The following is a chapter from West of Independence. It conveys a pivotal moment in my life. It is a moment that I cannot take back, a moment that casts a shadow over who I am. I can't say with any amount of certainty that had I acted differently, had I been a better man, had I reached out with love, Jared would still be here today. What I can say with absolute certainty is that I would not have known the terrible regret, shame, and self-loathing that accompanied (and clouded) my grief, loss, and sadness when my little brother Jared took his own life.
This Saturday I will be taking part in the "Out of the Darkness Walk." But no matter how far I walk, I know that I have to do it under the shadow of how I treated Jared.
Chapter 14: January 1995
“Is Jared gay?” Our friend Jessica’s question more than caught me off guard. It struck away my powers of speech and thought.
My mouth hung open and wordless in reply, my eyes wide and unfocused. After an awkward moment, I managed to pry the lid of my brain open, and let slip the first thought to escape.
“No, he just dresses well.” I blurted.
“But you don’t think he’s gay?” Jessica pressed.
“No, he’s not gay, my older brother Harrison is,” I offered, as though it were both an excuse and a compromise.
There could be no more amount of gay in my life. Harrison had already laid claim to the one gay spot allotted our family.
“And that means Jared can’t be gay? Do you really believe that? I would think that one gay brother increases the odds, wouldn't you?” With her first question Jessica had pressed the knife between my ribs. Her second question twisted it.
“I would know if he were gay, he would tell me. He’s my brother.” The look in my eyes closed the door on any further discussion, and Jessica dropped the subject.
That night, in the darkness of our bedroom, I asked Ella what she thought of Jessica’s line of questioning.
“Would it matter if Jared were gay?” She countered, avoiding a direct answer while quietly laying the burden of any response to Jessica’s question at my feet. I had been hoping for reassurance from her that Jared was straight.
I didn't answer her question that night, and in time the topic was pushed aside by the worries of life.
Several days later I returned home after a long day of dirty carpets to find Jared and Ella sitting together, tears in their eyes and tissues in their hands. The closing credits to a movie rolled up the TV screen. I took a few steps across the room and picked up the video case sitting on top of it. The movie was called “Shadowlands” and starred Debora Winger and Anthony Hopkins.
“Matthew, you have got to watch this movie.” This came from Ella, a runny-nose sound to her voice.
“Why? You don’t look very happy after having watched it.”
“No, Matthew, she’s right. You should watch it,” Jared said.
“Isn't this movie about C.S. Lewis, the guy that wrote ‘The Chronicles of Narnia?’ Doesn't he die at the end? No thanks, I don’t want to watch a sad movie about death,” I laughed.
“Don’t laugh! Yes it’s sad, but it’s also beautiful. And for your information he doesn't die, his wife does.” Ella wiped her nose, dropping the tissue into a pile already on the floor.
“He finds the one true love that he always wanted, and they are so happy together. Then she gets sick and dies, and he is lost without her. I want to have love like that someday, to find someone I’d be lost without.” The look on Jared’s tear streaked face told me that to poke any more fun at the movie would be a mistake.
I dismissed Jared’s usage of the term “someone.” I was unwilling to entertain any more thoughts about him being gay, and was not about to ask him about it directly. I went to take a shower, and by the time I came out the movie and its case had been hidden away.
We continued to live, work, and play together, the three of us enjoying the limited freedom that comes from living on an hourly wage far away from the pressures of family.
Note: Today is "World Suicide Prevention Day." Let it be the day that you decide to always act out of love rather than fear and ignorance, so that when your moment arrives you will be ready.
Take it from me; once that shadow lands, it never leaves.