Suicide was like an old friend to David. It had been his constant companion for almost five years now. He thought of it like an old coat that you would wrap yourself up in, warm and comforting. It may have holes everywhere and patches at the elbows, it might even smell a little musty. And even though you know you should throw it away, you just can’t seem to part with it. This was not actually the first time that David had tried to “off himself” (nor would it be the last, but let’s not get ahead of ourselves). The first time was when he was in junior high school. He had tried to do it by injecting himself with a mixture of isopropyl alcohol and water. He remembered that it stung going in, but he didn’t die from it. The next time was shortly thereafter. He swallowed a whole bottle of aspirin. The only thing that happened was that he woke up the next day and couldn’t hear! There was a horrible ringing in his ears and his head felt like it was stuffed with cotton. But he was still alive. So that would make slitting his wrists number three. That is to say, unsuccessful attempt number three.
David couldn’t blame Joe for the attempt. It wasn’t something Joe had done. He had been great. It was something deep inside David; a far away feeling that was both comforting and terrifying at the same time. Constant… always there… warm… like an old coat. So it was no big surprise to him when he found himself on the roof of his apartment building a few days later with no idea how he had gotten there. He took a tentative step toward the wrought iron railing at the edge of the deck. Then another and another and before he knew it, he was climbing over it. The gravel crunched under his feet as he made his way to the edge. Then he was standing there looking out at the whole of North Side. He could see the fire department, the hospital, the park, the bridges, and the whole of downtown as well. It was amazing! But then he thought, “If this is so amazing, why am I thinking about stepping off the edge?”
As he continued to look down from his lofty perch, he could see all the people below just walking by. Never looking up. Never seeing the guy standing on the edge… both literally and figuratively. What would they say if they saw him there? Would they call the Police? Would they call out to him? The longer he stood there the more those kinds of thoughts came to mind. How would he be remembered? Would he be remembered? Of course, his mom would be the most upset over his death. How could he do this to her? He remembered when he had broken the news to her that he changed his name; she told him that all she had ever wanted growing up was a son named David. He had kept it, but it was now his middle name. He had done it to distance himself from the father who had abused him and who he was sure hated him.
He stood there for awhile longer, toes dangling off the edge, trying to decide. Then something pulled him back. He continued to back up a few feet and then a few feet more until he found himself back at the railing. He climbed over, made his way down the stairs to his floor and into his apartment. But then he went straight to the silverware drawer, took out the only long sharp knife he owned. He thought Hara-Kiri was his only option now. He pointed it at his stomach and looked down. “All I have to do is push this into my belly and it will all be over,” he thought. He stood there for several minutes trying to get up the courage to do it. But in the end all he had to show for it was a small hole in his shirt and a little blood. He drifted over to the bed, dropped the knife and sat down. He would not die today. Someday, yes, but not today.
“I guess my will to live is stronger than my will to die,” he said aloud. “I wonder why? I wonder if I’ll ever know why I keep doing this.” He lay down and closed his eyes. He didn’t want to think about it anymore. Sleep. That’s what he needed. Sleep.
When he woke up a few hours later, he could feel the hunger gnawing at his insides. “I guess I’ll try and scrounge up something for dinner,” he thought. Just then the phone rang. He got up and went to sit at his old school desk where he kept the candlestick phone.
“Hey! It’s me.” It was Beans calling. “How are you doing today?”
“Not too bad and you?” He wasn’t about to mention today’s incident… attempts number four and five!
“I’m just getting out of class.” Beans had stayed at AIP even after David had quit. “You wanna go down to the Greek place, by the bridge, and grab a gyro?”
“Sweetie, you read my mind. I’m starving!”
“Great! Meet you there?”
“Sounds good. See you in a few. Bye!” They both hung up. David changed his shirt really quickly then grabbed his coat and keys and ran out the door.
He could see Beans waiting outside the restaurant. He waved and Beans waved back.
“What took you so long?” He yelled.
“Cute,” David answered. “You know how long it takes me to get here.”
“Yeah, but I’ve been waiting forever.”
“Of course, you have. School’s right around the corner!”
Beans smiled and said, “Let’s go in.”
Once they were seated, the waitress came over and took their orders. They were both having gyros and sodas, but Beans crooked his finger at her and then whispered something in her ear. She smiled at David and left to put their orders in with the cook.
“What did you do?” David asked sounding exasperated with his best friend once again.
“You’ll see.” And then he laughed that nasally laugh of his.
“Great, that’s just great!”
They made small-talk while waiting for their food and when it finally did arrive; it came with a special gift, the gift of a dance. The restaurant had a belly-dancer and Beans had told them it was a special occasion, David’s birthday. Of course, it wasn’t, but that didn’t matter to Beans. The look on David’s face as she swiveled her hips and shook her fake tits at the back of his head was priceless! Beans slipped a bill of some unknown denomination in the waistband of her costume and thanked her. Beans was going to “dine out” on that one for weeks!
“Well, I have to say that that was definitely the craziest meal I have ever had! Thank you for that, you little shit!” David said as they left the restaurant.
“You’re welcome! I live to serve.”
“No, you don’t!!!” David said emphatically. “You live to suck.”
“Ah, yes, that is my true talent,” Beans agreed.
“So where to next?”
“I have to be getting home, so I’ll walk you to your apartment,” Beans replied and they started walking across the bridge to North Side. Beans had grown up on the north side of the city. And every time he spoke, he reminded you of it. Pittsburgh natives have a very distinctive way of pronouncing certain words. It made Beans all the more endearing to David.
