It was a balmy late spring day, houseflies buzzed around, courting sudden death by fly swatter and a pitcher of lemonade formed a ring on the tablecloth.
Adams State was well into summer session and most students had gone home for the summer. A good friend knocked on my door. Home, for him, was Alamosa. He had dropped by to talk.
A collegiate sophomore, he sat in a corner, head bowed, talking to whoever was there and no one in particular.
He had experienced prejudice first-hand, from the mouth of a campus bully.
“Why do they call me ‘gay’?” he sobbed. “I am not happy about this, and ‘gay’ is supposed to be a happy word.”
“(The bully) said I chose to be the way I am. Given all you know about me, do you think I would choose to be living a life of torment?”
I said I didn’t think so, but God has reasons for what He does.
My friend was smart, with a high IQ, but he could find no answers. Very religious, he had tried escaping into the huge, hollow, church sanctuary, but the walls echoed his words back to him. Prayer offered no answers, he said.
Bullies may think they’re funny, but their words can hurt to the bone. My friend was almost mortally wounded.
Suicide, he swore, was the only way out.
I told him it would be a waste to his family, to society and to me as his friend, not to mention a source of satisfaction for the bully.
My friend looked at me with reddened eyes sunk in swollen sockets
“Give me some of that lemonade. Got vodka? Pour some in.”
I said I didn’t think getting drunk would make things better.
As what they called a “non-traditional” student at Adams State, I knew pain. A single mom at that point in my life, I had decided drinking gave me two things: temporary solace and a morning hangover. A close female friend was in the same boat and we were paddling like crazy to find something solid for ourselves and our children.
He then asked if I had anything for a headache. I gave him two aspirins.
Usually, I am able to make someone laugh even when he or she doesn’t want to, but I was at a loss. His pain was my pain.
He said, “Okay. Got some grass?”
I went into a diatribe about the foolishness of escaping with substances.
I opened the door to my sons’ bedroom and told him to go lie down. The kids were away with friends.
He slept for a long time, so long that I went to see if he was breathing.
I cleaned my kitchen, then sat down to think.
Would society always be so unfair? Could my friend ever live as others did?
He woke up, gratefully accepted a cup of strong coffee, and went back home, where there was vodka.
My friend made it through college and I applauded as he accepted his hard-earned diploma, a tear escaping from my right eye as I remembered that afternoon when he shared his innermost pain and I couldn’t ease it.
He went on his way into the world, still seeking peace. He’s dead, now, a victim of a terrible illness that sucked the life out of him.
The last time we talked, he had a book in progress and asked if I would edit it. I said I would, gladly.
He looked terrible, with pale skin and unkempt hair. He shook as he grabbed my hand.
A month later, he was in hospice in a metro area. I was working, so I couldn’t visit.
I read his obituary in a metro daily. There would be no services.
That was more than a 15 years ago. I hope the word has reached him that society has changed, with same sex unions accepted in Colorado and the definition of hate crimes expanded to include gay people.
They are included, but still not safe from bullies, and no one is working on a solution to that.