Day­dreams In Me­mo­riam

Hello Mr. Magazine - - CONTENTS - Shawn Bin­der

I.

On Jan­uary 6th, 2001, the lo­cal news re­ported that a man dressed in a sweat­shirt, blue jeans, and run­ning shoes had been found ly­ing face up on the pave­ment, his arms out­stretched, a small spot of blood stain­ing the ground un­der him. The man was dis­cov­ered on the Her­itage Trail, a 30-mile stretch of as­phalt where run­ners jogged in the brisk win­ter weather, and where sad boys went to kill them­selves.

I was eleven at the time, eat­ing my Fruit Loops be­fore school as the re­port played on the kitchen tele­vi­sion. The po­lice claimed they were treat­ing it as a homi­cide, although sui­cide had not been ruled out. The word “sui­cide” rang in my ears like other dirty words you knew at that age but didn’t truly un­der­stand.

The bridge where the man jumped was a mile away from my mid­dle school, and a week later I de­cided to crunch through the snow to see where it had hap­pened. The bridge tow­er­ing above me cast a dark shadow in the late af­ter­noon, as the frost cov­ered shrub­bery of the woods spilt onto the path from ei­ther side. The bridge, some fifty feet in the air, was used by the towns­peo­ple to cross over on their way back from their of­fice jobs in NYC. I looked up to the spot I imag­ined he had jumped from and thought to my­self, “This is not a sure-fire way to die.”

I scanned the ground, par­tially ex­pect­ing to find a large bloodstain where he had landed, but all I saw was bro­ken shards of beer bot­tles strewn around. I put my hand to the cold as­phalt and traced where I guessed he would have landed, ly­ing on the ground for hours; bro­ken, but not yet dead. Wait­ing for the hour when his mis­sion would be ac­com­plished. At the base of the bridge there was a pink scrunchie that caught my eye. It was prob­a­bly left by one of the teenage girls who fre­quented this very spot: The older kids would sneak out of their win­dows to come here, to meet and drink and smoke and fuck. The ground I was ex­am­in­ing was sa­cred. It was where first kisses and bong hits and fin­ger­ings had taken place. The se­crets of ado­les­cent frivolity hid­den in the woods, drowned out by the dense, swing­ing branches.

I won­dered if he had screamed when he landed and his legs shat­tered, or if he had waited pa­tiently and silently for his mo­ment to come. I be­gan to cir­cle the spot, semi trucks blaz­ing over the bridge and drown­ing out my thoughts. Even if he had tried to change his mind, no one would have heard him. The coro­ner’s re­port would later re­veal that he was not on drugs and that no al­co­hol was in his sys­tem. He was sim­ply there one day, and then he was not.

I won­dered what it would mean for him to be so sad that he thought the only way out of a town known as the birth­place of Philadel­phia cream cheese was to jump off a bridge. I won­dered about the teenagers who fucked and sucked and pissed at this very spot through­out the school nights and week­ends. I won­dered if he had been in­vited to th­ese care­free cel­e­bra­tions of youth if he would have jumped at all. When we’re young we feel like noth­ing can harm us. That ev­ery pill and bong rip we do will still amount to a killer job with an in­cred­i­ble life. But what about the boys and girls who do the same pills and the same bong rips,

and all they want it to add up to is numb­ness; a numb­ness so in­fi­nite that they never have to fake a smile again?

I walked the three miles home from the bridge think­ing about sui­cide. It mys­ti­fied me and I be­came drawn to it. It be­came an ob­ses­sion of mine for the next decade.

II.

My fam­ily used to take a trip to Long Beach Is­land to stay with my aunt for two weeks at the end of ev­ery sum­mer. We would pack up the white mini­van with so­das, steaks, and sun­block, and make our pil­grim­age. The sum­mer of 2003 was dif­fer­ent though. Although it still con­tained the spo­radic bursts of joy like eat­ing cherry Ital­ian ices that stained our hands and bel­lies as we sat un­der um­brel­las, and set­ting crab traps in the la­goon be­hind the house, the trip had an air of mys­tery about it. Four days into our trip my aunt an­nounced that her neigh­bor had hung her­self in the shower. She in­formed us that although it had hap­pened months ago, the woman’s chil­dren could no longer af­ford to keep up with the mort­gage on the house and were plan­ning to sell most of her pos­ses­sions in a macabre fore­clo­sure sale. I walked the half-mile down to the dead woman’s house and watched as flies and other in­sects scut­tled out from the over­grown grass while I walked through the front gate. The house had a smell of lint and moth­balls, and inside were ta­bles cov­ered with doilies and small tea cups. I wanted to pre­tend I had to use the bath­room just for the chance of see­ing where the woman spent her last mo­ments gasp­ing for breath. In­stead, I pur­chased a tat­tered copy of The Lit­tle Prince I had found on a ta­ble for three dol­lars, and promptly left.

III.

As a child, I would of­ten get lost in day­dreams of what my fu­neral would be like. Some chil­dren fan­ta­size about be­ing pres­i­dent, or an ac­tion film star, or a astro­naut; all I could think of is how I would never amount to that much rev­er­ence in life. In­stead, I would lose my­self in thoughts of how much peo­ple would miss me when I was gone. I imag­ined peo­ple would never be the same once I was gone, how they would re­gret ever telling me to go to my room or brush my teeth or ground me. I would be for­ever im­mor­tal­ized as the boy who per­formed as The Tin Man in the school’s mu­si­cal and ate mi­crowaved pop­corn un­der his fifth-grade teacher’s desk. My par­ents would weep in the pour­ing rain as they po­si­tioned red roses on the mau­soleum they would un­doubt­edly have erected in my honor. I imag­ined my mother scream­ing to the heavens, “If only we had let him chore­o­graph dances to the en­tire Spice Girls CD like he wanted!”

