[oasis][columns]

Anniversaries

by Derik Cowan
August 1996

It's back to that time of year again. August third marks the second anniversary of my parents throwing me out of their house. Sometimes I wonder if they mark the date like I do. Last year, I threw myself a party celebrating the fact that despite all the obstacles I faced, I had made it through a year on my own. This year I don't have any real plans for the day. I'll probably just hang out with some friends and maybe go out dancing that night. Whatever I do, the day will hold a special significance: it marks the beginning of a new life for me, but it also is a poignant reminder of what I had to lose before I could start over.

Looking back on the past two years, I'm amazed at how much I have grown and how my life has changed. I'm no longer merely surviving from one day to the next, I've begun creating for myself a productive and satisfying life. I have a lot of good friends, I'm heavily involved in activist work, and of course my studies, and I have a bright outlook for the future. Most importantly, I have a sense of purpose and goals to reach. That's a huge improvement over the completely drained young man merely trying to survive one day at a time, hoping that he would be able to find a place to sleep and determined only to get back to school that year or die that I was two years ago.

The first month after being thrown out by my parents was the worst month of my life. I moved around constantly, staying with friends for as long as they could put me up, bumming rides to work, scrounging for food, and making constant phone calls to Amherst trying to find a way to stay in school that year, to various agencies that I found out about that I hoped could help me out, and to various friends from school. There were many things that happened to me that month that were highly unpleasant that I won't go into in this article, but all told I was emotionally burnt out before the month was half finished.

At the end of the month I went up to Amherst and moved into my dorm room, where I lived for most of September while trying to convince the school to let me stay for the semester at least, and hopefully the year. At times my quest seemed hopeless, and I spent days locked in my room in bed, refusing to take calls or answer the door. Finally, three weeks into the semester I managed to come to an agreement with the financial aid office, and I settled into the task of finding classes and trying to make some sort of life for myself.

I began working through some of my emotional turmoil in writing, in performance, and in film. Many of my friends have told me that I should have gone to see a counselor during that time, but I didn't. I was seeing a counselor while I was working in August, and she really didn't seem to do me much good, so I didn't bother getting a new counselor when I got to school. It was also around this time that I started spending a large amount of time on the net. I had been on the net for a year already at that point, but all of a sudden I found myself in desperate need of support and guidance that no one around me seemed capable of providing, support that I found after beginning to post to various gay interest groups. It was then that I realized how powerful a tool the net could be--if I went looking for and found support there, then surely others would do the same.

As my first year alone progressed and I began to feel more confident about myself, I came to the conclusion that if there was anything I could do either to prevent what happened to me from happening to others or to help someone in my situation to realize that they weren't alone and they could make it, I would do it. I began attending PFLAG meetings to talk to parents and writing articles in various Usenet groups. When Jeff asked me to write for Oasis, I jumped at the chance to reach more youth.

Today, two years after being cut off by my parents, I'm going into my final year of school at Amherst, spending the summer in San Francisco, a continent away from my parents' home in Connecticut, and for the most part happy with my life. But that's not to say that I have no regrets, no moments when I wish I had taken my parents offer to send me to some sort of clinic that would "straighten me out" -- not because I think that it would have worked or because I'm unhappy being gay, but because I could have saved my relationship with my family. I miss them. I miss my room at home, with it's dark blue walls and hardwood floor, I miss my dog, I miss the long conversations my dad and I would have in the car going to work or school, and I miss the sense of knowing that I could always fall back on my parents when something went wrong.

In the early part of the summer, I got e-mail from my uncle telling me that my grandmother was in the hospital and very ill. I don't know if she's alive or dead. It hurts me that because I've been cut off by my family, I wasn't able to get in touch with anyone and find out how she's doing, or see her in the past two years. On my way back to Amherst this month, I hope to stop and visit her, assuming she's still alive. If she isn't, it will be one of the greatest regrets of my life.

Dwelling on the negative aspects of life has never seemed to me to be a good way to live, however, and my message in this article is not that life is terrible but rather that even a terrible incident like being disowned by one's parents can be overcome. Yes, it hurts, and the pain won't necessarily go away completely, but life goes on. Life has gone on for me for two years now. It hasn't always been happy or easy to take, but I've learned a lot about life and I'm a more mature, complete person because of it. So don't give up just because things look down, and take a moment out this month to celebrate how far you've made it so far.


Derik K. Cowan, 21, is a full-time student at Amherst College in Amherst, Massachusetts, where he is studying Theater, Dance, and English. He can be reached online at dkcowan@amhux4.amherst.edu.
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