Dying for Some Touch

By Esteban Cencerrado Lee-O’Neal

One week before I married Rex in San Francisco in August 2011, I received a call from Tony. He said that his second suicide attempt had failed. I sat motionless on the outside, but exploding on the inside. As he spooled out his story I froze in fear and desperation. He had planned to attend my wedding in one week but he would be unable to attend…

I met my friend Tony when we went to college the three semesters before our Mormon missions. He ended up going to South Africa to spread the gospel and I went to Madrid, Spain. Tony was born in a small town in Arizona, his own surname the same name as his hometown. I’m from a small, very Mormon town in Arizona called Thatcher. We met while attending a small community college, previously owned by the Mormon Church as the “Gila Academy”. When we were there it was, and still is called Eastern Arizona College. I lived with my dear Grandma Lee, and Tony had a few roommates.

Tony and I sang in the choir together, we hung out a lot, he was astoundingly cute. After three semesters we had pretty much outed ourselves to each other without saying it. We both liked guys, and we joked about it in an odd, almost innocently gay way. We were in several plays together, too. We were in Sound of Music, and in Peter Pan, neither of us was the fairy, but we qualified. I played John, swinging from wires flying off to Neverland, the whole time wishing I really could and avoid a mission. We wrote each other on our missions, each sharing cool country facts with each other. He sent me an Emu feather, I still have it.

After returning, I married at 24, and he didn’t marry for awhile. I married my ex-wife and Tony fell in love with a Hawaiin guy. After I was shamed into joining Evergreen, I contacted him and got him to join, too. After he joined Evergreen and began his spiral into depression, he married the granddaughter of a General Authority (GA)–a Mormon GA is considered an apostle, and in line to become prophet. He did this in an attempt to ensure his wouldn’t cheat and lose his salvation, which as you might suspect, was eventually impossible to avoid. I won’t go into his first suicide attempt, but afterwards he tried to cover it up with his wife, family, her family, and with me. I knew deep down what he did and why.

When you are in this state I call ‘Gay Mormon Lock-down’, you are not yourself. You are ramped-up and seething inside for sexual contact with men but married to a woman and most likely have kids. You’re shut down inside, trying to numb-out the inevitable. You just keep going, trying to please God, please the church, your families, and stay straight. But it’s a joke, because you’re SO very much not straight. You begin to cheat in various ways, these ways can depend on your location and circumstances.

After about a decade or so of marriage and three adopted kids later, Tony had fallen in love with a guy in his ward, a trained medical EMT. They’d go camping together, they’d hike, I knew Tony was deeply in love and expected some sort of message that he’d tried to touch him or kiss him and been pummeled. I never got that message. The message I DID get was one week before my wedding to Rex.

Tony explained in a way as to obfuscate WHY he had done it, that he invited the hottie EMT over to their home for dinner. When the doorbell rang, Tony walked to the bathroom and downed two bottles of prescription pills that shouldn’t mix or death would occur. And it did. As they sat at their family dinner table with his wife, his kids and Mr. EMT, Tony died from an overdose. His head hit the table, he had stopped breathing and was blue.

Tony knew that Mr. EMT carried his EMT equipment with him, and he knew that dying from an overdose would require close care. Tony knew that Mr. EMT might need to even give him mouth-to-mouth contact, open his shirt, and try and revive him. Tony was willing to die to get it.

As Mr. EMT pulled Tony’s body to the floor, he screamed to Tony’s wife to call 911. She had already gathered up her kids and run into a bedroom and locked the door. She refused to come out. Mr. EMT was screaming as loud as he could to her to call 911 as he tried to save him by injecting some shots, giving him CPR and mouth-to-mouth resuscitation. She never came out. Amazingly, Tony was revived by Mr. EMT, who called 911 once he had established a heartbeat again. As Tony explained to me how gentle and caring Mr. EMT had treated him I couldn’t hold back my own mental emergency screaming at me. His denial and desperation was killing me. I love this guy, we go way back and we’ve both been harmed by our circumstances. I pleaded with him to stop the charade, to tell her one simple message to save them both, “You didn’t call 911.” Nothing could be more telling than that fact. She saw no way out unless he died. He never saw a way to get touch unless he died.

Fast forward three years and Tony has met Miguel. They are happy together, he is FINALLY balanced, open, and free to be who he is. Tony’s ex-wife is back in Utah with her uber-Mormon family, after trying desperately to get his kids away from him with a restraining order and finally giving up, has become his friend again. They are working it out. Tony gets his kids for the summer next week, he’s ecstatic. And as you might imagine, so am I.

Born Steven Hamblin Lee, Esteban lives with his husband and six kids in Lafayette, Colorado. He currently writes training materials for a national HMO specializing in Health Care Reform and enjoys getting all their kids together (it’s like herding cats), outdoor activities, and growing and blooming rare orchids. Esteban is finally comfortable in his own skin.

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