An oversized forest green suitcase glided along the conveyor belt away from me. My eyes traced the luggage until it disappeared into the sorting room. In utter excitement, I clapped my hands, nodded to the airline attendant and walked towards security with my passport and one-way plane ticket in hand. I took a deep breath to gain composure as I handed security my documents and readied myself for the soul-searching trip. Fellow travelers and I sat in strategically placed chairs at the airplane’s gate. Some read books, others talked to strangers nearby and parents watched their children dance in front of them as we all waited to board the international flight. My fingers traced over the printed words “Madrid, Spain” on my ticket. The time was now or never. A bank agreed to loan ten thousand dollars against my 1995 Toyota Tercel and I stood amazed this adventure was actually happening.
Upon arriving In Madrid, I roamed the cobble streets, chased pigeons in a plaza and stood in awe of timeless art pieces museums. I took photographs with a point-and-shoot camera, sat on park benches and people-watched for hours. But after forty-eight hours, loneliness crept in as multiple restaurants refused to serve me as a single guest and I started to question why I flew across the globe in the first place. I hid myself in an upper room cyber café as lies crept in that a single person shouldn’t explore the world alone. Anxiety woke me each morning as I counted down the days to my next destination: Alicante, Spain. A small English-speaking Bible School awaited me as I hoped to find clarity to my hidden gay question.
I lugged the oversized suitcase to the train station and purchased a ticket in broken Spanish. I sat by the window to watch the mixed terrain pass by and continued to rub my hands together wondering what this new environment will offer.
An English-speaking Spanish couple, who worked for the coastal Bible school, met me at the train station and drove me to our final stop. We covered the typical get-to-know-one-another topics: Place of origin, ages, family life, what do you do, etc. I welcomed the surface level conversation after a week of isolation in the country’s capital city.
The white minivan pulled onto a side road and stopped next to a concrete wall with a metal door, which opened to a small yard. The two story home kept a typical Spanish architecture with a burnt red wave-like roof, beige painted concrete frame and tiles leading to the doorway. This was the male residence with a set of young dorm parents living on the first floor. Meals would be served at a larger home down the road, where the females lived plus a makeshift classroom in the first floor for our studies.
I made my way up the spiral staircase and directly across the hall to my bedroom. The room contained a bunk bed perpendicular to a single twin bed, which rested underneath the only window. A black duffel bag laid on the single bed, so I tossed my belongings onto the bottom bunk. I relaxed knowing I wouldn’t be secluded in a room alone for the next three months and moments later a tall, slender bearded twenty-something walked into the room.
“Hello, I’m Dave,” said the man with a thick accent. I returned a greeting as my brain wrestled with where this accent came from. Dave came from upper British Columbia, Canada and was quite the mountaineer having recently finished an outdoor trek in the Swiss Alps and had battle scars to prove it. We made small talk until we were led to the other house to be updated about what was going to happen.
The school’s programming matched the other affiliated schools around the globe. Students attended both morning and afternoon Bible lessons taught by both local and international speakers. Students ate meals together, had daily chores and did weekend outreach projects. Afternoons were kept open allowing students to get to know one another, go for walks along the calm Mediterranean coast or take a short trip on the commuter train into the urban center.
I wanted to escape again as my small questions about denominational differences swelled into larger theological confusion.
The excitement of living in Spain wore off within a week’s time. The daily routine of waking up, bathing, eating and attending courses filled me with agonizing pain. Even with a simple schedule, I couldn’t keep up with the rhythm. I wanted to escape again as my small questions about denominational differences swelled into larger theological confusion. Was God who He said He was? Was He a good, perfect, loving God? Why did wars happen? Why did the innocent get hurt? Why was I placed into one family and not another? Were homosexuals born this way? Could I still belong to Christ, even if I couldn’t change? If I was born this way, did I even have a chance to get into heaven?
As the questions quickly circled around my mind, it turned into a tornadic storm pulling out any Christian roots I had and hurling them into the sea. God left me in the destruction searching for the answers alone. I stood in the rubble with only one question left: Did God even care about us? I tried to remain composed by maintaining the routine everyone else kept. My peers labeled me as a "strange character" as I forced a slight smile everyday to mask the internal pain. I hated myself in America. And I hated myself in Spain. Life didn’t seem worth living.
Nightmares should just be nightmares. I longed for the typical nightmares of running away from someone or all of your teeth falling out and being unable to speak. Those nightmares frighten for a time then you can discuss and laugh with your peers about it and move on. My nightmares manifested from an unconscious detailed plan to escape this planet.
