Dead Man Walking

Maple trees danced on the coastal New England farm. Flowers decorated a white arch as two lovers waited to say their vows on their wedding day. White folding chairs lined the dark greenery as their occupants scooted this way and that way in their seats to get a better look.

I cared deeply about this dirty-blonde woman. Her paintings and photography echoed the stirrings of her soul. The slight saltwater breeze caused me to reminisce about that time six years prior when we sat close to one another along the ocean shore. The waves crashed against the rocks attempting to disrupt our conversation. But still, our friendship continued to bloom from our laughter and spiritual conversation. We screamed, “We’re in Europe!” over and over the time our youth group went to Croatia. We had goofy talks on car rides crossing over the Narragansett Bay returning from dancing in the small clubs in Newport. Sunday afternoon brunch with friends solidified our lifelong friendship.

I took a deep breath as the pastor stated, “You may now kiss your bride.”

I opened my eyes to watch Kendall kiss her groom. Together, their hands lifted in celebration as they walked down the aisle into marital bliss. The giggling newlyweds walked past me with the crowd and I clapped and cheered for them.

Love was a vague word. I loved Kendall like I did her siblings. And what others saw between us in high school just wasn’t there. Despite what others thought, I believed in friendships beyond the same gender. At least, it seemed that way for me.

In self-reflection, I would never have been with her. I could not force myself to love her. And how could I? It would have been wrong to force something. But there was someone I knew who loved me and I them.

The following night, I paced up and down main street unsure if I should make the phone call. New England summer attire included shirts, sandals and sweatshirts. No one worried about the chill as tourists walked by licking their ice cream cones. My fingers shook as I typed her name into the phone search. I tapped on her name and pushed “Send.” Straight to voicemail. Unsure of what to do, I stammered through unrehearsed lines and left an awkward message.

“Caroline. This is Nate. This is completely random…. Um…You are my closest friend. We work so well together. We are a great team. You are incredible and I’m wondering…. If we should try dating. I know this would be long distance, but hopefully for just a short while. Let’s talk soon.”

Caroline and I would be the perfect love story.

I ended the call and continued to pace up and down the road. I questioned my adolescent move of asking someone out over the phone. But it would give her a chance to think it over without the pressure over the phone. We made sense together. Everyone else knew this. I knew this. She knew this. Caroline and I would be the perfect love story.

In minutes, my phone lit up with a familiar long distance number on the screen. The intense nervousness and anxiety made me want to throw up like I did when competing in a high school swim meet. I answered and stammered through the conversation. I hung on every word as she said, “I think we should try this.”

Caroline and I officially started to date.

College finished. Summer ended. Caroline and I began dating. And I moved back into my parents’ house on the dirt road.

My first month back, I went to my local primary care physician to get medication like I did the summer after Canada. The wood-paneled walls transported me to the 1970’s. Fake flowers flopped over in their vases on wooden side tables. And maroon carpet welcomed patients in its foyer. The doctor’s office kept outdated health posters on its walls. Despite the oddity, I came for two scripts for my mental health and was not bothered by the decor.

A nursing technician led me to a private exam room, took my vitals and told me to wait for the doctor. I wish this process could have been faster. In Canada, I only needed to walk into the same clinic and say I needed a medication refill. The doctor would scribble down the drug and his signature on a prescription note. I’d pay a $50 fee to the clerk and be on my way. A simple, methodical process.

I reminded myself to follow the normal protocol for American physicians. I did not have a reason to be concerned. I would state what I needed and leave.

The doorknob turned and a medical professional walked in. I saw a seriousness on her face and instantly knew this would not be a normal visit. A cold sweat dripped down my back and I began to review the simple plan. I just needed to ask for a script and leave.

The nurse practitioner held a manila folder containing documentation from the previous summer's visits. She asked the typical questions with a cold methodical voice.

“Why are you here today?”

“To get my prescriptions refilled.”

Her eyes glanced over the medical notes and she started to ask symptom questions.

“Are you still hearing voices?”

My eyebrows squeezed together as I looked at her and let out a small “Yes.”

“Are you still having visual hallucinations?”
“Hallucinations” was a funny word. I preferred the term “visions.” “Hallucinations” was a medical term about the condition that makes a person psychotic. Make-believe images. Visions were a gift from God… or maybe a curse sent from above. Okay, maybe she used the right word… Hallucinations.

I cleared my throat to let out a soft “yes” in hopes that the nurse would not get a definitive answer. She took note of my answer regardless of my failure to cover it up.

“You’ll need to see a Psychiatrist.”

My eye widened as I stared at her in awe. Why? I jumped into fight or flight mode with an increased annunciation to my voice.

“What do you mean see a psychiatrist?”

“I cannot give you a prescription because you are still hallucinating. You will need to see a Psychiatrist, who will be able to meet your needs.”

