“Take one more.”
Simon snored loudly on the bottom of the corner bunk bed. I squinted in his direction to ensure he was not the one speaking to me. His umber colored chest rose and fell with each deep breath seeping through his nostrils. Simon and I were not alone. Oblivious to what or who could be giving the order, I obediently took a pain pill so as not to upset him.
“Take two more,” the man announced.
My fingers traced the outside of the open plastic sandwich bag and moved inward to retrieve an assortment of medications. The instructions did not detail which pill to take, which gave me freedom to choose as I wished. Both of my thumbs pushed upward to free two blue pills. I tossed the pills into my mouth with one hand and took a large gulp of water from a glass with the other in one harmonious motion. I smirked at my obedient response.
The voice was a strange companion as my sickly Costa Rican roommate tried to snooze his cold away. I quite enjoyed the company of this faceless commander. The tone of his voice spoke both firm and kind like a head coach of a sports team seeking the players’ best. That evening, I sought to be his best recruit so as not to be punished.
“Take three more.”
I flipped the plastic Ziploc bag upside down to empty its contents. A box of Benadryl now laid on my lap wondering if I would chose them next. I shrugged my shoulders thinking Benadryl would meet the commander’s requirements even though I questioned its potency. With another seamless motion, I tossed the pink and white capsules into my mouth with a bit of water. My chin lifted into the air as I dramatized the pills sliding down my throat. I felt loved being one on one with the faceless commander. His full attention appealed to my lonely, broken heart.
I sought to be his best recruit so as not to be punished.
Cross-legged, I sat questioning if someone could stop our diligent work. I wanted our work to continue, so I got up to ensure myself that the others would stay away. I stumbled out of the room, dragging my feet across the painted concrete floor. The mission’s cook asked me in broken Spanglish how recovery from my recent surgery is going. I smirked and nodded my head, mumbling a couple of Spanish words to indicate the recovery was fine. My feet shuffled away from her as I passed the rows of wooden dining hall tables searching for the gringos I knew. “Everything is fine,” I chuckled to myself as I walked around the dungeon-like missionary base.
Those gringos could be found easily as worship songs blared through the speakers, leading me to the missionaries and additional summer staff standing in the back of a makeshift chapel. Six or seven dozen youth stood in front of their metal folding chairs as they prepared for their religious mission ahead; if only, they had a commander like mine. I despised the mold of normal Christianity. The standing up and sitting down of the saints. The proclamation of their petty salvation stories, which only seem to last for a few months after an intense religious experience. It all felt like word and deed with a deep gaping hole never filled.
The commander and I formed a greater bond than the one they sought after. The gringos would never understand. A few familiar white faces glanced and nodded at me and I returned the nod with a slight smile. No one asked how I felt or why I was not resting. The gringos never cared about me for the year I had lived here. I became immune to them as I walked backwards to complete the plans the commander wanted me to complete. Christians love being close to a Holy Spirit experience with theatrical worship music captivating their tiny hearts. I entered their worship circle for a moment only to reassure myself that the gringos were caught up in the moment. The commander and I would not be interrupted. I stepped backwards to disappear into the dark hallway, slipping into a nearby bathroom to take a few more pills.
The commander said, “Take four.”
And I obeyed.
I walked out of the bathroom to see the chapel light streaming into the long hallway. I wanted the gringos to love me, but I was too sick to love. I welcomed the commander’s attention as a sign of affirmation of his love for me. We would have a worship session of our own.
In a dramatic cartoon-like fashion, I lifted each foot up to my waist, balancing from one set of toes to the next in an effort to be as quiet as possible. The commander loved my pious movements. Neither my actions nor his voice were logical, yet I enjoyed the adventure. Why would one need to take so many pills? Were bodiless friends ever logical? A friendship with a bodiless man took child-like faith. The same type of faith spoken of by those Bible types. I needed a friend and so I had one. Logic should never be considered in executing such important tasks.
“Take four more,” said the gentle commander.
I searched through my luggage like a hunt for buried jewels. I unzipped each zipper, desperately looking in each section with my fingers tracing every corner for a special jewel. Each medication box equaled a treasure chest, which completed the mysterious orders. I drank more water and consumed another round of pills. It only got easier as time went on.
“Nate, how many are you taking?”
My head jerked in Simon’s direction as I stared into his face wondering how long he had been watching me. Our eyes glued as my heart grew heavy with the realization that my quest with the commander could be over. I took advantage of Simon's sickly state and broken English. I mumbled that I only needed a couple more, it would be okay and we both needed more rest. Simon squinted his eyebrows, questioning my words, but out of sheer exhaustion, he rolled over to sleep again. No one could foil our plans. The commander chuckled with pride, while I closed my eyes to take a deep breath of victory. Not even Simon could stop our journey.
Short and simple orders. Gather the pill quantity, toss them into my mouth, take a large swig of water, swallow, and repeat the process. The faceless commander knew best. He always knew best. Did he not? He spoke with such clarity, firmness and conviction.
