Brushes With Death To Taking First Breaths: My Final Tale Of Growing Up Gay
It’s 2:05 in the morning and I can’t sleep. It’s been a long day like any other Monday but I’ve been feeling off. Completely tense, short tempered and just all around moody. So I wanted to catch up on current events and decided to read some of the latest LGBT news to see if there was anything I missed. Then I came across the story of Bailey O’Neill, the 12 year old boy that died this weekend after being beaten into a coma by some schoolyard bullies and the story of Marco McMillian, the openly gay mayoral candidate beaten to death in Mississippi.
My heart sank for them and their families and it made all the feelings of this day feel even worse because of the emotional quicksand I felt I’d been in the entire day. And then I remembered that it’s the first Monday in March, and all these memories came flooding back on why this particular Monday is so important to me. In 2005 on the first Monday in March was the day I almost died and the day I finally came completely out of the closet. So I decided to finally follow up with the first two in this series by adding the last part of the growing up gay stories with the one that was the most defining moment in my life.
This all took place it was my first year off campus and it was a rough emotional one for me. It wasn’t the course load or tensions with the professors. It was because I had been deeply affected by the events of last year on campus. I was full of brooding and angst because I wasn’t out yet and so many times I had come close. Even though the most important people in my life, my parents, knew that I was gay I still felt the entire time that I was not living authentically. And with as much as a Resident Adviser and a friend that I always advocated for others to live in this example, I felt like a hypocrite because I was not doing the same.
My friendships with some became strained and I was steadily distancing myself from everyone. Maybe I did that on some conscious level to prepare myself for any potential fallout from anyone, though I felt like many silently knew. The year progressed and I became somewhat stabilized until Valentine’s Day, when I lost an old friend of mine. Her death devastated me and I was completely heartbroken and an emotional wreck because I felt that I should’ve been able to prevent it somehow. I went through the remainder of my last year on campus in a fog of disbelief instead of savoring the last few months until “real” adulthood.
I carried some of the numbness and pain of that year onto my first year off campus but with all of that my not formally being out was the biggest thing on my mind. It had all but consumed me to the point that I welcomed any distractions that did not pertain to my dilemma. I was angry and sad all the time because I keep stalling this all out. It didn’t help matters because I felt that things had not been resolved with the man I had been seeing off and on since my freshman year of college. He had moved away and I missed him terribly but we still were in touch. But that only seemed to make the pain of us not being together even greater, And when he came to visit I was speechless that he had already came out since his graduation.
He questioned me on why I hadn’t done so, and as the nature of our relationship I still wouldn’t confirm it. So all his questions were met with a longing stare as a few tears strewn down my face. Again I tried to reconcile why I couldn’t do it. Maybe it was because I felt I had to embrace my race because of the covert, institutionalized racism that exists in the south. I feared that being of both two minority groups (African American and gay) would result in me being bombarded with acts of hate and judgment. That no matter who much I tried to show how I was so many other things than my race and my sexuality, it wouldn’t be enough.
Instead of not giving a damn what everyone else thought I felt that I had to sacrifice and suppress one aspect of myself in order to be seen as a real person beyond stereotypes and labels. The dichotomy would be something I would treasure later for the unique perspective it gives me but back then I still felt it wasn’t enough. At least that was the excuse I was using. So I thought if I waited until I was in a more diverse place after school would be better. But I wasn’t lying about it anymore by pretending to be attracted to women and become a pro at playing the pronoun game. So I was taking my time and doing it my way, as usual. But I didn’t have much time left as my health started to decline. I’d only eat a portion of what I used to and I kept losing weight.
And then I got the flu or what I thought was the flu. I couldn’t keep anything down. I lay in bed for nearly two weeks thinking I had the same bug going around. But eventually it started to hurt, a lot. the pain was dull at first, then cramping, then sharp agonizing pain. So my roommate took me to the hospital and after a two hour wait they gave me some Milk of Magnesia and sent us on our way. I cried for most of the night because this was by far one of the most painful things I had ever felt. I think I somehow drifted off to sleep from the sheer exhaustion of this ordeal. It was early that morning that I woke up and the pain was prolific. I could barely breathe and my stomach was protruding so far it looked as if I were in my third trimester of pregnancy. I ran to roommate’s room and as soon as he saw my stomach he grabbed his keys not needing anymore explanation.