She opened the door and headed to the administration assistant’s desk. I followed her like a disappointed child. She asked the clerk to call Dr. Patel to set up an appointment. I watched as the assistant dial the number. Why couldn’t I just get a script? I will now be labeled as an insane person. The hallucinations should have left when I watched the faceless commander fly away before my very eyes. The nightmare was supposed to be over.

"How long will I be on new medication? How long do I have to see him for?”

“No answer,” said the administrative assistant to the nurse practitioner without a care to my question. I stared at them both waiting for an answer.

“Could you try again?” The nurse directed then glanced back to give me a quick answer, “I’m not sure. You will need to talk to the psychiatrist.”

The administrative assistant began to speak to someone on the other line as I looked back at the nurse. “Will I have to be on medication forever?”

“You will need to talk to the psychiatrist.” For the first time, her face showed remorse as she did not want to be the person to firmly state the lifelong diagnosis. She patted me on the back as she walked by to go to the next patient’s room. The assistant handed me an appointment card with the time and date. I paid a doctor’s fee and exited through the office doors without a prescription. I rolled the windows down to air out the vehicle and realized I had become one of the crazy ones.

The following Tuesday, I sought counseling in hopes of getting rid of the voices and visual hallucinations. I took an hour drive to receive Biblical counseling. I wanted some kind of help. I don’t know why but I kept going to Christians in hopes that God could cure me. I prayed someone could explain and take away these visuals I kept having.

In my first session, a middle-aged man sat across from me with a picture of his three sons sitting on the desk behind him. The pale yellow wall showcased multiple college degrees proving his expertise. Despite my reluctance, he was not afraid to jump in. A small discussion occurred around suicidal ideations, but he kept prodding to find out the root of my death thoughts. I briefly mentioned homosexual desires. I attempted to articulate how those could have started. He didn’t seem to notice my stammering through my thoughts as he reached over to grab his oversized leather Bible from the top of his desk. He thumbed through the pages to land on the 1 Corinthians homosexual passage. A gay passage I knew all too well. His authoritative voice rose and filled the room as the words bounced off the walls.

“This is what you were…” He reread this part of the passage over and over in an effort to prove a point.

“A lot of high school students come in here complaining they are gay. I ask if their classmates call them by homosexual terms. They usually get called names. As a result, they only think they are gay. Did you get made fun of in high school?”

I silently recalled a few definitive instances. But I didn’t believe an insult would cause my orientation to change or make me desire another man. These occurrences did not continue in college either. Why did this matter? How would this question help me get over what I have done to myself?

Regardless of what I internally felt, the man’s numerous credentials made his authority on gay issues greater than my seemingly adolescent issues. Who was I to question a man of God, especially in light of Scripture…. In light of God Himself? I nodded in silent agreement to his initial question.

“This is just something you will have to get over” was his final sentence.

“This is just something you will have to get over”

Something to get over? Why didn’t he go ahead and call a medical doctor to suggest castration? If my dick causes me to stumble then I might as well remove the issue! Was that Biblical too?

“Is there anything else we need to talk about?” He questioned while staring at the clock beside me. Only twenty-five minutes into our first session.

I shook my head. He told me to set another appointment with the receptionist. And concluded I could return when I felt ready to discuss anything else. With a new appointment card in my hand, I left the office building unsure of what just happened. Within minutes, I had Mr. Greene on the other line as I recounted the counseling session.

“Nate, please don’t go back there. It isn’t life-giving for you," he gently stated.

“Savannah Christian Counseling. Can I help you?” questioned the receptionist.

“Yes. My name is Nate Smith. I would like to cancel my next appointment.”

“Did you want to reschedule?”

“No. I think I am done with counseling.”

Just move past the gay desire and a suicide attempt. Great work, Mr. Counselor. I'll figure this out myself.

The psychiatric office was located at the end of a rundown strip mall discreetly hidden behind a fast food joint. Strangely, the neglected upkeep of the exterior matched the office space. Its décor aligning itself with the state of my emotional-psychological-spiritual state. Torn apart, unkempt, dusty, cold and empty. Wallpaper was coming off of the wall. Fellow patients avoided eye contact the entire time.

Dr. Patel called me into his office after I paid a $150 meeting fee to a receptionist in a side office. He took my weight and blood pressure. I once again had to retell the previous summer’s suicide attempt. I gave my usual speech without emotion while staring at the paintings on the wall. Without delay, I recognized the elaborate decorative elephant painting due to a high school friendship I had with a practicing Hindu. I consciously skipped details of the distorted Biblical visions as the Hindu deity, Ganesh kept eye contact with me. I also skipped the details of the present demons and angels. The Hindu psychiatrist would not be able to understand Christian spirituality.