In the darkest hour of the night, I quietly slid my feet across the bedroom floor so as not to wake up my sleeping roommate. I got on my knees and placed three white linen bed sheets in front of me. I tilted my head and stilled my body to listen to the night noises. The pipes creaked, a car drove pass our residence outside and snoring came from a sleeping housemate.
With my eyes closed, I gave one push straight into death's embrace.
I methodically placed the three sheets side by side as step one of the plan. I knotted one bed sheet end to the next to make a long rope. In determination, my knuckles became white from the force I used in tying the sheets together. I peered over the spiral staircase to eye the distance below. I swung the end of the makeshift rope from above the staircase, looped it around the chandelier and its end came back to me. I made a two half-hitches knot to guarantee it would stay secure to the chandelier. I made a noose with the other end, placed it around my neck and with my right arm tightened it.
The blackness of the night matched the muted atmosphere. The emptiness in my heart and the empty hall reinforced my silently carried out plan. The time is now. I sat on the ledge with my legs dangling in the open air.
“This is it,” I affirmed myself. With my eyes closed, I gave one push straight into death's embrace.
In an instant, I pushed out my chest and opened my arms to fly. I felt liberated. I felt free. And a moment later, my body dropped, the noose tightened and I lost the ability to take in oxygen. With an eagle’s eye view, I watched as life departed my body and I became a light shade of gray. Mission accomplished.
Bedroom alarms welcomed the morning dawn with mattresses creaking as my roommates awoke from their slumber. The men mumbled greetings to one another, while wiping their eyes and dressing for the day. One by one, they descended down the spiral staircase to the kitchen below. And on this special morning, my grey body acted as new decor on the chandelier. Their eyes glanced at my lifeless body with no reaction and no one questioned why I didn’t join them for the day. The last student stumbled out of his room, across the hall and down the staircase. His shoulder brushed up against my bare feet causing my body to sway from side to side. He pitter-pattered across the tiled kitchen and slammed the main door to catch up with the others. The barren house stood silent, then let out a slight creak from the moving chandelier announcing the lonely suicide. The end has come.
The swaying of my corpse woke me from the night terror. I felt nauseated from the dream and quickly went to the bathroom for a drink of water. The night terror became my truth that I was unwanted, so I withdrew from community and held all feelings and thoughts inside. Why did I want to be part of Christian community? Was it the familiarity of Bible stories and a childhood upbringing? Was it a God I sought after? I started to believe spirituality was more of a source of complication than something to lean on.
The next evening, my male peers unrolled sleeping bags on the back patio to sleep underneath the clear Mediterranean sky. I heard them giggle like school children at a slumber party from across the hall. I got up to peer through the backdoor and walked back to my bunk. My sleeping bag sat next to the bed, staring at me and telling me to go. Just go and be one of the guys. Each muscle tightened as I began an inner dialogue about whether I could even be one of the guys.
“Ready for bed?” Dave asked. I let out a long sigh as my muscles loosened to his questioned. I nodded at Dave. Internally, I wanted to lay physically close to them, but instead I denied myself. Dave turned the light off and we got into our separate beds to fall asleep.
It seemed as though I had done this before. I sat alone on the burnt red tiled floor yanking linen sheets’ ends together to secure the knots. My hands knotted the three sheets in rhythmic motion. I made a final knot around a bedpost of Dave’s bed.
"This should stay," I said affirming myself.
I placed the other end of the makeshift rope around my neck to make a noose and tightened it with a single tug. The homemade rope measured a perfect distance - from the window and down to fifteen feet above the gravel. Only a single jump to save me from my misery. I would become a showpiece to be seen over the property’s concrete wall. A suicide to be seen from miles away.
I climbed over Dave’s bed and rested myself on the window ledge. The sun warmed my face as I closed my eyes. It was time to die. I leaned over to freefall. And in the freefall freedom came. I, a slender American boy, hung outside the second floor of the Spanish cottage.
In my mind’s eye, I saw into my bedroom window. Dave walked in to gather a few belongings for evening activities. Dave tossed his bag onto the bed as he looked underneath his bed for missing books and papers. Dave’s search shook the bed causing my body to sway outside of the window.
A silent night hid its unnoticed suicide.
