“Did you hear about Andy?” Anisha asked me, leaning close to my ear so I could hear her above the throbbing bass coming from the speakers. Her vinyl dress squeaked against my vinyl pants. Her eye make-up was welded on, her hair crimped like Cleopatra’s. Her breath was alcohol and cigarettes. I felt it on my cheek as she whispered in my ear, “Andy killed himself in my bathroom last week.”
She started sobbing then, uncontrollably, as two of her friends pulled her away and walked with her outside the dance club. I stood on the dance floor beneath the strobing lights and watched her disappear. Other students continued dancing, oblivious.
Walking to my car later, a frat guy catcalled, “Hey space girl, nice pants!”
I drove home to the duplex I shared with college roommates, parked, and curled up in a fetal position. I felt like I should cry, or feel…something, but all I felt was numb. The whole world had lost it’s color, and my car, my apartment, the trees, the people around me were all the same dull gray as suppressed tears.
It was only later, when Anisha finally started attending class again, that I learned some of the details. My image of Andy was impossible to reconcile with the reality of his death. He was a year younger than me. Cute. Every time I’d seen him, at parties, dancing, or at the coffeehouse that we both frequented, he was smiling and laughing. But I understood, better than some people, I imagine, how someone could seem happy, and still want to die.
Anisha knew him best. She told me that when his parents found out that he was gay, they’d disowned him. He’d been completely dependent on them, and they’d cut him off. He couldn’t afford tuition for the next semester. He couldn’t afford his apartment, or to even feed himself. He got laid off from his part time job at a nursery. He was failing his classes. His world was falling apart.
Anisha had taken him in, given him a place to stay, and fed him, and even though she assured him that he wasn’t a burden, he felt guilty for accepting her charity. I’ll never know what was going through his head the night he pulled the trigger. Why, as a college sophomore, he’d felt as if there was no hope that his life was going to improve. I can’t imagine how horrible it must have been for Anisha, who loved him, to have found him, a red, bloody mess on her pale, blue tiled floor. But I think I can relate to what must have been his mindset.
Not a day passed in my teen years that I didn’t think of killing myself.
My own parents had abandoned me when they found out I was gay, if not financially, emotionally. In the 90s I had no gay role models. No “It Gets Better Project” to tell me that things could change, or improve. I thought that being gay was being doomed to a life devoid of happiness. I’d never fall in love. I’d never marry. I’d never raise a family. I would exist in shadows with other deviants, living some half-life, cut short by disease at best, or endure a life of loneliness at worst. I could try and pretend to be straight, marry a woman and ruin someone else’s life too, or I could accept the fact that I would have to swim against the stream for the rest of my life. Either decision seemed unbearable and exhausting.
I don’t know what finally gave me the strength to keep going, or why Andy lost his. We were both lucky enough to have loving, supportive friends. I’d like to say it was courage that kept me alive, but I think in the end it was curiosity. I was just too interested in seeing how things would ultimately play out.
In 1996, the year Andy died, I was 20 years old, and I couldn’t possibly imagine the world I live in at the age of 36. Now there are major television shows with openly gay characters who love one another, are loved, who have families. In real life, there are happy, well adjusted gay people who live their lives, not in the shadows, but alongside everyone else, in the subway, the office, the grocery store. The fact that gay people can legally get married is something I didn’t think I’d even see during my lifetime.
Even I’ve changed. I live, openly gay, in the city of my dreams, with a (sometimes) sweet, handsome man at my side. The biggest surprise to me, after 16 years of life, and watching the world evolve around me, is to discover that I’m actually happy. I never thought that would be possible.
Sometimes I imagine what it would be like to travel back in time to talk to the teenage me. To tell myself that everything was going to be okay. I could have saved myself years of anguish and depression. (Although maybe I’d shield myself from the knowledge of my inevitable, premature baldness). Sometimes I wonder that if I talked to Andy, would it have made a difference? Would I have been able to convince him that life was actually worth living, that things would get better? It’s impossible to say. But I can’t help thinking about it sometimes, and wishing that the world had changed just a little bit sooner.