What were you doing on August 4, 1994?
You probably don't remember. I do. Take my hand and walk with me as I tell you why.
First, we'll hop back through time, to the first class on the first day of school, during my first year at the university. It's a nice pleasant September day in 1993. My first class is Honors English. I walk into the class a few minutes late as I have been wandering around the strange hallways. The teacher stops speaking, and motions me to have a seat. I notice the other classmates.
The person I notice first, not because of her beauty, for she is fair looking. Not for she is giving me any funny looks, because she smiles at me. I notice her because she's wearing clothes that are not typical. They look really unusual, as if they were a mix from a circus clown's clothes box, and thrift shops. It is striking.
I notice the other classmates, one is a jock. I think the only thing worse than a jock is a jock who's actually smart. The other is a stout short haired woman, who I immediately label as lesbian. I think I'm in a class of freaks. Such was my naive midwestern thinking.
Spin the clock forward a month. Classes have become an blur. I know the lesbian girl as Sue. The jock as Carl. The girl with strange clothes is Viv.
I'm walking to the school building one afternoon and Viv happens to meet up with me. She inquires about the previous class. She had skipped it, and wants to know what the homework is. I notice she smokes. I do not like cigarettes. I smile and explain what she missed. She thanks me and walks away, smoke cloud trailing behind her cigarette. I study her strange taste in clothing and walk away. This is the first time we've actually talked outside the classroom.
Tear a month off the calendar. Me and Viv have been talking a lot outside the classroom. I still find her strange, her clothes are still strange, but she's really nice, and I enjoy talking to her. We go out sometimes to do things. Her friends are cool. Her close friend is a tall red-haired guy who's gay. The first openly gay person I meet at the university. I'm still closeted then.
December rolls around. All of my time is either doing homework, or hanging out with Viv and her buddies. My roommate asks me if we're dating. I say no, she's too weird for me. My roommate does not ask why I hang out with her so much then. One night, she asks me if I'd be interested in having an relationship with her. I had suspected for a while that she liked me a lot, but I did not encourage it, because while I was still closeted, I knew who I was, and I did not want to hurt her later on. I said I was not interested. I could tell she was really disappointed.
Christmas break comes and go. I return to the university for my second semester. I still hang out with Viv and her friends all the time.
She starts working the graveyard shift at the dorm at the nearby residential school. After a party, I'd make the walk over there and visit with her in the middle of the night. She'd have to go out every so often to smoke then have a Blow Pop afterwards. She always had several in her pocket and one would be for me. We'd stand outside sucking on the pops. "Good practice", she said.
One of those days, I see her walking with brand new shoes. They are red velvet shoes, almost like high heels, with red ribbons as laces. They look comical. I grin and ask her what's up with those shoes and she says, "I like 'em" I nod, and say they look like the red shoes that Dorothy wore in Wizard of Oz. After that, we always called them the Oz shoes.
The semester just tumbles by, and before I know it, May has come along with the end of the school year. I'm packing up to go home when Viv stops by my room.
She's wearing that trademark gray suit jacket of hers, those stonewashed jeans of the '80s and black boots. We talk for a while, and I can sense she's really sad to see me go. I hug her and tell her that I'll be back in the fall. And we can always talk over the Internet through the summer. My ride to the airport has arrived and I get my bags, and walk down the hall. Viv carries a bag for me and we reach the lobby. I take my bag from her, then hug her farewell and walk out the door. I turn back to look at her, and she's leaning over at the pop machine getting a soda. I knew for a fact that it'd be a Mountain Dew. "My second addiction", she said at one time.
Throughout the summer, we chatted constantly on the Internet, when she'd be working the graveyard shift at the dorm, I'd get online to keep her company, and we'd talk well into the night, sometimes up until dawn.
At one time my brother complained that the incessant typing on the keyboard was like the Chinese water torture. I told him to get lost.
August 3rd, 1994. It's my brothers birthday. I'm up at the cabin with my family celebrating. Out of some strange feeling, I dial long distance with my dad's laptop and get on the Internet. I catch Viv online and she's somewhat surprised to see me, for she thought I'd be out of touch until the next day. I explain, and she goes "oh". We chat a bit, and then I think about the phone bill, so I say I'll talk to you more tomorrow. Her reply is "I love you, and take care."
That night I drive home from the cabin, my family stays at the cabin. I have to work the next day.
August 4, 1994 -- I go about my day. Then I arrive home in the evening and get on to check my mail. There are several emails from some friends, I read the first one. It's from Carl, that jock in my English class and he says, "I'm sorry, when this whole thing is over, we must talk."
I don't understand, and I read the next one from a mutual friend of Viv and I. She says, "Man, I cant believe what happened to Viv, hope you're OK."
Right then, my mind is in a state of panic, and confusion. I don't understand what is happening. Images of a car accident, mugging, beating, and other possible answers comes to mind. I get out of mail, and start quickly searching around to see who's online, who can give me an answer. I catch one friend online and demanded to know what happened. She asks if I heard. I said I got a email, but I don't know what happened. Over the computer, over my slow connection, the letters appeared, "She killed herself."