As they were about to go their separate ways, Beans said,
“You know I love you, right?”
“Yup, I do.” David replied. “Love ya, too!” And he walked into the building.
There it was again. He couldn’t say, “I love you” to his best friend. He went upstairs, opened the door to his apartment, and turned on the radio. It was playing Wishing You Were Here by Chicago and wham, suddenly Carolyn was in his mind. He hadn’t thought of her in ages, but there she was as young and as pretty as the last time he saw her. Her mother had brushed her honey brown hair and she was smiling. That day in the hospital after her surgery for uterine cancer; the day before she died in 1974.
David met Carolyn at his sister Susan’s installation as Honored Queen of Bethel 58. She was in Bethel 22, pretty and sweet, and could keep up with him on the dance floor through slow and fast songs. She was the same age, but a year ahead of him in school. It was okay with both of them, because they went to different high schools, rival high schools actually. After a year he gave her a ring. It had a small diamond in the middle of an infinity symbol. It had cost him all the money he had to buy it, but she was worth it.
There was a dance before his chapter went to Richmond on a service trip. They were dancing to their song, Led Zeppelin’s Stairway to Heaven, when she complained of a pain in her abdomen. He didn’t think anything of it at the time, though. The Masonic Home needed some things done, like scraping old paint off and repainting the entire wrought iron fence in front of the grounds. In the evenings, they cut loose, played football, and even drank some whiskey that one of the guys had pilfered then went streaking.
It was late when he got home. He walked in the door and his father was standing there in his underwear and a t-shirt. He didn’t know what was wrong, but he knew something was. His father told him to sit down and then proceeded to tell him that while he was away Carolyn had been diagnosed with cancer and that she just had surgery to remove her uterus. His mother took him to see her in the hospital every day, except the last day that is. Carolyn’s mother had called and asked them not to come; she was having a bad day. Then they got the news that she had died that afternoon.
Both the viewing and the funeral were well attended. He noticed two things, though. The first was that she didn’t look like herself. He found out later, that cancer turns the skin black, so even though they made her up, she still didn’t look like herself. And he could see fingerprints on the skin of her neck where they had forgotten to touch up the make-up. He sat with Carolyn’s family; his mother and the rest of his family were a few rows back on the left. He broke down during the service and when he looked back at his mother, he could tell she wished that she were there next to him, comforting him.
The next year, when he was elected Master Councilor of Mount Vernon Chapter, he asked that donations be made in her honor to the American Cancer Society. Carolyn’s mother came up to him after his installation, hugged him and, with tears in her eyes, thanked him. He didn’t know what to say, so he just smiled and held her hand until she walked away. There was a reception and dance afterwards, but his thoughts were filled with Carolyn. When he went home that night, he played his 45 of Chicago’s Wishing You Were Here and he cried.
He comforted himself with memories of dances, their song, group dates, movie dates, double dates with Deanna and José, and solo dates which morphed into memories of Joe. It always seemed to come back to Joe. Joe the sweet guy who loved him even though he couldn’t say “I love you” back. He could see that beautiful face: those dark, smoldering eyes, his aquiline nose, and those kissable lips. Memories of him in his Thunderbird… oh how he loved that car. Of him in the morning, with his glasses on, before he put his contacts in… he looked so cute! Of late walks around the planetarium, then kissing in the fountain as the snow fell… magical. And of sex! He remembered the first time he rimmed Joe (which was something he had learned from Geoffrey). He got exactly the response he had hoped for… total abandonment to pleasure!
Joe wasn’t David’s first sexual partner even though he had come to Pgh. a virgin. He slept with his roommate’s girlfriend after they had all gotten high at the AIP dorm in Shadyside. He hadn’t come out, though, until confronted by a very aggressive girl from school who wanted to bed him. In an act of desperation, and just to get her to leave him alone, he blurted out that he was gay! Actually, the word he had used was homosexual. She didn’t believe him at first, but he assured that he was. After the party, he had spent several days thinking about it and realized that he really was gay!
Once he figured out that he was gay, his friends from art school took him to the Tender Trap/Trapeze (the “Trap” for short). The first time he saw two men dancing together he just knew that it was right. That what he was was right! So the next order of business was to find someone to teach him about man-to-man sex. It may sound like his approach was cold and clinical, but it was the right way method for him. Beans knew a guy that had been around the block a time or two. His name was Ronald. Beans thought he was a slut so he didn’t like him very much, but David knew he was the right one to “do it” with. And what Beans didn’t know wouldn’t hurt him.
So one Saturday night, he got dressed up and walked down to the biggest dance club in the city… 2001. He was hoping to run into Ronald there, and as luck would have it, he did. When the right song came on, he asked Ronald to dance. After about 30 minutes of non-stop dancing, David asked him if he wanted to go back to this apartment. Ronald’s eyes lit up! After some really great sex, a nap, some more great sex, another nap, more sex and then a shower, he finally had to send Ronald on his way; seven hours after he’d arrived. He had learned more in one night with Ronald than he ever imagined he could.
Once he figured out that sex was the “greatest thing since sliced bread,” he had it as often as he could find a trick to do it with. Back then, safe sex really was unheard of. STDs were pretty easy to cure with a prescription from the doctor or something over the counter. AIDS wasn’t even in a gay man’s vocabulary, on the east coast yet. He often made the first move when it came to sex and experimented in order to figure out what he liked and what he didn’t. His friends and tricks never did believe him when he told them he was painfully shy as a child.