When I was 21 years old, I moved to San Francisco by myself. At that time, I didn’t realize just how lonesome the real world could be.
This is the story of how my roommate saved my life and how I wasn’t there to save his.
His name was Justin, a sailor who had recently moved from Maine to San Francisco in order to attend the local community college. He was white, short, and skinny. He often wore tight t-shirts, tight cut-off shorts, and too much makeup that made him look feminine. He fit my stereotypical image of a gay man, so I knew he was gay when I first saw him. He was flamboyant when he wanted to be and usually spoke whatever was on his mind, no matter how inappropriate his comments were at times.
We were the complete opposites, but we got along quite well. We shared details about our lives during the first days he moved into the house, and we quickly developed a friendship. I wanted to be completely honest with him, so I decided to tell him I was gay. At first, he looked at me in shock and then, very excitedly, told me he would take me to gay clubs, bars, and show me around the city. I smiled. He was my first true friend in San Francisco.
On our first night out, Justin gave me vodka to calm my nerves, but I felt more nervous and drunk by the time we arrived at the club. Once inside, I couldn’t believe I was seeing men kiss, touch, and dance with each other. Suddenly, I became part of the gay world and I felt strange and partly scared. I wanted to go back, but Justin didn’t allow me. My world had just been changed and Justin was to thank.
While inside the club, Justin warned me that the gay world was all about sex and that I should be careful because men in these clubs prey on younger guys. I looked around and saw a room full of friendly men; his comment confused me. He advised that long-distance relationships do not work because most gay guys cheat; I assured him that my boyfriend and I were happy even if we were living far away from each other. Finally, he told me that most gay guys in the community have fucked around with each other, so a true gay platonic friendship was rare. I didn’t know what to say; I had no intentions of messing around with him.
That night an older man tried to take me to his place because he knew I was drunk. Luckily, Justin found me before my panic attack worsened and we took a taxi back home. After that incident, he told me that he would be there to protect me. And he kept his word.
I can go on and tell you about the many times Justin took care of me when we went out clubbing or how he called me a prude for being so afraid to show my sexuality. Or that one night he said I dressed too “straight” and decided to dress me in a tight flannel shirt that showed some skin. Or how we spent hours in his room talking about music, our families, our relationships, and the little friends we had. But that’s not the story I want to tell.
Justin passed away in April of 2012. He was only 22.
I had only known him for 2 months before he moved back home, but that was enough for us to consider each other friends. But soon I became busy with school and we hardly talked. I last messaged Justin a few weeks before his death to tell him that my boyfriend had cheated on me throughout our relationship. Justin was right, gay guys often cheat.
I learned of Justin’s death later that month. It was ruled as an accidental fall.
Truth of the matter, Justin had been going through some hard times. He didn’t have many true gay friends he could talk with about his problems, so he often took trips by himself when he wanted to clear his head. I often wonder what would have happened if I was there to talk with him during the night he fell off the tower. Truth is, I often think about him.
You see, Justin tried to teach me about the gay community, but he taught me about life. Older, more experienced, individuals can take advantage of younger, less experienced, people. Sometimes relationships just end or people cheat while being in one. More importantly, he taught me that true friends are rare.
I needed Justin during that time in my life. The gay world for a newly “out” individual can be dangerously lonely.
On the night he moved out, we were avoiding that awkward goodbye hug. Finally, after constantly checking his room for any missing belongings, he approached me. He gave me a hug and said that I was one of the good guys. He said that I shouldn’t be afraid of being myself, my gay self, and to take care of myself. I told him I would try to be more gay and for him to take care of himself too.
If I knew that would be the last time we would see each other, I would have hugged him longer and tighter. I would have thanked him for being there to teach me about the world and for protecting me from the bad guys. I would have told him that I loved him for being himself. I would have told him that he could always talk to me whenever he wanted to cry. But I didn’t say any of that.
As he drove off, I waved goodbye. I then went to his empty room and cried.