“I am going to take you off the Risperdal, since it seems not to have been working. I am going to start you on a new medication called Saphris and let’s continue with the Lexapro.”

Dr. Patel explained the sublingual tablet, Saphris would need to be placed underneath my tongue until it dissolved. I should not eat or drink for fifteen minutes after taking the medication. Saphris was a newer medication, so he could give me a month’s medication for free every month until we needed to find a financially better option when his supply ran out. I would start with a smaller dose for two months, which would be increased again until I was completely stabilized.

“This medication will take care of any hallucinations you may be experiencing. You have a mental disorder called schizoaffective disorder. It is the combination of both depression and schizophrenia. It is a condition that affects both your thought processing and your moods. You cannot stop these medications. Let me know if you feel worse after starting the medications. Do you have any questions?”

A small price to stay alive.

I stated I had no other questions for him. Dr. Patel handed me a couple boxes of Saphris, a script for Lexapro and an appointment card. With this in hand, I left the office to purchase the anti-depressant at the local retail pharmacy. In one afternoon, I paid $110 for the anti-depressant and the $150 monthly psychiatric visit. A small price to stay alive.

That evening, I slipped the cherry-flavored Saphris underneath my tongue. A minute later, I lifted my tongue to be sure the medication disappeared. I got into bed staring at the wall-mounted television trying to drown out the hallucinations surrounding me and would eventually fall asleep.

The clock flashed, “02:00 AM.” My legs kicked without my control. I kicked side to side with the medication’s induction. Blankets and bedsheets fell to the floor. My spirit wrestled with Saphris as the hazing continued to jerk my body back and forth. I attempted to hold my body in place, but the medication felt too strong. Exactly fifteen minutes later, my body stopped. I placed my hand on my heart to check if I was still alive. This wasn’t a dream.

In fear, I ran to the kitchen and placed my face inside the fridge to cool it off. Was I making this up? It must be the medication. I drank several glasses of water before retreating to my room. I believed I had lost myself.

The following evening, I laid in bed, staring at the roof and wondering if the worst was over. A vision took shape on the ceiling.

A man stood in the middle of a field. No trees or small shrubs around him. Only him in a wide open space. A grassy field. The man felt small in that space. A vulnerable space with nowhere to hide. A spotlight shown on top of him from above, an unknown source. The outside grew dim as the focus shown on him. He welcomed the light’s warmth. He smiled with no care or worry as if worshipping in freedom. The man did not know what lurked in the shadows. A black figure with pointed fingers stepped out from the shadows. The tailed creature stood at the light’s edge waiting. White pupils squinted with enticement of his imminent attack.

Jump. Strangle. Toss to the ground. The man stumbled back and forth unable to see what was on him. The creature hissed in excitement with an invitation for the others to join him. The man moved side to side trying to get the creature off until dozens of others joined in. A cry for mercy could not be yelled as the shadow creatures covered the man like a tsunami. The man no longer had control to his own soul. The creatures had won. If they could not kill the man, they would silence him.

And the following morning, I woke up after having finished Saphris’ final night of initiation. In stubbornness, I could not die. But I could be silenced. And God could be put on mute. Life became grey with no range of color. I felt my eyes glaze over. I felt time stop. I felt life float on.

With gratefulness to Saphris, the dreams and visions stopped. In frustration, I lost my outlet to God. With appreciation to Saphris, I did not feel crazy. With criticism, I had no feelings to feel. With thankfulness to Saphirs, I did not feel suicidal anymore. In reality, I did not want to die because I already felt dead inside.

I’d become a dead man walking.

Methodically, I went through life. I worked part-time unable to be around pills forty hours a week at the local pharmacy. Caroline and I spoke over the phone or via Skype a few times a week. I smiled as she described her life in Washington. I loved her pure spirit. She did not fret to ask me what Jesus was doing in my life. I only stated the latest verse or chapter I read. I did not have much else to say. Caroline’s passion kept me going.

The church had forgotten love.

Saphris blocked my mind from keeping coherent memories. I stumbled across a documentary called For the Bible Tells Me So and decided to download it. I waited until I had the house to myself to watch it. The documentary presented an argument that the Christian Church has always sought to find a minority group to attack and morally correct. First ethnicity, then gender and now sexual orientation. Per the narrator, the seven homosexual passages had been culturally skewed in order to imprison those trying to come out and be themselves.

Each and every argument made in the documentary made me believe my relationship with Caroline was unwise. It further justified my built up frustrations. The church set up sexual minorities as outliers to push them to self-hatred and give up on Christianity altogether. Faith should radiate love. The church had forgotten love.

In one week, Caroline would fly to Georgia for the Thanksgiving holiday. Anxiety rushed over me as I secretly wished she did not buy a ticket. I questioned the relationship and all of the unknowns of living a non-traditional lifestyle. How did I come to this?

