When I was around 10 years old, I tried to kill myself with all the compounds marked poisonous in the chemistry set that I owned. I mixed the chemicals in a glass of water, drank the whole thing, and waited for the solution to take effect. Of course, nothing happened. Not even a bum stomach. Apparently the makers of these toy chemistry sets did know a thing or two about avoiding any kind of product liability lawsuit, and I survived.
I can no longer recall the sequence of events but I remember that either before or after drinking the theoretically lethal concoction, I walked to church to pray and cry. I was after all a good Catholic kid, an honor student at Don Bosco, and was even president of at least one of two regular sets of altar boys known as the Knights of the Altar that assisted in the Mass every Tuesdays and Thursday. The other group was called the Seraphims. Mine was called Randy’s Angels. (This was at the peak of the popularity of Farrah Fawcett-Majors.) And from that alone the priests should have probably already concluded that I was gay.
And maybe one of them did. Even though I knew I liked the Hardy Boys more than Nancy Drew, and Donnie more than Marie Osmond, it never went beyond innocent childhood crushes, and definitely meant nothing sexual, at least not until I got to high-school. But I will never forget this one Salesian brother who admonished me for always going around school with my arm around the shoulder of my best friend in Grade 5. He said I should avoid it because it was the work of the devil and that was when he whispered unholy thoughts in your ear. Of course, now I know how ridiculous this all sounds but back then his words made me feel awful and ashamed.
Were those words alone enough to make me want to kill myself? Probably not. But it did crystallize what I was beginning to know— that I was different from what was considered normal, and this difference condemned me to an ostracized life and damned me to hell. While I’m almost certain that at that age I would not have articulated it that way, it was definitely what I felt. There was no one to share those fears with, most especially not my parents, my religious mother or my strict military father who I probably feared more than God. How a 10-year-old can even ponder the future I cannot explain, but I must have been in a really dark place to somehow conclude that life was not worth living.
But I did live. And while I somehow survived my brief fling with mortality, I fortunately or unfortunately did not make any deals with God that would have shown me the way if I survived. It would have been easier had I made a side bet, like if I survive I would join the priesthood or turn my back on being gay. (And oh what a disaster that would have been.) Instead I ended up a bit jaded about life and how random it can be.
For many years after, I lived life with an almost reckless abandon, perhaps subconsciously taunting death. I smoked a pack a day. I didn’t think twice driving home under the influence, sometimes waking up in bed wondering how I managed to get my car to Basement 4 of my condo, if I brought it home at all. I did not fear dark alleys in search of fun and adventure and I was not always safe. I even had an ex in a dysfunctional relationship who pulled a knife on me when I was breaking up with him, and I recall I just sat frozen and closed my eyes, waiting for the inevitable when he thankfully pulled back and probably decided it was not worth it.
And yet somehow here I am, still around at 55, still alive to tell my story, when it could have gone so wrong in so many ways I cannot even begin to imagine. I know the world is not perfect and there are many things we still have to work on, but I cannot be more glad to see all the changes that have happened in the world since I was a child of 10 when someone like me doing what I do now would have been unimaginable.
I am an out and proud gay man working in one of the country’s top firms providing an essential service to our people. I quit smoking in 2002. I no longer drive if I’ve had more than three bottles of beer. I’m with the love of my life and my mother likes him. I do not know what the future will bring but I want to live and I’m grateful to be alive. ❤