Surprised I hadn’t told this story before, but years ago I worked for a government contractor in my relatively small Southern home town. I was a young mid-20’s in this firm of about 100 employees. Amongst us was Tom, he was the manager of operations. Tom was early 40’s, tall and lanky, always with a tie on, house in the suburbs. He was a stewart of the community, active in various business groups (Rotary, Lion’s Club) and a Deacon at his Methodist church. Tom tried to shepard me along, we had lunch together most days. Tom was just a likable guy.
I eventually took another job, left town, my adventure around the world was beginning. About a year later, I talked to one of my old colleagues. He told me that Tom was dead.
But how and why? Tom was in good health, I assumed. My colleague though was hesitant to talk but I wanted to know.
It seems Tom had been arrested by the police at a local area park for soliciting an undercover male officer to engage in a sexual act. The police were cracking down as the park had become known as a cruising spot for gay men. Tom was later released on his own recognizance to go home.
The next morning, Tom took his company car, drove to a small roadside motel about 30 miles outside of town, checked in to a room, stripped off his clothes, climbed in the bathtub and slit his wrists. He was dead by suicide leaving behind a wife, a son and two daughters. No obituary was published and a private burial ceremony was held a few days later. The year 1991.
I don’t know if it was the shame of being arrested or the nature of the arrest for some immoral act or having to answer some very private questions about his sexuality to a public audience. We’re never going to know.
Had Tom lived on, he surely would have had to endure the public rath, the business groups would shun him, the church pastor might suggest he “resign” his position from the church and the office rumours would circulate. Most likely, Tom would have eventually gotten divorced, moved to another town, someplace where his past wouldn’t catch up with him. But Tom would have seen the marriage of all 3 of his children and the subsequent grandchildren. He would have lived to fight another day.
In my own process, I have upended my life, lost my employment because of this, lost countless friends who couldn’t cope and became the fodder for endless hallway gossip. It I made it look easy, it’s only because the pain of telling you how I really feel would send me as well to a small roadside motel. My reward for all this has been some brown MIA tiger bobbing around at this very moment on the Caribbean Sea. But I hold on mainly because I want to live to fight another day. You should as well.
Tom, after all, was just a likable guy.