I took a deep breath, got up (there was no way this was going down with me lying beside him on the floor) and walked over to the sofa and sat down. Long silence. What could I tell him? What might open a door without letting too much of who I was out of the bag before I got feedback? What feedback did I expect?
I lost my nerve. Deep inside me I knew I was homosexual. I knew that I was attracted to David. I had no idea whether it was in any way reciprocated. What I did know, painfully but certainly, was that I was not going to say anything tonight.
"Yeah. It's nothing. Let's get back to the problem."
We did, but didn't come any closer to solving it that night. We did solve a couple more of the set of ten. By then it was late, and I left for home. I flew out the door with a quick good-bye and no real thought that something might have been missed. I didn't realize an opportunity had presented itself and I had missed it-years would pass before I realized it.
That night I thought about the math problem. I was, in fact, so absorbed in it that I didn't even jack off-my usual soporific as I went to bed.
The next morning I was back at the problem. Finally, in frustration, I decided to write down all of the possible combinations of children that could be in the back yard. Since the limit was eighteen, the smallest family could only have one or two children. There weren't all that many combinations. If you try it for yourself you will find that once all of the combinations are listed, and the product of the numbers are listed beside them, the answer is obvious. The house number is 120. Figure it out.
I called David as soon as I had it. He was impressed that I had worked it out, and said so. We didn't see each other that day, however. I have forgotten how I spent the rest of the day, and never knew how David spent his day.
We continued to be good friends. We went to each other's homes some, but mostly we saw each other in school-hardly a private setting. I never got another chance to say anything really personal to David. The year ended. David was going to spend the next year in Germany. I was off to Columbia University.
David's time in Germany was great. He wrote me a few times, very impersonal letters simply telling of his activities.
I screwed up at Columbia and came home with my tail between my legs after one semester. My parents weren't sure what to do with me at home, and offered me a trip to Europe, touring on the cheap (I was able to do it for less that Frommer's $5 a Day). When in Frankfort I went to the address David had written from, only to learn that he had returned from Germany after one semester, not the two he had planned.
My trip was wonderful. It expanded my horizons vastly more than school ever had. I gained the maturity to return to college and do it right (or at least better than I had at Columbia). I came home after ten weeks, and my father and I went to our summer home in Michigan to make some badly needed repairs. Then I was off to my summer camp counseling job in the Upper Peninsula.
Fall brought me back to Indianapolis, and then to Rockford College, where I had a second chance at college. Things were going pretty well, and I thought to write to David. The only address I had for him was his home in Indianapolis. I wrote there. A simple letter telling him a little of what had happened to me since we had last seen each other more than a year before. I think I was pretty vague about my time at Columbia.
Soon I got a letter back from David, written from Evanston, Illinois. He had enrolled in Northwestern University the second semester of the previous year. He would not have returned from Germany had he not been admitted to Northwestern. He closed with, "Isn't it nice that we are near each other. Let's get together."
I wrote back and proposed that I come into Chicago on a weekend about three weeks off. He could meet me at the train and we could spend some time in the city. I suggested that maybe he could find a place for me to sleep on campus, and I would return to Rockford on Sunday.
His return letter was almost immediate. Great! I'll meet the train! You can sleep in my dorm room. I am looking forward to seeing you. That was about it. News could wait until we were together.
This being before the days of cheap long distance, and with no phones in dorm rooms, communications like this nearly always were done by mail. So I sent him a last post card confirming the plans.
The weekend finally arrived. I got on a very early train in Rockford, headed for Chicago. The train pulled into the station about 8:15 a.m. about ten minutes late. I got off the train and looked around for David. He wasn't to be seen. I walked off the platform and into the lobby area. No David.
I decided that I wasn't getting anywhere just wandering, so I sat down where I could see the platform where my train had just arrived. Where was David? Had I gotten the day wrong? The train? I got up and looked at the schedule. There was another train from Rockford in about 40 minutes. I would wait and see if he met that train-perhaps there had been a miscommunication.
David didn't meet that train either. I had had him paged; no response. By the time the second train arrived I had wandered all over the station and not found David. I checked the men's rooms and he wasn't there.
I had come all the way to Chicago from Rockford to spend a weekend with David and he wasn't here. Somehow I felt that he hadn't stood me up. Rather something was wrong. Was he sick? In the hospital? I even checked with the railroad to see if the trains coming down through Evanston had all been operating that morning. They had.
By this time I was feeling pretty bad. And annoyed, I will have to admit. But I decided that I had three choices: Spend the day by myself in Chicago; turn around and go home; or try to find David. Ordinarily I would have enjoyed a day by myself in Chicago, but not in these circumstances. Going home didn't make much sense. So I decided to hunt for David.
I boarded the next train for Evanston, getting there about 11:00 in the morning. I didn't know my way around the town at all, so I got a taxi. David's address had been a University PO box, so that didn't help. I asked the taxi driver to take me to the main administration building. Most offices were closed, but I finally found some administrative office or other open and asked about David. I was given his dorm building and room number, but nothing more.
Back to the taxi. He took me to the dorm. I had no idea whether I would find David, so I asked the taxi to keep the meter running and wait. I went into the dorm and found David's room. The door was locked, and I knocked. It was answered by a young man who looked almost sick. I asked if David was there, or if he knew where David was. He sort of stammered, and said I should talk to the RA on the floor. He went to get him; leaving me standing in the hall. Soon a very nice young man came and asked if I was Charlie.