Would Dave be the rescuer? In regret, I jerked my body as my fingers tried to pull back the rope to give myself air. Dave, would you help me? His arm reached pass the bedpost knot to grab an extra pair of shoes. Dave didn’t notice the peculiar placement of bedsheets tied to the bed, strung over his mattress and out the window. He shoved his running shoes into a small backpack, zipped his bag, made his way down the spiral staircase, out the door and onto his evening destination. The only sound left was the crashing Mediterranean waves a mile away.
Minutes later, any fight left in me ceased and I became a gray-toned body stilled in mid-air. The house stood still with its one occupant hung outside the second story window. The evening sun with its burnt orange and reds faded away to welcome the black evening. A silent night hid its unnoticed suicide.
Startled and in complete panic, I woke up to see Dave still asleep across the room. I bit my lips holding back tears of terror and complete exhaustion. Why did this happen? The secret nightmares continued in the night and in the day I walked in self-hatred unable to divulge the inner torment clawing at my insides.
It seemed as though my daily prayers bounced off spiritual walls as I waited for a response from some deity. I avoided eye contact with everyone in fear of being known. Each afternoon, I walked on the coastal boardwalk alone. I prayed for a stranger to tell me everything would be okay. I needed assurance from someone, from anyone.
The following week, three other students and I started our short ascent up a small stairway to the principal’s office. Two leaders, Kristy and Josh joined us as we each took our seats in the office with Joe facing us. The impromptu meeting increased my anxiety as I internally questioned why we were each singled out. I reviewed the school’s rules and didn’t believe I broke any. Additionally, I did not interact with the other three individuals enough to conspire a rebellion. Kristy and Josh continued to readjust themselves as they peered in our direction. Their body language echoed discomfort and pain.
Josh stared into our eyes as he pleaded with each of us to allow Jesus to work in our lives. We separated ourselves from the rest of the world in order to grow into our calling. He urged us to let go of anything holding us back. Their words sounded so lovely, yet, for me, unrealistic. Josh knew little about me.
Kristy then echoed Josh’s plea and care for each of us. For me, I started to want my night terrors to come into fruition. In this way, the pain would disappear forever.
My peers began to crack open one by one. I silently listened to my peers reveal their darkest struggles. A female student detailed her grief of losing her boyfriend in a tragic car accident. Another female student echoed a similar grief as a hospital nurse. The only other male vocalized his confused theological thoughts.
“Is there anything you wanted to share?” questioned Josh and everyone shifted their bodies in my direction.
I hated everything and even more, I hated myself.
“No. I’m fine.” The lie easily flowed out of my lips. Nothing was okay. I hated everything and even more, I hated myself. God hated homosexuals. And why would I share my life with people I had only known for two months? Christians could not be trusted. They hated people like me. My inward-dialogue ended as my peers moved back to their forward posture to acknowledge my deflective answer.
“Okay,” responded Josh. Josh knew he could not force me to talk. And I was not going to. Josh looked away to ask if anyone else wanted to share more.
Two hours later, I descended down the narrow stairwell with the others. I let no other words leave my mouth. For me, the risk of vulnerability was too high. I could not be honest. I self-prophesied that they would all hate me and so I remained silent.
Over the next few days, I continued to be silent. I felt like a target and actively ignored their bait. The weekdays continued with its normal pattern: Breakfast, class, lunch, break, class, dinner and free time. I spent the evenings walking alone and listening to the crashing waves. Everything felt cold and distant. Alone I came and alone I would go. God stayed on mute.
On this particular evening, I could hear the other guys joking around in another bedroom. As usual, I snuck out of the house without being noticed and walked to the shore. I kept a slow walking pace to expand my time away from the others. The art of being alone hovered between both comfort and torture. Unfortunately, it was more of the latter as I kept looping through an inner dialogue of emotional self-abuse. Still, I needed space to regain energy from the day.
The lapping waves drew in my restless spirit as I began to be honest with myself. The salt air smell triggered memories of sitting on the rocks with my youth group. Why couldn’t I have been attracted to Kendall or any female at all? My eyes swelled up, so I tensed my neck in an attempt not to breakdown. But, instead, I let out a sudden, ferocious, high-pitched scream. The noise broke my spirit as tears streamed down my reddened cheeks and I continued to scream.
“Why?! Why?! Why?!” echoed in the night air. A distant God and I were the only beach’s occupants and I began to wrestle with Him. The anger deepened as I screamed louder for anyone to hear me. Suddenly, the confession I vowed to not utter out loud slowly came out.
“I like.... guys. I hate this! I am a homosexual! Did you want me like this?” I tried to catch my breath as I waited for an answer.