My entire life fell apart there. I immediately started crying. My mind was in terrible shock and if I didn't believe it was possible to feel such intense rage, grief and denial at the same time, I did at that time. I was so angry at her for cheating me, I was torn with sorrow over her death, and I kept thinking that it was some kind of cruel hoax by my friends. All of those differing bubbles of emotions bursting and clashing at each other at the surface like boiling water.
It was with every last ounce of self-discipline that I was able to type to my friend, "I'm really crying now, and I better go." I logged out and remained at the desk, crying for over half an hour. The question kept reverberating around in my head, "WHY?" I knew nothing. I could not explain why.
I never felt so alone in my life. My family was far away in another state. Blinking through my tears, I called my mom at the cabin. I told her briefly what happened, and she told me to go to my grandparents house. I did not really want to go, but I knew that if I did not go, my parents would worry to no end. I agreed to go over, so I drove to my grandparents. My grandparents, the good people they are tried to comfort me and talk to me about it. But I was too emotionally drained to even say much. My mind was just rehashing every minute of the awful conversation, and playing back memories of our times together. I could not think of anything else.
My grandparents prepared a bed for me, and when I went to bed, I thought I would not be able to sleep. I thought I'd be plagued by nightmares all night. But, I fell asleep. No nightmares visited me. I woke up the next morning, the sun was streaming in, and by all rights it was a beautiful morning.
I never felt so cold. The room never seemed so grey. The light was harsh, harsh as the reality that set in, the very second I woke up. There was no nightmare that I could just say, "Oh, thank god it was just a dream." It was much worse this way. I laid in bed, wishing I could just go back to sleep.
Going to sleep forever also dashed across my thoughts. I could be with Viv again, and this hated life could be over. This irrational thought grew on me, and over the next few days, I fought an internal battle within my mind over the question of committing suicide myself.
My grandmother brought me breakfast. I ate little and then went home. I think my grandparents were worried sick, but I didn't care at that time. All I wanted was Viv to come back. I got online again and talked with my friend a little. The memorial services would be the next day. My aunt came over to talk to me. We talked a bit, and I told her about the memorial services. But I was halfway across the nation. I couldn't go. My parents didn't think they had the money for airfare. She said, I'll pay your fare. We went to the airport, the ticket was ungodly expensive. I thanked my aunt and walked down the hall to my gate.
As I approached the gate, my pace slowed to an stop. Fear gripped me and I could not go further, I looked behind me, and it seemed so easy to turn around and go home. Don't make the trip, just go home and hide. It felt so easy at that time.
"Your aunt just paid SEVEN HUNDRED dollars on airfare!", screamed the small rational part of my mind. It snapped me awake. I steeled myself and walked the rest of the way to my gate and boarded the plane.
Looking back on it. I believe I stopped there, because at that time, I was still in denial that she had died. I kept trying to disbelieve it, thinking it was some kind of prank, some way to get me back to school earlier than I planned. But boarding that plane embarked for her memorial service, it was then that I really was confronted with the reality that Viv was dead. And that some part of my mind railed against that, and attempted to turn back, to return to the state of denial that it had lived in.
The small rational part of my mind that screamed was the only thing that carried me through this ordeal. Just as when it seemed like I'd decide to kill myself, this small part would step in and force me to continue on. It was small, but its strength was great, and it pushed me on through this. I can not think of any name for it, but I'd call it the desire to live, the human spirit.
Landing in D.C., I was met by a friend. We hugged and it was probably the first time I smiled. We didn't say anything about Viv all night. It was too hard for us.
The next day, we went to the service. There were hundreds of people there. Teachers, staff, students -- all people who loved Viv. The service brought back all my tears. The family asked me to speak a few words about Viv, since I was the friend closest to her. I stood up in front of the assembled and told everyone that Viv loved everyone unconditionally. And I could not say any more, for I was breaking down too fast. I sat down, lost in my grief again.
One thing Viv often said to me, was that she felt like she had few friends. I sat in the church, with hundreds of people who were there. They all were her friends. Everyone here had found the time to come down and pay their final respects. It was such a cruel irony that this was the only circumstance where I could prove she was wrong.
Now, August comes and it will be four years. I will go and visit the young cherry tree that grows over where her ashes are buried. There is a plaque there saying "Onwards and upwards." I will sit there with her tree and think of happy times. Just as now, as I close this story, tears run down my cheek. I still cry from time to time. Four years later, the scars haven't healed completely. They never will. Time does diminish the pain, but it will never completely go away. I have moved on with my life. I have many new friends and have kept my old ones. But my heart still yearns for a friend that I have lost.
This is to every gay teen who feels he/she is alone. You are not, even though you feel that way. There are people who care about you. You may not realize it. Before you consider suicide, think about the people who will be affected by it, and even more importantly, the life that you will be cheating, yours.
To the loving memory of Vivienne May Simmons. The rammas are still messing with the weather, and I still bix every so often. :)