Essays

My Brother Paul

“Rutgers Student Believed to Have Committed Suicide After Classmates Allegedly Recorded Him in Gay Sexual Encounter!”

Normally I breeze past news articles detailing all sorts of different tragedies and catastrophes from around the globe, not because I am callous mind you, but because this kind of reporting seems to be the standard fare for a news website to latch onto to try and pump out every sordid detail and gain new readers. But this article, this article I couldn’t just breeze past and go about my normal daily routine. I stopped and read the tragic tale of Tyler Clementi, an 18-year-old Rutgers freshman who had just recently started his college experience. Clementi was apparently gay and in the closet still when his roommates thought it would be a “good joke” to out him via a hidden webcam in his room. Now, whether they did this maliciously or just in jest is immaterial to what happened, because on September 22, 2010, Tyler jumped to his death from the George Washington Bridge.

Now, as I have indicated, normally I read a sad story and then move on to the next bit of news, but this story struck a chord with me. I thought about what could have happened to my older brother some years back. My older brother, Paul, now openly gay, was once a very shut off and rebellious teenager. At the time he was 15 and living in Gaithersburg, Maryland, with my mother and stepfather while I was living with my father in rural Virginia. I remember it was around the beginning of April, and it was a typical weekend. I was up in Maryland visiting the family and hanging out with my brother when I noticed he was acting rather strangely. He had a few of his friends at the house, and he kept asking me weird questions, such as: “What do they have in their bags?” and “Have they been talking about me?” This behavior was quite strange for Paul, as he was normally very sure of himself and outgoing, but he was extremely closed off, and looked terrified. I knew that he and his friends experimented with drugs, so I figured he was under the influence of something, and I thought that he would come around in a few hours.

I rode back home and forgot all about the situation until my father received a call that evening. Paul had run away from my mother and stepfather's house, and no one knew where he was. I was panicked; I thought about what had happened earlier, Paul’s strange behavior, and relayed it to my father, who agreed that the behavior wasn’t typical of Paul, and when she learned of this behavior, my mother contacted the police. When Paul was located later that evening, we learned that he had been caught at a construction site, hiding in a half-finished building in an effort to evade the police, and he had attempted to jump out of the window to avoid being caught. It seems that he had taken a large dose of LSD and he was having paranoid delusions. But at least the police had him in custody, and he was safe.

After a few days at a hospital in Maryland, Paul seemed better, and my father and mother agreed that it would probably be best to bring Paul down to my father and me in Virginia for a while. While he was with us, I talked with Paul openly about what had happened, but he seemed to be holding back; he kept talking about how people wanted “to kill” him for “what I am.” I remember what happened next vividly; I walked over and gave him the biggest hug that my 13-year-old arms could muster, and told him: “I love you for whatever you are, Paul; you’re my big brother!” Paul eventually came round and realized that the drugs he was taking had prompted his crisis, and things returned to normal.

It wasn’t until a few years later, when I found out that Paul was gay, that I knew what he was talking about. He was afraid that if people found out he was gay, they were going to kill him, and in his drug-addled state, he was terrified; because he was gay, he thought that no one would accept him for who he was.

But back to the newspaper story about the Rutgers freshman who jumped from a bridge when his gayness became public knowledge. I guess the reason this story resonates with me is that it is one of many, many stories about gay teens who take their own lives because they feel like they will never be accepted, or that they are alone, or that their family will never understand who they are. It saddens me greatly to think that this gay Rutgers freshman, this teenager, this 18-year-old kid about to start one of the greatest chapters in his life, cut his life short because he thought that no one out there would accept him for what he truly is: gay. And I think back to my 15-year-old big brother, how he thought that we as a family, and the world, would never accept him for who and what he was. But his gayness really didn’t matter to us; we just wanted him to be safe and happy and to live out the rest of his years knowing that he was loved and appreciated for exactly who he was: Paul, gay or straight.

After reading the story about the gay Rutgers freshman, I cannot stress how important it is to be supportive of your family members and friends, especially if they’re gay, whether the gay person is your daughter, brother, mother, sister, cousin, father, a friend, or whoever. Just being a supportive voice for that person can make all the difference in the world. What would have happened if Tyler, the gay Rutgers freshman, had had a family member or friend he felt he could turn to in his time of need…?

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Jonathan Robertson is a student at West Los Angeles College where he is pursuing higher education to which ends he does not yet know. But that’s okay.