The media attention on the tragic rash of recent gay teen suicides has brought back memories of one of my oldest and dearest friends. He didn’t die by suicide. He lived through the brutality aimed at him in his conservative community. I always wondered why the bullies couldn’t see in him what I saw when he came in the record store I managed: a person more sparkling than the rest, full of raw talent, cutting-edge humor, and brilliant imagination. But then again, maybe they did. Bullies have low self-esteem and tear down others in an attempt to make themselves look superior. I remember how powerless I felt to help him fight the bullying in high school. Even with all the considerable charms in his arsenal, he was unable to deflect enough of the abuse at school to feel comfortable continuing to attend. He would drop out but proudly go on to get his GED years later.
I remember picking him up one time from school on my motorcycle, an impulsive and desperate attempt to try to buoy his reputation, a gesture that meant nothing to anyone except, of course, to him. When I first met him, he had only a small but devoted core of friends and family who loved and believed in him, and that’s why he survived; but by the time he died, near 40, the large church was filled to capacity with friends, family and coworkers who all loved him and knew how special he was. I’ve never been to a larger funeral. He went from being a bullied unappreciated schoolboy to being the greatest and certainly funniest person most of his friends ever knew, an unforgettable unique character. I was asked to speak at his funeral nearly 10 years ago now, and I would repeat the poem I read below in honor of all the wonderful GLBT people out there. I love you all. Please don’t leave us.
4 April 2001
In Memory of Carl Harris
like our heroes,
ahead of time.
Your visions lie beyond the horizon
spinning like a planet,
the prettiest star
You were 14, buying T. Rex
posturing elegantly in the aisle
an island in a small town
as children plucked your wings
You danced through the obstacle course
dodging this, jumping over that,
slapping life back with your cutting wit,
making me scream with laughter.
You loved it all.
You wore your courage
over your shoulder
head tossed back
a flip remark
your eyes ablaze with laughter
I knew life would never beat you
You carried yourself proudly to the end
Your love and laughter saw me through both good times and bad.
Now your sun has set,
but I know it shines brightly just over the horizon
spinning like a planet
the prettiest star