About five years ago, a high school friend of mine passed away. It didn’t come as a surprise since I knew he had been fighting a terminal disease for quite a while. And then yesterday, for no apparent reason, I decided to see if he had a myspace page. And he did! His mother is now keeping it up and we reminisced about Ty and our loss.
On my trip down memory lane, my first instinct was to credit Ty with helping me to survive what was my personal hell in high school. My senior year was one of those years that you try desperately to forget, but violent memories attack you when you least expect it. The truth is, though, while we were friends and choir members during that time, we weren’t close then. Ty was the person waiting for me at the other end of that difficult period. As I began to heal from the wounds inflicted by both others and self, Ty was there to help me recover a sense of normalcy.
I don’t remember Ty ever actually coming out to me, but I’m sure it did happen. It probably went something like, Ty: ‘I’m gay.’ Me: ‘I know. So what?’ There was an acceptance we had of each other and quite frankly, he was the first man to accept me unconditionally as I was. It was a breath of fresh air after that atrocious final year of high school to be accepted so completely without strings.
One night, the summer after graduation, we sat in someone’s old pickup truck (Ty didn’t have a car and I know it wasn’t mine. Why were we in someone else’s truck? No idea) and talked about ‘us.’ It was agreed that we were perfect together as friends.
I have many other memories of my friend, who had a flare for the dramatic- Ty dressed as a woman, just out on the town (not easy to do in a small southern town, I might add), Ty wearing silky blue shorts and eating at the Burger King on a military base. Ty telling one of his famous stories (you could never be sure if they were true or not, especially since there were times when he might tell you the same engaging story with different characters another time). Ty kissing another guy in front of me, knowing I had never seen that before and wanting to ‘shock’ me. Ty telling me he was sick and me hugging him as tightly as I could, hoping he was being dramatic, knowing he probably wasn’t.
One of my favorite memories with Ty was when he agreed to go with me to Fort McClellan so I wouldn’t have to drive alone to see my then boyfriend, a new recruit in the army. I was singing along with the radio, enjoying the weather and chatting with Ty as we flew down the interstate. At one point, he turned to me and said, ‘I think you’re about to be pulled over, dear.’ I asked him why and he leaned over me to look at the speedometer and said, ‘Well, you’re going about 95 miles an hour in a 65 zone, and that cop just turned around.’ I let my foot off the gas and coasted until the cop caught up with us and pulled me over, at which point I jumped out and met the cop between the two cars. (Did I mention this was my first-ever ticket?) The cop was very nice, taking pity on me as I gushed about where I was going, showing him a picture of said boyfriend. The cop looked at me skeptically and glanced at Ty, who was sitting calmly in the front seat, probably singing some pop song, and asked, ’What about that young man?’ Without thinking or missing a beat, I answered, ‘Oh he’s gay.’ The cop calmly gave me my ticket and walked away.
I lost touch with Ty after moving to Louisiana with my first husband. It was a natural progression of our relationship since we had somewhat outgrown each other. After seeing some pictures of him at the last, I am glad that my memories of him are all ones of a healthy young man. People come into our lives and touch us in special ways. Ty, with his wit, his thirst for life and his openness, taught me many lessons that until very recently I was unaware of. Though I did not get to tell him personally, I think he knows I am grateful to him for his friendship and support during that difficult time. I hope that I was as helpful to him.
Thank you to all of my friends and family. We should say it while we have the chance.