“Speak to me! Why aren’t you talking to me? I've done everything right and I’ve gained nothing from you.” God stayed silent. The waves crashed in the background breaking His non-response. Why did He hide his face from me?
“If you are God… Or whoever you say you are … You have to show up tonight, otherwise it is over. I am done with you. And I’m certainly done with this Christian faith. No more church. No more you. It is over.”
I made my ultimatum and God answered with silence.
I made my ultimatum and God answered with silence. I walked away without another thought to ponder. I left the crashing waves and my unanswered questions with… apparently no one. I could now walk into, what seemed, another life. I returned to the guys home, walked through the dining room and straight up the stairs. The chandelier swayed a little to remind me of my first suicide. I walked into my bedroom to hear the window hiss as the rushing wind reminded me of my second successful suicide. I looked away, undressed and got into bed. It is over. God and I are over. I wished the night terrors would become a reality. I pulled the blanket over my head to try and sleep the pain away.
The European urban square hid in the midst of shops and restaurants of the small city. Brick archways led tourists in and out of the pedestrian-only area giving its occupants a sanctuary from life’s demands. Simple tables and chairs were outdoor seating at the small restaurants and coffee shops. Decorative clay flower pots became a makeshift border between the tables and the center of the plaza. Parents gave their children sunflower seeds to feed the pigeons. It seemed like the perfect day.
Under a less traveled marketplace arch, I lurked in the shadows watching the tourists move in and out of the plaza. As the day slowly moved past midday, I watched as each person left the square to go home for their afternoon siesta. As the marketplace slowly emptied, I kept my gaze on one particular person. A camera hung around her neck by its black strap and dangled in front of her petite frame. Her yellow and blue sunflower dress danced in the light wind as she window shopped alone. My eyes narrowed in as I saw a profile of her face. Strangers, we were not. The local college made us acquaintances. In wonder, her face glowed as she slowly walked from window to window. And in time, the plaza emptied out until it was only her standing in the midday sunlight and I watched her from the shadows.
I began to move towards her, slowly so as not to alarm her. I tiptoed like a conman in a cartoon attempting to steal priceless artwork from a museum. She stood unaware as she peered in the boutique's windows at their offerings. The closer I went towards her the quicker the movements became until I dramatically lept from behind her swinging my left forearm across her right side of her head. Instantly, she lost consciousness and fell onto the brick floor.
And with one deep breath, I dragged her body up the stairs and to the unnumbered apartment.
The warm afternoon air breezed through the plaza as I proudly stood above my delicate prey. I looked around for any witnesses and confirmed we were alone. The innocent woman would not be rescued. My right hand dug into her armpit as I haphazardly dragged her body away from the plaza. The camera around her neck made a rhythmic noise as it danced next to her body against the plaza’s floor as I dragged her through a less traveled archway and into an alleyway. I stopped and looked up at the ten brick stairs leading to a small flat. And with one deep breath, I dragged her body up the stairs and to the unnumbered apartment.
I dropped her body onto the light blue tiled floor of an empty room. She laid unconscious and unaware of what transpired. The camera shattered from its bumpy ride. The yellow and blue sundress now included bloodstains from the abrasions on her tiny frame. A navy blue passport laid on the floor near her, which must have fallen out of one of the dress pockets. I bent down and looked through the passport. The photo showed a smiling, adventurous American woman. My fingers traced her simple name, Mary. Yes, it was her. I leaned over to see the bruise across her face. My fingers brushed the hair from her face. I smiled at her then spat in her face. I stood up and walked towards the open door. I stood with my right hand on the door handle, my left holding her passport and smirked in her direction. I flung the passport, which landed on her chest and slammed the door behind me. It was finished.
The conference room felt stale with dark grey painted walls, black painted drop down ceiling, a rectangular folding table and metal chairs filled by its invited guests. To my left, a lawyer sat erect with a yellow legal pad and ballpoint pen in hand ready to take notes. His quiet confidence and knowledge of the law became my defense. To my right, a judge in business attire. He did not make eye contact with me. He kept his professionalism by not striking conversation with any party until the trial began. Mary sat on the other side of the judge. The bruised tourist wore her bloody sunflower dress as if she had just been rescued. I didn’t know how she got rescued nor the timeframe from when I left her in the upper room. It seemed recent due to the facial bruising and her attire. Strangely, the metal chairs in front of us were occupied by my friends and family and hers also.