We arrived at the hospital and they went to examine me. My blood pressure was dropping so they rushed me to another examination room that had an x-ray so that they could see what was going on. I remember looking at the clock as it said 915. They took me back to the previous room and I kept hearing doctors being paged. They brought in more fluids and a bag of blood because apparently I was too low. More nurses rushed in and I noticed there was a group of doctors all talking to my doctor. Then he came in and told me I had to have surgery immediately. I asked why and he said my organs were shutting down and handed me a phone to call my parents. I asked why again and he said “just in case” and darted out to prep for surgery.
I couldn’t focus and was too afraid to dial the phone so my roommate did. He tried to explain but my mom insisted that she talk to me. I tried masking my voice so she wouldn’t think I was scared, but mothers always know better. She told me to stay strong and that she loved me and it took everything I had not to lose it. Seconds later they said it was time to go and the machines were making more noises but when the nurse said that I couldn’t hear anything else. it was 922. This was serious. As they were wheeling me down for this surgery I stared up at the fluorescent lights and thought about how much I loathed them. time slowed and all of these never-ending questions about being gay popped into my head.
Why was this haippening. Why didn’t I pay attention to all this. What if I don’t make it. What if I die right here. What if I never see him again to tell him I love him and always will. What about my mom. What if..this is punishment…if it is then why did God make me this way. Why didn’t I live my life the way I wanted to. What if people never knew the real me. Why didn’t I tell everyone who didn’t already know I was gay. Why did I wait so long..Why
Then the next thing I knew I was waking up. I looked around and wondered if the surgery had taken place and then I wondered if I was having some out of body experience and then I let myself wonder if I was dead. and I freaked out. I started pulling at the sheets and screaming out of being so scared and disoriented. The machines were violently screaming as loud as I was and the nurses appeared from nowhere with several needles and within seconds I was out; I woke up looking at florescent lights as I was being wheeled down the hall. I started thinking I was dreaming again and everything that just happened was some drug hallucination and I was crying again and calling out for my mom and we turned the corner and she was there with my dad and my roommate.
I have never cried so hard in my life seeing her blue green eyes look at me, telling me that it was okay and to calm down. All it did was make me cry harder. They wheeled me to my room and hooked up more machines and gave me more drugs to calm me down because I was aching all over. The doctor came in to tell that my appendix had ruptured and because it become septic my organs began to fail but I didn’t care about what he was saying. The fact that I was alive and with the people that loved me most was all that mattered. I didn’t care how close I came to death because I was alive.
After some time had passed I grabbed my mom’s hands and told her that I was going to be open to everyone else about being gay and she was of course fine with it. I told myself that if I pulled through this I was going to completely be who I was. And if. When people asked I would tell them. I asked my roommate to give me my phone and while he and my parents went to go get coffee I checked my voicemail out of habit and found out about another friend that had killed himself because he was gay. we were the same age and both of us had to face the darkest parts of humanity. But he was gone.
For a moment I felt so guilty because moments ago I was so elated about being alive in that moment. I sat there and let a few tears fall before collecting myself and scrolled down to the man that I had been unable to confess the truth to several months ago. Since death had been trying to say something to me twice in one day I finally decided to listen. It gave me the courage to be open publicly about who I have always been. Gay. And I have never felt so free in my life. I called the man I had loved all of my adult life at 1137pm on that first Monday in March and told him that I had almost died that day, that I was gay, and that I loved him.
Even with how hard it is to write all this down and share my most personal story it’s even harder for me to think of people suffering and feeling that they don’t belong in this world because of who they are. That maybe if I share my story, all of my story, it will encourage others to do the same so that people that are gay will avoid the missteps that I took and never have to endure what I went through. That they read stories like this and it makes them think of the kids that have it even worse than I did. That it may speak to those that felt like they have no support and are relentlessly bullied. So maybe those that feel insecure about who they are don’t feel the need to torture other kids for something they hate about themselves that they shouldn’t hate.
So maybe give that one kid perspective that even when you literally have no reason to believe that it will get better that if you hold on, that it does get better. You see today could have also been a very sad day for my parents. Instead of them talking to me on the phone they could’ve been laying some anniversary flowers at a gravesite and that makes me think of all the parents like those of Bailey, Tyler Clementi, Matthew Sheppard, and so many others that do or will now have these sad heartbreaking anniversaries. I don’t want us to lose another human being this way.
I do not want another soul to feel fear that they cannot embrace and love who they are. And if sharing our lives can get one person that is going through this to think then they will have served their purpose. The only way we can change the world is when we are willing to look at our own lives and question what we could be doing differently. And I am grateful that I was able to have the opportunity to tell others to ask themselves to realize that we do not have forever to be who we are today. And how much strength and love is waiting for you when you are ready to embrace who you are.