“Take one more.”
I successfully executed his final command. The descending numbers meant our journey was coming to an end. The faceless commander and I were heading home. The faceless commander needed me and I needed him. I tossed the empty pill packages across the top of the dresser and stumbled into the bottom bunk perpendicular to Simon’s as I struggled to take in oxygen. I curled into a ball as my lungs tried to take in air.
The faceless commander and I were heading home. The faceless commander needed me and I needed him.
“It will all be okay.”
The faceless, fearless leader’s reassurance allowed me to rest my head on my pillow. I closed my eyes to see the most beautiful sky I had ever seen. The blue sky mixed with cobalt, sapphire, and arctic shades with antique white clouds dancing around a black hole as my focal point. I felt my body race towards the black hole with the bodiless commander at my side. My body felt weightless and yet rushed with adrenaline as we glided through the atmosphere. The sky grew darker as shades of indigo, berry, and navy flooded around us overtaking the previous daylight we once enjoyed. I wondered why the playful spring-like scene abruptly turned cold. I struggled to gain physical movement as the black hole became my sheer reality. This is how it will end.
“It will all be okay,” he chuckled with a cynical mimicking voice.
Fear awakened me with a deep inhale through my nose, I forced my eyes open and clumsily made my way to the bedroom door. My knuckles turned white as I clasped onto the doorknob, wondering what or who is real. I rocked forward and backward as I tried to gain a sense of control. I attempted to scream, yet complete terror closed my vocal chords. Nanoseconds felt like days as I waited for the physical world to come back to me.
I opened the white painted wooden door to an intern walking down the corridor to his respective bedroom. I interrupted his steps with a simple question, “Could you get Jacob or Hope?”
“What’s wrong?” Confusion echoed in his questioning.
My eyes darted back and forth as I forced out a short sentence, “I think I did something bad.” He looked over my shoulder to see multiple medication boxes with zero contents on top of the dresser. His puzzled look transformed to a deep horror as he darted away to seek help.
I pulled my knees into my chest rocking myself to stay awake. The foam mattress held my body as if I laid on a cloud gliding towards the faceless commander’s black kingdom. I rocked myself and whimpered as if transforming to an orphan left alone to comfort himself. I wanted to know, how much longer must I wait for freedom to come?
Jacob burst into the room with large huffing and puffing and jumped onto the bed with me. I shivered as he shook my shoulders asking what I had done. With squinted eyes, I took a shallow breath to explain, “I don’t know. I’m sorry. I don’t know what is happening. I’m sorry.”
In my peripheral view, Simon stared at the chaos from his bunk and arose to the loud mayhem as other staff began to walk into the room. Jacob yelled orders at another intern to get Jared and Hope, the lead staff missionaries. My eyes did not want to stay open as I could hear frantic questions and commands being given in the background. I attempted to move my body away from Jacob’s arms to get some rest on the foam mattress. It was time to die. Jacob pulled me into his chest, forcefully asking what I had done. Tears streamed down my cheekbones as I saw his terrified face and repeated the same statements, “I’m sorry. I don’t know.” I wiped my tears on his shirt trying to hide my shame in his chest.
I did want to be rescued, but I needed to follow my commander’s orders. Why did I question the commander as we flew into our final destination? Beyond my immediate desire for sleep, I wanted to find more jewels inside of the treasure boxes. I needed another round of the colorful pills in small white containers. I needed to sleep forever with the commander at my side. I closed my eyes praying for another command.
“Stay awake! Open your eyes, Nate!” Jacob kept shaking me as I attempted to sleep.
“I’m sorry. I need to rest, Jacob. I only need to rest.” As I closed my eyes, Jacob simultaneously jerked my body to wake me up again. He forcibly shoved his arms between my limp body and the foam mattress. “We’re going to the hospital.”
Jacob pulled my left arm over his shoulder as my one hundred and forty pound body shuffled out of the building’s side door and into a fifteen-passenger van. Jared and Hope were already in the front seats ready to make a quick escape. A pounding on the van’s side slowed Jared from stomping on the gas paddle. An umber colored face appeared next to the driver’s window. It was Simon. He rattled off a few sentences in Spanish and handed the empty medication boxes to Jared. I felt their eyes look at me with pity as the white van sped onto the gravel road.
No one was supposed to see the treasure chests, Simon. No one. I don’t need to be rescued. I wanted to go home. The commander had a new home for me. The commander reassuringly whispered to me that I successfully completed my task. No one could take the precious pills I consumed. The medication in my system would complete our journey together. My heart pumped the poison into my bloodstream as I attempted to sleep.
“Why did you do this?” someone in the van asked.