I think a lot of th­ese mor­bid thoughts came from the fact that I knew I would never be the type of son that they had wanted. I knew, even from early on, that some­thing was dif­fer­ent about me. I never took an in­ter­est in sports or fast cars, and my palms grew sweaty ev­ery time I talked to my class­mate An­thony be­fore sci­ence class. I never thought about my­self end­ing up with a wife and kids. I just imag­ined my par­ents throw­ing them­selves on my cas­ket as it de­scended into the ground, ab­solv­ing me of all the things I knew I would never be for them.

IV.

“Did you re­ally want to die?” “No one com­mits sui­cide be­cause they want

to die.” “Then why do they do it?” “Be­cause they want to stop the pain.”

– Tif­fanie DeBar­tolo

V.

Tyler Cle­menti was 18 years old when he took his own life. He was a Rut­gers Univer­sity stu­dent in Piscataway, New Jersey when he threw him­self off the George Wash­ing­ton Bridge. Tyler’s room­mate, Dharun Ravi, and fel­low hall­mate Molly Wei, had set up a we­b­cam with­out Cle­menti’s knowl­edge and filmed his sex­ual en­counter with another man. As it was hap­pen­ing, Ravi pro­ceeded to tweet a play-by-play to his 150 fol­low­ers, out­ing Cle­menti in the process.

With­out a word to any­one about his feel­ings on the mat­ter, Cle­menti drove an hour to the GW Bridge and placed his wal­let and cell­phone on the ground be­fore leap­ing to his death. There is some­thing haunt­ing about the fact that Cle­menti thought it was per­ti­nent to post on Face­book about 10 min­utes be­fore he died, “Jumping off the gw bridge sorry.” A fi­nal farewell etched onto the In­ter­net, the very medium where his se­crets were ex­posed.

Around the time this news reached my ears, I had stream­lined my ob­ses­sion for sui­cide facts and turned them into plans. I be­gan to write prac­tice sui­cide notes in the spa­ces be­tween my study notes for In­tro­duc­tion to World Re­li­gion; I be­gan re­search­ing how long a per­son needs to hang be­fore the lack of oxy­gen kills their brain.

Friends wor­ried about me as I be­gan to eat less and re­treat into my own lit­tle world, sit­ting on the couch watch­ing end­less episodes of generic TV dra­mas. As time went on, I be­gan to fa­nat­i­cally search the web for ad­vice on how to come out, and ad­vice other gay men strug­gling with de­pres­sion had for sui­ci­dal youth. My life had be­come a terrifying bi­nary: what life would be like once I outed my­self, and what life would be­come when I ceased to live it.

VI.

Sev­en­teen-year-old Car­los Vigil took his own life in New Mex­ico after years of bul­ly­ing. He posted to his Twit­ter time­line right be­fore he ended his own suf­fer­ing: “I’m sorry to those I of­fended over the years. I’m blind to see that I, as a hu­man be­ing, suck. I’m an in­di­vid­ual who is do­ing an in­jus­tice to the world and it’s time for me to leave.”

When I read the news re­ports I was 21 and had fi­nally come out. I had just bro­ken up with my boyfriend of two years and moved to NYC in the hope of find­ing some­thing that made me feel less hol­low. As I rode the sub­way to work I thought about the peo­ple pressed against me so close that I could smell the veg­etable cream cheese bagel some­one had for break­fast. I thought about what it means to want to be seen and heard as more than just a hu­man. I re­mem­bered the sear­ing shame of want­ing to be any­one but my­self, and how close I had come that night that I pur­chased a bot­tle of wine and a bot­tle of pills, want­ing to stop it all for a mo­ment of clar­ity. Later on the same night I would flush both the al­co­hol and pills down the toi­let, sleep­ing naked on my bath­room floor, shiv­er­ing and shak­ing through­out the night, and not be­cause of the cold of the linoleum floor.

VII.

I used to stare up at my ceil­ing at night and think of naked women. I con­sid­ered it my own gay-lit­mus test and was de­ter­mined to make my­self pass for straight. I would imag­ine bare breasts and pray that I would get hard be­neath my jersey-knit sheets. I never did, and in turn would pray for God to take away the at­trac­tion I had to abs and beards. I would fight my­self as I thought of chang­ing in the locker rooms at school, and found my­self get­ting ex­cited. The only time I felt grate­ful was when I thought how lucky I was that peo­ple weren’t able to see the sex­ual thoughts rac­ing through my mind. I would con­tinue test­ing my­self for hours un­til I could barely keep my eyes open.

Turn­ing on my lamp, shame bub­bling up in my throat like bile, I would turn over on my stom­ach and take out the worn copy of The Lit­tle Prince I had got­ten from the es­tate sale years ago. Touch­ing each and ev­ery page, look­ing at all the pic­tures, I would try and imag­ine how she felt when she read the same book I held in my hands. I would won­der if some­where in the pages there was some­thing that stopped her from end­ing her­self sooner; a phrase that had pushed back her eter­nal si­lence, even if only for a few more months. The book is about a prince who lived on a small as­ter­oid and crashes to earth, and now has to grap­ple with the harsh re­al­i­ties of the adult world. The prince doesn’t un­der­stand the cru­el­ties of what he is wit­ness­ing but tries desperately to make sense of them all. The first time I read the book, a cer­tain quote stuck with me. I wrote it on a note­card and kept it un­der my pil­low to look at when­ever I would have nightmares about be­ing outed. I pulled it out when­ever I read about another gay teen tak­ing his own life. Even­tu­ally, I would write this very quote in the mar­gins of the same notes I had once prac­ticed say­ing my good­byes in: “You be­come re­spon­si­ble, for­ever, for what you have tamed.”

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