Sue Stan walks back into her classroom, adding another worthless tally to the countless times she’s done it before. The students are gone for the day - no screeching sneakers will echo down the hallway until the morning. She’s dropping off lesson plans for the substitute, wanting to make sure her students are in good hands while she’s gone.
As she's preparing to leave, her eyes catch something unusual. A piece of paper is sticking out of the D.A.R.E. box. The D.A.R.E. program, Drug Abuse Resistance Education, is a staple for fifth graders across the country. The box is a way for students to ask questions or bring up concerns in a less intimidating way than raising a hand during class. Every once in a while a question is dropped in, but on this day she finds three – more than she's ever had at one time. Each student wants to know: What should you do if a friend says he’s going to hurt himself?
The next day Mrs. Stan comes back to school. Her trip out of town put on hold for a bit. She recognizes the handwriting on each note from the box. She pulls the young girls who wrote them out into the hallway. She needs to know who this friend is.
“It’s very important that I know,” she tells them.
The girls are reluctant to say. Few things are worse than tattling on a friend and getting them in trouble.
But the truth comes.
This was the first time the idea of suicide entered my life. I was 10 years old. Someone called me a "fag." I didn't want to be one of those.
I'd been called that word before. I was "acting squirrelly" at the dinner table on Christmas Eve. I was about four. I don't remember it, but it left quite a mark on my mother and sister.
Suicide has been very real in my life. At times I felt it was the only option to escape the pain that consumed me. I've never attempted, but I've had a plan on how I'd do it.
I was in love with my roommate as a sophomore in college. He was just one of many straight boys who have fallen victim to my unrequited love. He started dating one of our close girl friends - a girl I very much wished I could love. She was beautiful, godly, funny, sweet - all I wanted to want. But it was him I wanted, not her. I went from crushing to being crushed.
The fall was hard and fast. I walked up the four flights of stairs back to our empty dorm room, grabbed a bottle of Aspirin, and laid on the futon. It wasn't just the fact my crush had a girlfriend that hurt, it was the ever pressing reality that I was gay. I was doomed to hell. I loved God, but being gay was not allowed. I thought maybe if I got out of this world before acting too deeply on these feelings, I could save myself. Heaven could be in reach if I left now. Death was my way to eternal life.
I'm not sure why I put the bottle of pills back. Maybe there was still a sense of hope in my life. Or perhaps it was the very reason I wanted to die that kept me alive: I was too sissy.
Suicidal thoughts weren't set down when that bottle was. They followed me for years. When I was 22, I resigned from my position with a church because I was afraid I'd act on my feelings for men and tarnish the church's name. I decided to move to New York City to pursue my dreams of working in journalism. A few weeks before I left, I was about to attend the midweek church service when my phone rang. It was my mom. I picked up and her voice was cracking. I left the chatting lobby and walked into a quiet room so I could hear her. Earlier in the day, she said, a young man threw himself in front of a train downtown. She'd e-mailed me about something random just so see if I'd reply. When I didn't, her fear grew.
"I thought it was you," she told me. "Please," she pauses, "You can't do that. It would crush me. I don't know how I could go on. Please."
After I moved to New York my internal battles continued. I was still waiting on God to deliver me from my gayness. It didn't happen. I got to the point where I cursed God. I'd tried all I could. I believed He'd heal me. He'd been faithful in every area of my life but that. Did that mean it was okay to be gay and there was nothing to fix? Or was He just being slow?
There were more questions than answers. After 15 years of trying to go straight, I was done. I told my mom she could have either a gay son, or a dead son. Those were the options I had left. I couldn't continue to live a life wondering if I should leave my wallet in my pocket or on the platform when I jump in front of the A train at 168th Street. If I left it, it may make it easier to identify the body. Also, I should go late at night, not during rush hour. If I'm gonna kill myself, I can at least be considerate.
I've decided to be the gay son. I'm happy. I still have my doubts, wondering if my path can lead me to heaven. When it comes to being gay and Christian, I sometimes wonder if I'm over thinking the whole thing. Other times I wonder if I haven't thought about it enough. I'm not sure where life will take me or what God has in store. I just know I'm happy now and don't feel convicted to not date boys. That, and suicide doesn't come calling like it used to.
Grace still abounds, I just hope I'm not taking it for granted. Love is still here, but I pray I'm not confusing it with lust. Hope isn't something to reach and strive for anymore, it's here everyday.
If you are considering suicide, or fear someone you know is, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255). You can also find resources here.