The judge cleared his throat announcing the start of the trial in this informal, eerie setting.
“If anyone here has evidence to prove Nathaniel is guilty of this young woman's assault, please state your evidence,” the judge remarked.
Index cards flung from every direction onto the table placed between us and the attendees. Lies I said as a child. Hurtful words said. Deliberate and indirect actions taken against another person. Items I’ve stolen. Tests I’ve cheated on. It seemed never ending.
The lawyer began to place the cards in categories and in sets of ten to fifteen. I had a quick overview to what the others held against me. I crossed my arms and held my head low. Yes, all of those events stood true. Did they need to bring those sins up again? Was everyone against me?
The lawyer’s hands quickly moved through each of the written cards. The lawyer handed the cards to the judge. The judge and lawyer looked at each other and silently nodded in agreement.
“This proves nothing,” stated the judge. He took hold of the cards and with one toss attempted to dispose of the index cards in a nearby trash can.
"A person's perceived character cannot convict this man. Concrete evidence needs to be made known for a conviction. Yes, I know all of those written words about him are true, but it proves nothing.”
The attendees moved uncomfortably in their seats until everyone sat still waiting for the verdict. The sound of the clock’s second hand filled each moment with pain and anxiety. I rubbed the back of my left hand with my right thumb in an attempt to soothe myself.
“The only way to convict Nathaniel is if he admitted to the horrid deed himself.” The judge’s voice broke the silence. Throats were cleared. The attendees straightened in the chairs as a hundred eyes glanced at me. The judge sternly looked in my direction.
“Did you do it?” asked the judge. I will never forget the burnt red and light blue flames in his eyes. My stomach tightened as I began to question whose side anyone was on. I glared at the lawyer, then at the empty table and at the attendees, some of whom supposedly loved me. No one could be certain about what occurred except for me.
My head turned right and hers left as we made direct eye contact. The shades of blue, purple and black on her face did not startle me, but the tears welling up under her light blue eyes did. Her left hand rose to tuck her hair behind her ears as facial abrasions screamed out in pain from her meaningless beating. Her battered body nervously shook as she waited for my answer. And with one deep breath, I let out a steady, confident response.
“No. I did not do it,” I heartlessly stated and looked in her direction. Tears overflowed from her eyelids and began to gush down her swollen cheeks.
“And with this response. It is the end of the case,” announced the judge and a gavel struck the plastic table. One by one, the invited guests filed out. I watched her leave with a friend gently stroking her back to console her. The lawyer flipped the pages of the legal pad back to the beginning. The words that filled the page blurred. He placed his pen inside his coat pocket and followed the judge out the door. The sin-filled index cards were left abandoned in and around the trash can. I let out an uncontrolled, shallow moan as I put on my cardigan. I waited until I could hear nothing in the hall.
I dragged my feet across the room and into the hall. Everyone left to carry on their normal lives. For her, she returned to whatever her new normal would be. I stood surprised to see the lawyer waiting for me as if knowing I needed to say something. My eyes closed as I tried to prepare myself. I gazed at his simple, black dress shoes unable to look into his face. My eyes filled with tears as I let out the most vulnerable sentence.
"I did it."
“Well done, my son.”
“Well done, my son.” Immediately, my knees weakened as I feel to the floor crying at his feet. I deserved to be punished, but with my confession the blurred writing of my sins noted on his legal pad disappeared. I wept as the lawyer moved his hand towards my shoulder to console me. And with his touch, I awoke to see Dave lacing his running shoes.
“Do you want to go for a jog?” Dave asked in his thick Canadian accent.
“Yes. Yes, I do,” I replied. Dave’s head jerked in my direction with widened eyes in shock of my agreement.
“Let’s go! Get ready then.” With a smile, Dave waited in the doorway as I quickly changed to join him on the morning’s jog. Like the night before, I headed down the brick sidewalk towards the sea, but this time with Dave. The morning's dawn did not break yet as the silent night stood around us.
“Ready?” I nodded yes to his question as our rhythmic footsteps crossed the boardwalk onto the sandy beach. With each step, our feet pushed the sand down and then flew behind us. And soon, mahogany and crimson reds, burnt orange and a musty yellow broke the black skyline. The fresh morning air could not match the lonely night from twelve hours prior. Jesus finally came. He came in a dream. The weight I carried from the night before was flung into the depth of the sea with each step we ran. Peace overwhelmed my soul. Jesus, the gracious lawyer, actually showed up.
I found what I had been longing for.