April 2001

Once upon a time, I crossed the magical threshold separating high school from college, and left my old self behind like a shed snakeskin. I had survived; I was a survivor. The days of suicide contemplation were behind me-not that I ever really contemplated, but I knew I had the capacity for contemplation within me. What is it, one out of four of us, one out of three maybe, gone to the bedroom rope or the bathroom razor, or that pistol in the locked drawer that Dad thinks we don't know the key but we do? I walked beyond that, fewer scars than you might think, the life of a closeted jock discarded like a half-empty bottle of Ripple left in the gutter by a hobo with a dream. It was all champagne now, baby.

I had a revelation last week. Somehow, I made it, but a lot of us didn't. And I don't mean those kids with happy dreams and bitter realities, the ones whose suicide notes either explained it all to crying parents, or else there were no notes, and dad would say, "but he always seemed like such a happy boy." They are our tragedy, our media catcall, the occasional hateful unity in a community so disparate in its youth. My revelation wasn't concerned with the dead and buried, but the dead and walking.

I am the college freshman, lovelorn but occasionally content, brimming with possibilities. College is not the brave new world I had envisioned, or maybe it is, and I've just become so accustomed that I can't make an honest comparison to my previous life. I am, however, less cynical, so that's a start. I think I'm happier here. I bet I'm happier here. But I'm ready for love, ready for sex, ready to share my life with someone (I've been in the game before, just so you know; it's simply time to join it again). I've been keeping my eye out for hopefuls, and I have some, some dates in fact, maybe even a phone number or two. But I've noticed a pretty striking trend in all the boys I've met, one that has kept me up nights lately.

There is college, and people like to party in college. We understand this. But all the gay and bisexual boys I have met here in college are, putting it gently, lunatics. They chain smoke, they drink themselves into a primordial state on a nightly basis, they spend half their lives stoned. One guy I spoke to described me a summer spend snorting cocaine off toilet seats in a seedy bar near campus.

What first confused me: what are these kids trying to escape from? Isn't college escape enough? Leaving parents behind, leaving old hatreds and petty minds in the dust, tearing some scars off your body. We made it. We are free to live our lives however we want to now, under no authorities but the legal system and our own. So why the escapism? Why the clawing at some unattainable bliss, why the rigmarole, why the vain expectations and mindless nihilism? Can our hobgoblins still have their claws sunk so deeply into our subconscious?

The more and more I thought, the more I began to realize that something was still going on, something with not-so-positive ramifications. I had problems in high school, but nothing that was ever life threatening, and simple geographic distance has pretty much removed those from my life. But I, apparently, am one of the few lucky ones. Most young people in our community do not overcome their problems by a shift to college, rather, they find more creative ways to block them out. And bear in mind that all my first hand experiences have taken place within the walls of a very liberal university, in New York City, to say no less. I can imagine despair growing out of boredom and intolerance in places like the South, or the Midwest. But this town has a million possibilities, a million ways to soar above a rotting foundation, and the queer kids just can't.

I'd hate to leave on such an unhappy note, so maybe I can offer some advice, or at least hope. Our demons may lurk over our lives, be they small-minded parents, an intolerant high school, or a religious institution selectively translating its scriptures so as to find a scapegoat. In their presence, the best we can do is smile despite them and keep on reaching for tomorrow. But in the sunshine, when all our demons are shadows on the ground, we must see them for what they are: for in the light of freedom, where can shadows hide?


Richard is a freshman in college in New York City, originally from the Washington DC area. All comments on his essays or questions can be sent to xMustaphaMondx@hotmail.com.

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