I will celebrate my 48th birthday this week. Although I am undeniably middle-aged now, I feel as if I have lived two lifetimes. The number 48 is significant to me because I have lived twice as many years as my first boyfriend, who committed suicide when he was 24 years old.
At the time of his death, we were no longer a couple. We were good friends living in different cities. We talked once every few months, comparing notes and sharing updates. I had not heard from him in a while when I received a call from his sister telling me the news. He had left a note and requested that certain people be notified. I was one of the names on that list. It comforts me some to know that he was thinking of me at the end, that he wanted me to hear about his passing from a family member and not through the gossip mill.
Because I was moving often in those days, his sister had trouble locating my phone number. As a result, I was the last to be called, and it was too late for me to attend a funeral or memorial service. I had no closure. For years afterward, I dreamt that I saw him in the distance at a mall or supermarket and ran to find him but could not. To this day, I continue the fantasy in my head that the call from his sister was some sort of elaborate hoax and that he is, in fact, alive somewhere. I imagine I see him in the distance in a store, or that I hear his voice in a train station.
But he is gone, really gone, and it is still difficult for me to think about it. Whenever I read of a young person taking his or her life, especially if that person is gay, it is painful to me on a personal level. Now that I am 48, it is inconceivable to imagine that life could end at 24 or younger. In my second lifetime (age 24 to now), I have seen some of the most significant changes in my life: I found my life partner, a career, new friends, a whole path. None of those events happened in my first boyfriend's life. He was not around to help me celebrate my milestones, and I could never celebrate his. He was an artist, but he never had his first gallery opening. He lived in Massachusetts, but he had no wedding. He had a fantastic laugh, and I never got to hear it again.
The holidays are touted as joyous and merry, but it is a most difficult time of the year for young gay people who have been rejected by their families, or who are bullied, lost or lonely. I am an advocate of the It Gets Better campaign, but for some young people who are contemplating suicide, it is impossible to imagine that life will ever get better. Perhaps it would be best to say that life gets... different. Life will ebb and flow, hiccup, somersault, stall, zoom ahead and take you to places you never imagined. Do not deny yourself those changes. Do not deny your friends and family lives with you in it. Do not deny the people you have not met yet the chance to have their lives altered by you.
My second lifetime has been rich and full. I do not know what is in store for my third, but I am fortunate that I have the chance to find out. If anyone reading this would like to help me celebrate my birthday, please donate to the Trevor Project, an organization providing crisis intervention and suicide prevention services to LGBTQ youth. Together, maybe we can help some young people opt to live their second lifetimes... and beyond.