I picked at the grass like if I tortured it enough it might give me an answer. I picked at it hoping and waiting for an earthquake or massive sinkhole to swallow me up. It was only a matter of moments before I'd cave and tell a handsome, middle-aged couple that their son was gay.
Their son wasn't there. He had hung himself from my bunk bed. But three days before, he was alive and cracking jokes. He was funny, he was smart, and he was carrying a burden so heavy it would eventually suffocate him.
Jason was everything a parent would want. He was a great student, he was outgoing and he was handsome. He had a brilliant mind for math and was a business major. In a world that's still far away from ours, being a homosexual would not be a disclaimer to that list.
It was 1993 and gay was everywhere. I'd just moved from my little hometown where no one was gay--where no one was gay in the same way Mahmoud Ahmadinejad says no one in Iran is gay. There was denial, but perhaps like someone who doesn't want to come out of the closet in a conservative Muslim country, small town America doesn't exactly roll out the purple welcome mat. But I shouldn't blame small towns, or even my town. In 1993 gay was everywhere because of big city politics.
It's ironic. Gay was everywhere not because homosexuals wanted it to be, but because a group of self-declared, non-gay folks in Colorado Springs forced it there. They put an amendment on the fall '92 ballot that would essentially allow discrimination against same-sex couples. It freakin' passed, but was eventually struck down by the Supreme Court as infringing on the rights of gays and lesbians.
For me, all of this was new. I was so clueless that the first woman I ever hit on in college was the president of the Gay and Lesbian Bisexual and Transgendered Alliance. She would say "no" with a painful eye roll. I reeled from the rejection until she presented to our class her role with the GLBTA.
So I presumed nothing when I walked into my dorm room, and sitting on a well-made bed with matching pinstripe comforter, sheets and pillows was my new roommate. He'd organized his desk. It was simple and clean with a designer lamp, calculator and notepad. He hopped up and introduced himself. He adjusted his tie and apologized for moving my dirty clothes and empty beverage containers to my side of the room.
It was going to be a tough adjustment for me, because prior to school I'd had my own room for the three weeks of Fort Lewis Raider football camp. I'd gotten accustomed to my mess.
Jason and I were the prototypical freshman dorm dwellers. We started out as friends and ended with a bitter falling out. There was something about his stereo. It was broken and he blamed me. I was mad about him borrowing my car. He became messier than I was. I was loud when I was drunk. Those fumes add up and in a space the size of a handicapped bathroom stall. I can’t remember what sparked it, but I blew up and left a week before school ended. I'd found an apartment and was in the process of moving when I got the call.
A friend of Jason's walked into his room and found him. She was not supposed to go into his room that morning. He'd called the night before and asked that I pick him up so he could take me out for breakfast and we could fix our problems. I was on my way to my car when I noticed the apartment complex payphone ringing. For the heck of it I picked it up. It was a mutual friend desperately trying to find me.
Someone had seen Jason the night before. She said he seemed very comfortable. He was stoned, maybe tripping on acid, she thought. He commented on the stars and how pretty they were. She was out walking her dog and was taken by how calm he was, in bare feet, standing on the lawn outside the dorms. It seemed he had made up his mind, written his letters and made peace with his decision. He was going to die.
Under the same stars where we all live. On this same bit of dust floating through the universe. It's seems that we are insignificant, but in this small space, we are not. We are the light between the morning and the night. We are the lovers at dusk and the comfort before dawn. We are the scaffold on which we all try to climb and the helping hand that can get us there. We are all we've got. For a moment, imagine a world without heaven or hell. Without Harry Potter or magic or a fifth dimension of gentle, glowing ease. We can only be certain of what we can do for each other.
You can add a god if you want. But time still passes. And on a day in late April of 1993, I walked across campus in a daze. Kids were looking at me, talking. I was the roommate of the kid who had killed himself. Some of the curious asked if it were true that I got an automatic 4.0. I didn't.
In the distance there was a tree on a hill. It stood still as college kids passed by. They would keep on walking, through school, internships, their trip to Europe and into their adult lives. The tree would loom in the background--perspective for perpetual motion. I got a chill knowing that most of us would one day leave campus and move onto other things, but Jason would not.
Screwed down to a microscopic focus so tight you've cracked the lens, there I was on the back lawn of a stranger's home. A friend of the family offered their Durango house for an informal celebration of life. Everyone was inside hugging and sharing the pleasant smiles and laughter that perforate the darkness of death. Jason's parents arrived from Colorado Springs and requested I join them in private. They wanted to know why.
They sat together. They were imposing and beautiful in the sun by the aspen trees. Middle aged but well kept, he had a full head of dignified silver. She was gray, but put together like a Lego person. Sharp angles and sleek.
"Yes. Why?" she repeated. "We want to know anything you know about what Jason was thinking."
She looked at me, piercing. He joined her. They looked like they were posing for a political piece.
"We don't have our son, Jared," he filled. "All we have left are questions."
I looked down between my Indian-style lap and picked at the grass some more. I couldn't dig fast enough.
I like to be quick with answers but this was an answer in lieu of their living son. I thought about the truth, or at least what I knew of it. I figured they should know it.
When "homosexual" rolled out of my mouth it didn't feel like a word. It felt like a sea cucumber or mound of mud. I didn't know if I'd said it correctly. I repeated it louder and simpler: "He was gay."
I paused. His parents squinted like my vertical hold had let go.
I just kept going. I couldn't stop myself.
"I think he died because he was gay. He was gay and had no idea how to explain it to you or the world."
I could have set myself on fire and his parents would not have budged. They were paralyzed.
I went on to tell them about how I believed he'd come out, and then regretted it. Every few days we'd get a call from the GLBTA. A familiar female voice would ask for Jason and ask how he was doing. Often he’d be in the room but would refuse to get on the phone. One day, when he was gone, a professor called and asked for him. I knew the professor so asked if I could help. He'd been crying.
He told me that he'd just read Jason's paper. He said it was the most moving student piece he'd ever read. It was a story about the struggle of an oppressed woman.
I don't remember much after I outed a Jason to his parents. The day smeared into a Monet of self doubt. I don't know how long I sat out there, but I fielded questions about a dead man's sexuality until my face was hot with sun burn. It was a small sacrifice compared to the shattered existence of a mother and father.
Not too long after that I ran into one of Jason's friends at a party. She said she could never forgive him for killing himself. I wasn't sure what to think. He's dead. All the kids he knew are going to grow up chase after their dreams. Jason won't get to do that. And I wondered if it was him who needed the forgiving, or a world that made him think he had no reason to live.