"How do you know who I am?" I asked.
"Charlie, let's go to the lounge and talk a minute."
I sensed that I wasn't going to be very happy with the talk, but I never suspected what was coming.
"Last night David went walking in the park He had cyanide thatg he had stolen from the Chemistry lab. He put a lot in his mouth and drank from the drinking fountain. The doctors think he was dead before he hit the ground."
I couldn't speak.
He said, "We found your post card just a while ago as we went through his room with his parents. It was too late to stop you from coming, or even to meet your train. We didn't know whether you would come here or not."
"His parents are here?"
"Where are they?"
"I can't really say without asking their permission. Let me make a phone call."
He called the Dean of Students who was with David's folks. They were staying at the Evanston Hotel, and were eager to have me join them.
I went back to the taxi and asked him to take me to the hotel. It was across from the railroad station. I went up to their room and knocked. Everyone was just sitting around in shock. The Dean of Students was there, along with David's parents and a couple of his close friends. They seemed genuinely glad to see me. I was the only person present that they had known before this tragedy. I guess I was a connection to David that they couldn't get from complete strangers, no matter how kind.
We all just sat around, not saying much. Slowly David's story came out. He had had a good first semester at the University the year before. This fall, he had been troubled, and had visited the University psychiatrist. The doctor's notes indicated that David was having minor mental problems, needing follow-up, but specifically stated that David was not felt to be suicidal. The doctor was wrong.
David's parents went out of their way to assure me that the timing had nothing to do with my coming to Chicago. They pointed out that David had chosen to see the psychiatrist before we had started to correspond. The Dean pointed out that the timing seemed to have been based on his opportunity to get into the chem lab and get the cyanide.
I still don't know if I believe that. Did my coming in some way trigger the event? I will never know. David left no note, nothing. At the time, sitting in the hotel, we were comforted by the thought of the Dean of Students who said he had heard of suicides mailing a note. That way it doesn't get into the hands of the police. I have met David's parents several times since, and no note was mailed. As far as we ever knew there was no note. There was no reason. There was no explanation.
And it was so damn final. To this day I don't know whether I am in love with David, mad at David, or just sad.
I took the train that night to Indianapolis. My parents met me. On Monday I attended David's funeral. No burial followed. David was cremated. There was, is, no grave.
The next day I went back to Rockford, mentally numb. I accomplished almost nothing for about three days. I had a very unpleasant roommate, who didn't understand the concept of sympathy. (Not long after I changed roommates.) I did have some good friends who were quite helpful. The third evening I was alone in my room. I went to bed early, as I was accomplishing nothing sitting at my desk. Laying there in the bed I finally let loose the tears that I had been bottling up. I cried long and loud. Till there were no more tears and nothing left to cry about.
By the next morning I had it behind me. But, I kept wanting to ask David, "Why." I still have those thoughts today. I also had the feeling of being cheated by the fact that he was cremated. In my mind I could see myself at David's grave, trying to ask him, "Why?" It is probably a good thing there isn't a grave, or I would have visited, asked "Why?" and gotten the same answer I got at night in bed when I asked. Silence.
I had never had a crush on David. I wasn't in love with him. In high school I knew that I had homosexual urges, and sometimes David was the subject of them. I had never been bold enough to tell him anything. The closest I got was the night of the math problem. And that wasn't close. But I had a great sense of loss when David was gone. But it was the loss of a friend, not an imagined lover. I had no reason to believe that David had any kind of reciprocal feeling for me. And, with his death, any possibility of "something" happening between us was gone.
Life goes on. I never acted on any feelings of homosexuality. I married. I had two lovely children, who now have given me grandchildren. I have a lovely wife, and we are going on our 40th anniversary.
But David managed to come back into my life. And that is what prompts telling this story. Ever since the publication of Toward a Quaker View of Sex in 1963, I have been a strong supporter of rights and freedom for gays and lesbians. I have asked myself over the years whether this is out of a sense of morality and justice, or out of some deep self-serving urge. In any case I have worked long and hard in my church and community for recognition and rights for gays. In the course of my work I have gotten to know quite a few gays and lesbians, and one is one of my best friends. We talk long into the night on a regular basis. He is the only soul on earth that knows I am at least partly bisexual. It was quite an experience to come out to him. It freed me in many ways.
I also discovered the internet. I soon learned that pictures are arousing for the first few times you look at them, but soon it is, "If you've seen one you've seen them all." Stories are another matter. Then I met Chris and Nigel. If you haven't met them, do a Google search. They, and other teens that populate the ether, live in a different world than I grew up in. Male/male pairs simply didn't happen in the days when David and I were in high school. If I had screwed up my nerve to talk to David about sex, the most I would have dreamed of would have been quick sex in one of our bedrooms, not a loving, longterm relationship.
All these thoughts took me back to David. And all of a sudden I had a flash of insight. The suicide rate among gay teenagers is dramatically higher than among straights. Was David gay? Was that the answer to "Why?"? Of course I can never know. But it adds a new perspective to what happened. And it adds a horrible new thought: would David be alive today if I had spoken differently the night of the math problem?
Of course, I will never know the answer to that either. And the total number of What ifs that can be contemplated in infinite. David could have spoken to me as easily as I spoke to him, but neither of us did. David could have been totally straight, and his death come from serious, undiagnosed mental illness.
But this story is my response to the big What if of David and Charlie. I feel better for writing it, and I hope that somewhere David senses that, and perhaps rests easier.
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