My head bounced off of Jacob’s lap as the van raced in and out on the narrow, unevenly paved roads, dodging oncoming traffic. Unenforced traffic laws meant a driver could make their way through the city streets without reason to the double yellow lines in the road. On this moonlit dash, I resented the minimal traffic laws as the tires sped toward the closest private hospital thirty minutes or more away. Street lights highlighted the pastel colored houses, which also dimly lit our faces as the van squealed down hill.
“Why did you do this?” the person asked again.
“The man told me to,” I responded in a monotone voice. Have they not met the commander? I had not seen the faceless commander, yet his voice was charming, stern and direct. Why would I not respond to his directions?
Without prompting, I repeated over and over, “The man told me to. All homosexuals must die. We must all die. All homosexuals must die.”
"All homosexuals must die. We must all die. All homosexuals must die."
“Who said that to you?” Confusion and anger rose in their questioning and I only repeated the same statements.
“The man told me to. We all must die. All homosexuals must die.”
I looked up at Jacob staring down at me only to repeat myself, “The man told me to . . . the man told me to . . .” while closing my eyes to sleep forever.
Jacob placed his hand on my heart, which repeated a song of a fast rhythmic beat mixed with silent, abrupt pauses. Jacob shook me at each dramatic heart pause as he worryingly told the others, “His heart is slowing down.” I loved the eerie silence in the van. It welcomed me into the commander’s black kingdom as I tried to hide away.
“The man told me to…” I murmured. “We, the homosexuals must die. We all must die.”
Jared and Hope whispered prayers as we skid through stoplights and barely avoided multiple motor vehicle collisions. Did they not know I do not need a savior? I followed the plan and a hospital visit was a waste of effort. I longed for my new home, still I have yet to see inside the the black hole and predestined death. No one, nothing could change someone’s sexual orientation. I will join the destiny we, the queers, shared that we all must die. No one fought for us before, why did they fight for us now?
The van came to an abrupt halt as Jacob pulled my body from the van and forcibly made me hobble towards a bright corridor. I squinted as my legs tried to keep up with Jacob’s pace. I wanted to stop as I realized where we were. My heart pounded as I wondered where the faceless commander disappeared to. I waited for new orders. Why did the commander abandon me? We all must die. I must die. The gays must die.
Multiple voices frantically spoke in Spanish around me as I struggled to open my eyes as my heart slowed its beat. Hospital staff placed me on a stretcher and gathered around as a doctor chanted orders. A woman in maroon scrubs forcibly inserted a thin plastic tube up my nasal cavity. I tried to lift my arm to stop the team from saving my life as my gag reflexes kicked in. Other professionals grabbed my arms and held my shoulders down as the tube made its way down my esophagus and into my stomach. I stared at them in disbelief of wanting to save a stranger. Why would they want to save me?
The medical doctor spewed out more orders as another pumped a liquid into the tube and down my body. The images in front of me blurred as exhaustion took over my ability to process anything around me. I attempted to throw up in reaction to the continued irrigation process. Liquid in. Black liquid out. A woman in scrubs gently kept her hand on my shoulder as the procedure continued until the remnants of my precious pills disappeared. One by one, the medical staff left my view as familiar faces replaced them. Why did Jacob, Hope and Jared just stand there? Did their facial expressions show pity, anger, concern, disgust, sympathy or all of the above? Tears rolled down their faces wondering how we all got to this place. How much self-hatred needs to be there for a man to try and take his own life?
How much self-hatred needs to be there for a man to try and take his own life?
In their silence, I mumbled a question, “Do you have to call Bryan?” I did not want my program director to know what had happened. I did not care about finishing a college degree. I did not want anyone outside of this hospital room to know about this moment. I did not want to be viewed as a failure. Why didn’t these bystanders just let me die?
In silent agreement, they nodded their heads that they would let him know.
I repeated the same question about my family. They gave me an identical non-verbal gesture. A simple nod of their heads with pinched lips as an attempt not to cry in front of me.
I went to sleep exhausted from my adventure with the faceless commander and the life saving measures administered in the hospital, only to wake up in a hospital bed in a private room.
I stated to the nurse walking in the room, “I need to go to the bathroom.” I pushed myself up in the bed with an attempt to walk. The nurse placed his hand on my shoulder and handed me a portable urinal. I stared at the bathroom door, uncertain if I should rebel or not. Wires connected to my chest and IV fluids flowed into my right arm. My hand touched the end point of a tube taped to my face with its other end dangling somewhere inside of my stomach. I became a prisoner. The hospital bed was my prison cell.
Jacob stood next to the bed and watched the awkward interaction between the nurse and I. I tightened my eyebrows as I glared at the nurse until he finally left Jacob and I alone. Jacob hesitantly cleared his throat, which echoed inside the room. He meekly asked, “Do you want me to hold the urinal for you?”
My eyes shifted between the portable urinal and Jacob’s face. I would rather be dead than urinate into a urinal held by another man. I felt demoralized. I shook my head without the ability to cry or scream. I felt so small. I couldn’t verbalize, “No.” I shut my eyes, hoping this was all just a nightmare.