I’m From Tucson, AZ.

by simon donovan

My horoscope once said that with a new planetary shift it will be the end of “me” consciousness and the beginning of “us” consciousness. I will suddenly shift from self-centeredness to other-centeredness. That would be nice, but I don’t think planetary alignment will cause this type of change. My experience has been that my life has been all about me, my self interests, my fears, my needs, and my desires. And any change comes through pain. My mother once told me that life would teach me humility. I made my first friend of my own choosing at 15. Up until then I was a friend with kids through default, they lived next door or we went to school together since kindergarten. But in the regional high school there were new, different kids. At first it was difficult for me because I was awkward. I was a “spaz”. One day in gym class we were playing baseball, there were already two outs and then I got up to bat. Immediately everyone but the pitcher started walking in from the field, they knew I would strike out, and I did. The pitcher, his name was Rick, then walked up to me and said “Don’t let them get to you, they’re assholes.” Rick was in my history class. He was smart and good-looking, a tall, thin, wiry WASP with curly brown hair. I pursued his friendship. I switched my seat next to his and I tried to make jokes. He laughed and we started to hang out. On weekends we started drinking beer together that his older brother would buy for us. Later we started smoking pot together and would drive endlessly around the empty streets of our suburb. Over the next few years we each had girlfriends, and would double–date, but I knew, that secretly I was in love with him. After high school graduation, during the summer, just before we were to go away to our respective colleges in different parts of the country, I decided to make my move. We sat by this lake one night drinking a fifth of Jack Daniels on our way to a party. I was drunk enough for false courage, I picked up his bare foot in my hands and I kissed it. He recoiled, and said, “What the fuck?” and then took off into the night. The next day he called me and said, “I’ll pick you up in ten minutes, we need to talk.” I got in the car and we rode in silence and then turned to me and asked if I was gay? I lied and said I didn’t know. He said he didn’t know me, that we had been like brothers but now that was over. I got out of the car, devastated filled with self-hatred. I went off to art school and I decided I would sleep with the first guy that asked. There was this kid on the floor of my dorm named Steven, he was so weird, so affected, he had thick coke bottle glasses, wore capes and listened to Wagner. One weekend he was at the end of my hall just outside my door on an exer-cycle. He was without the glasses and was only wearing a small pair of gym shorts. I saw for the first time that he had a beautiful body. So I asked him,“ Hey I need to do some drawings for class, would you model for me?” He said sure and came into my room and sat on my bed. I locked the door. He said “clothed or nude?” I said nude. I saw he was aroused and so I leapt onto him and we started to ravenously have sex. After a few minutes, I stopped. I said “Wait, this is a mistake. I’m sorry, I can’t do this.” This was not Rick, the boy I loved, it felt wrong. He tried to reassure me that it was okay. “Let’s talk.” “No,” I said, “This is a mistake, I’m not gay. Please leave.” So he did. Ten minutes later he was back knocking on my door, “Please Simon, I understand, let’s talk about this.” “No, I don’t want to talk, it was just a mistake, I’m sorry.” I closed the door on his face. Twenty minutes later he was back again, imploring, “Please Simon, let me in.” I said no. He wouldn’t leave. I opened the door. I said “Please just leave me alone, it was a mistake.” And then after a pause “Look, I don’t even like you!” He left for good and I cried myself to sleep. I awoke to sounds outside my window, it was dark and red and blue lights flashed around on my walls. I looked out to see Steven being placed in an ambulance. I ran out to the hall and someone told me that Steven had attempted suicide and was found by his roommate. I left that night and took a train home to my parents. And for the last time in my life I cried while my mother held me. I told her what had happened and asked if she would pay for me to see a psychiatrist. Steven lived, returned to school and we never spoke to each other again. I started drinking a lot to sleep with men that I would pick up in bars. Later, with friends, I loved to recount the shitty start to my gayness, leaving out my meanness and as if I was the only one left wounded. Steven went on to become a famous illustrator for The Washington Post, renowned for his drawings of politicians with large inflated heads on small bodies. 15 years passed and one day I received my alumni newsletter. It seemed Steven had died the year before of AIDS and his mother had them publish his letters to her during his process of dying. They were beautiful, and brilliant and compassionate and humble. He was such a beautiful soul and I hadn’t given him the time of day, only dismissive thoughts. Not a week later, the phone rang; a familiar but halting voice was on the other end. It was Rick. He was calling me to tell me that he was dying of an inoperable brain tumor. He was married with two young children. He did not have long and he wanted to tell me that he was sorry. I told him that I had loved him and I was sorry I had made a pass at him but I had wanted to be his boyfriend. He laughed and said “Oh well, just one more missed opportunity.” He said he loved me and thanked me for being his friend. Soon after I flew back to Boston for his funeral and met his family. The next summer I visited them. When I arrived Rick’s wife asked me if I would do her a favor, Rick’s son was so excited about my visit so that he could play baseball with me like he had done with his father. Inside I groaned. Ian was eleven and so eager, I relented. I said, “Look, I’m the kind of guy that kids made fun of, not athletic, the sissy.” I told him the story of how I met his father and said, “Okay this is the deal, I’ll play baseball with you if you promise me to never to be mean to the kids that are like me.” He agreed. So we played baseball, he pitched and I actually hit the ball. I had fun. Now I won’t make any claims on having achieved humility. It hasn’t been the end of the self-centered world as I know it, but my planets may have shifted just a little bit.


  1. Simon, thanks for sharing this. You are an amazing person!

  2. Simon, this is so touching in both beautiful and painful ways. You share your experience so eloquently. I was moved, relating to much of your evolution from early self questioning and awkwardness to wiser, understanding man. Thank you is not enough to express my gratitude for sharing your personal perspectives.

  3. OMG, this is heartbreaking.. Thank you for sharing this. So familiar. So lonely. Thank god things are changing and getting better, at least in some places, that you can share this.

  4. Thank you Simon for your story. It truly inspired me to try being a better person in the way I relate to others, whether lgbt or straight. Also to be more thankful for all the lgbt individuals who opened so many doors for my benefit, as well for the powerful words and actions of straight allies that gives me strenght and hope for the future.

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