Jan 29, 2014

Spring 1977: A Gay Teen in My High School Commits Suicide

Looks like Scott
I didn't know Scott very well.  I didn't think of him much at all until afterwards.  I was busy.

It was my junior year in high school (1976-77).  I was crushing on Verne the Preacher's Son and Giovanni the foreign exchange student, going to church five times a week, researching colleges, getting obsessed with Judaism, presiding over Spanish club, working as an athletic trainer, lifting weights, running, playing in the orchestra.

I was really, really busy.

Scott was cute, but not my type: tall, pale, solid but not muscular, and not very impressive below the belt. He had been in my classes off and on since third grade, but we didn't talk much.  That year he was in my French and political science classes, but we didn't talk much.

Mostly I saw him in orchestra. He played the trumpet and the cornet.  I think he wanted to become a musician.

I have only five solid memories of him.

A high school trumpeteer
1. The fall concert in 1976.  Scott stands to play the solo in Bix Beiderbecke's "Davenport Blues."  His fingers press on the valves, his cheeks expand his belt buckle gleams in the spotlight.  It's not erotic.  I just remember because of what happened later.

2. Mr. Manary's political science class takes a field trip to the courthouse to see a real criminal trial going on. I see my first gay person.  I glance around.  Scott is watching carefully, mutely.

3. At the Christmas party, my crush Giovanni, in the midst of kissing a girl, presses me against his chest.  Thinking for a moment that he might kiss me, too, I glance around.  Scott  is watching carefully, mutely.  Does he want to press against Giovanni's chest, too?  And kiss him?  I frown with jealousy.

4. January 1977, running on the indoor track at the gym. Scott appears, his pale face made paler still by his white t-shirt and red shorts.  He asks me, "Wanna race?"  "Sure."

I win easily.  Scott clasps my hand. Not shakes, clasps.  I still remember its warmth.  "You're pretty fast," he says. "Wanna..."  Distracted by Verne, I say "Thanks, see ya" and walk away.

Wanna.... What was he starting to say?  Would things have turned out differently if I had listened?

5. Scott is sitting by himself in the library.  I decide to impress Verne with some personal evangelism -- leading sinners to Christ yourself instead of depending on the altar call.  I use one of the simplest openings in the soulwinning manual: "If you were to die tonight, and God asked 'Why should I let you into my Heaven?', what would you say?"

Scott looks at me, pale, frowning: "I don't believe in Heaven."

Flustered, embarrassed, I make a hasty retreat.

I've been kicking myself ever since.  Why did I use the "If you were to die tonight" script?

I probably saw Scott a few times after that.  Maybe sitting with his band-club friends in the cafeteria.  Or walking through the mall with his two younger brothers.  I don't remember.

About a month later, he vanished.

In those days, the adults didn't think kids could handle tragedy, so when someone died, they just vanished and were never spoken of again.

Through the rumor mill, I discovered that Scott drove onto the Government Bridge that leads onto Arsenal Island, and jumped off.  He was distraught, they told me, because his girlfriend broke up with him.

But they were wrong.I know for a fact that Scott didn't have a girlfriend.

Something else made him sneak out of the house at 3:00 am, drive his parents' car onto the black-steel girdered Government Bridge, and abandon us.

I think I know what that something else was. You do, too.

But in 1977 I wasn't paying attention.  I was really, really busy.

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