
Many people think suicide is a physical termination of a person’s life. The truth is, there are other forms of suicide. I did commit suicide that night, but my suicide was the execution of the emotional and psychological baggage that I had been carrying with me for two decades, the thoughts and fears that made me less of a human being, less of a man, than I had the right to be.
My death sentence, my execution, my suicide, ended up being my salvation.
Note: While I still have the recipe for that deadly cocktail of drugs locked in my mind, I have never, nor will I ever, divulge that information to anyone for any reason. If someone gets into a mental state that they feel they need that cocktail, they can take the time to do the research. I can only hope that they, too, find an elderly old lady to tell them it’s not worth it.
Any names in this story are fake, to protect those boys I was with on that day. I never kept track of what happened to them after my family moved away, and I have no idea where they may be now. I can only hope that they grew up to be the men they longed to be that morning.