It was fall in New Hampshire, my favorite time of year. Rick walked from campus out into the woods that surrounded the university. The leaves must have rustled beneath his feet. The air was crisp and clear that day. I always wonder how he could have ended his life surrounded by so much beauty.
He left a note in his dorm room, but it was not a stereotypical suicide note. The note did not directly state that he was going to end his life. It said that he was going away, and expressed his wish that people not worry about him. It seemed like he wanted to create the impression that he had just left.
Because of this, it took several days for him to be found. The authorities checked bus stations and train stations, but it was a grad student working on a surveying project in the forest who found him.
The night before he took his life, I stopped by his room to visit. There were open books on his desk, but he had taken a break from studying to do some push ups. I jokingly leaned on his back to make him have to work harder. He laughed.
He laughed the night before he killed himself. He wasn’t outwardly despondent. He showed no signs that he was struggling. He had us all fooled, in more ways than one.
After Rick’s death, we all found ourselves asking “why?” Why would this easy going, handsome, athletic young man take his own life? He was well-liked by his peers. He was included socially in his dorm community. He got along well with his roommate, who he had gone to high school with. What on earth would make this kid not want to be alive anymore?
Then we learned that Rick had reached out to an LGBT support group on campus. We were all surprised. Rick had lived in the dorm during the previous school year. He had made friends and had plenty of time spent with them. None of us had ever considered that he might not be straight. He presented, in all the classic stereotypical ways, as a straight male, and so we all just assumed he was straight.
It was 1995. While there were parades and events back then, there was no official Gay Pride Month. That started in 1999.
Today I hear people sometimes lament that there’s a Gay Pride Month. A common sentiment is that by having such a celebration, those pesky gays are “sticking it in our faces.” I simply don’t agree.
We all deserve to celebrate ourselves. We’re all worthy of love and recognition. I wish Rick had been able to see Gay Pride Month activities. I wish he could have been invited to participate in them. I wish he could have walked with people who knew what he was going through, who could connect with him in a way that the rest of us, who loved him and valued him, apparently could not.
I’m certainly not suggesting that Gay Pride Month is going to single handedly fix the issue of suicide among young LGBTQ people, but I believe that representation matters. Having an organized event each year that allows young people to feel represented must save some of them, and the more that non-LGBTQ folks support such initiatives, the more we’re sending a message that everyone matters. That doesn’t seem hard to get behind.
Over two decades after his passing, I still think about Rick. Every fall, when the leaves rustle and the air gets crisp and clean, there’s some moment that makes me think of him, and how alone he must have felt out in those woods. It will forever be a weight on my heart. This world would be a better place with him in it.
And if, somehow, this blog article has found its way to you, and you are an LGBTQ individual, I hope you’ll hear the most important message: you matter. You’re worthy, and deserve to be happy, and this world is better with you in it. Happy Pride 🙂