I held Caroline in my arms. A familiar hug I had not felt in years. Despite my inner conflict, I was excited to have her near. I missed our conversations, her kindness and our friendship. On the hour drive to my parents’ house, we instantly dove into a deep conversation and enjoyed each other’s company. Caroline eased my spirit with her smile and gentle heart.

Caroline met my family. I mean all of my family - parents, siblings, cousins, grandparents. And like I thought, they instantly fell in love with her like I did years earlier. She joined my cousin and father on the front porch for morning coffee and she laughed at their small town stories. My grandfather told her stories from my childhood as she softly chuckled at my expense. The dirt road offered a different life pace from her city living. And I was proud of how Caroline held her own with no assistance from me. I had little concern about whether my family would love her. Everyone who knew Caroline loved her genuine smile, laughter and servant heart.

But I felt I had set us up for failure. She held her own while I struggled to get up in the morning. I still took Saphris each night. I had little emotional support to give. I kept a side smile in hopes she did not notice my glossy eyes produced by the medication. And more importantly, I had know idea how to be a partner to her.

On her final day, Caroline and I took a day trip to the Atlantic coast. Overpriced beach clothes, used books and candy displayed in shop windows as we walked in a small tourist town. I turned around to make our way at the end of the sidewalk.

“Can we walk over there?” Caroline pointed to the pier etching its way into the Atlantic. I felt her excitement and could not say no.

I smiled as much as the medication allowed. And we walked side by side with the salt air filling the silence. The pier’s boards knocked against one another to our steady footsteps. Fishermen stood along the pier’s edge waiting for a fish to tug on their lines. Children ran with laughter with their parents yelling for them to slow down. It was the perfect night.

For some reason, we lost all words. We reached the end of the pier and stood together looking into endless Atlantic with the seagulls fighting over bread being thrown into the lapping waves. I closed my eyes to soak in the atmosphere wondering why I tortured myself. I knew this relationship should work. Best friends made the best partners. Partners loved and cared for one another. Partners pursued one another despite life circumstances. She knew this more than me. I just did not understand how to love her the way I should.

I turned around to leave only to be blocked by Caroline. I walked closer to her to stop the ocean breeze from blowing into her face. Caroline smiled at me and waited. I only needed to kiss the girl. The end of the pier kiss would be a romantic genesis to our relationship. Her green eyes stared into mine waiting for a response. I gave little thought to what should happen next.

“Ready to eat?” I asked.

“Oh? Yeah, sure.” Shock rattled her voice. Our fingers did not interlock. Our hands did not touch. We walked off the pier with our arms uncomfortably crossed into ourselves.

Why didn’t I just kiss the girl?

Why didn’t I just kiss the girl?

The evening continued to be a series of unfortunate events as my credit card declined making me unable to pay for our meal. Caroline threw multicolored leaves in the air and giggled in celebration of the fall season. I stood there with my hands in my pockets unable to react. She stared at me while the leaves fell to the ground and her smile slowly disappeared. Our matching bewildered looks did not need words. Unconsciously, I sabotaged our time together. We both wondered why.

Silence filled the car ride to the airport. I did not attempt to redeem the painful day. I pulled the car alongside the departure drop off. I got out to say good-bye and drove away to her walking herself into the airport alone. I ruined not only our relationship but our friendship too.

Two days later, I called her and ended the relationship as quickly as it begun. Neither of us needed to say much. Embarrassment filled my core heightening my insecure manhood. Multiple family members vocalized how I messed this one up.

“Caroline was perfect for you!” they told me. They didn’t need to say the words. I knew it too. I let go of someone who did not care what I looked like. Sixty pounds heavier than our first interactions three years prior. Medicated and zombie-like. None of this mattered to her. She loved me as me. She knew my heart when I couldn’t see it myself. I lost her.

Fear overtook me. Maybe it was those black creatures dragging the man into the shadows. Empty and alone. Emotionless, I swung on the front porch in a methodical way listening to the crickets play their music each night. If it was too cold to sit outside, the television satisfied my need for relational connection. And once a month, I watched For the Bible Tells Me So to confirm I wasn’t the only lonely gay the church hated.

A last attempt in my fight to fix myself.

In the New Year, I received an email from Caroline. Her words baffled me. Caroline sought forgiveness for her anger towards me. I felt confused. She had a right to be angry. I offered no explanation with our breakup. Caroline took a risk for us. Caroline purchased a last minute red-eyed flight to spend Thanksgiving with me. And I? I crushed any romantic future we both though we had. The quick relationship affected our mutual friendships. I’d been damned for trying to fix myself at her expense. Per them, my motives were impure, heartless and not completely processed. Still, she, the one who should be mad, offered forgiveness. I accepted her apology and I in return offered the same.

A last attempt in my fight to fix myself.



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