Hi. My name is Carlton, but my grandmother decided when I was born that since I was “the third,” she was going to call me Tré. I was always grateful for that, even though we were never close — it was truly a blessing since my parents were going to nickname me “Little Buddy” after my father, who was known as “Buddy.”
As long as I can remember, I had a vision in my head — a vision of two men at some sort of alter, wearing white tuxedo jackets and black dress pants. One man had dark hair and the other man had blond hair. I knew right away that the blond-haired man was me — but in the future. Now this vision was completely contradictory to everything I had seen in magazines, seen on TV, commercials or saw in photos in family albums.
Just before my third birthday, my mother was tucking me into bed, like she did every night. We were saying goodnight and the vision popped into my head again. “Mom, why can’t two men get married?” I asked her honestly and suddenly. “Well…they can.” was the response. My mother wasn’t quite sure what to say. “Well — why don’t they?” The question could have not been more innocent and honestly inquisitive. “When you grow up, you’ll start liking girls and then you’ll understand,” my mother said with a cheerful wink in her eye.
Well, it’s 43 years later, I’m grown up and I still don’t understand.
But that doesn’t matter anymore. My late teens and early twenties were the “explorative” years. At 19, I attempted suicide. A lame attempt, but an attempt nonetheless. I was at the beach with my two best friends — Mark, a tennis pro who women went crazy over, and Sam, a slick, fast-talking womanizer who looked like a cross between George Clooney and Journey’s Steve Perry (trust me, it’s better than it sounds) — when I noticed that the beach house next to ours was full of college lacrosse players who at 2:30 am, were drunk and decided that it would be hysterical if they took off all of their clothes and paraded around the front porch completely naked. The fact that I was mesmerized by this assured me that my worst fears had been confirmed — I was gay.
I’ve often heard of people having near-death experiences, where their lives flash before their eyes during some sort of trauma. Well, my life flashed before mine. Only I saw the future — rejection from the only people, at that time, I trusted and loved most. I was certain, from all of the “fag” jokes at holidays told by my ignorant uncle and cousins, to the apparent pleasure of my parents and brother, that my family would completely reject me. That was too much to bear.
I went into the bathroom and opened the medicine cabinet. I found what looked like several bottles of prescription drugs. Without thinking, I opened a bottle, swallowed all of the contents with a big swig of water. I closed the medicine cabinet, left the house and walked to the ocean.
When I got to the beach, it was low tide. Approximately 3:00 am, the rising gibbous moon over the water made the Atlantic Ocean look inky — like an oil tanker just spilled a trillion gallons of raw crude off shore. At least that’s how I remember it. But something wasn’t right. I should have been terrified, instead I was overwhelmed by how beautiful the moon was, the gentle waves, the enormity of the black ocean. Instead of feeling the fear of what were going to be my final moments of life, I felt as if I had simply decided to go swimming at night — in an environment few people get to experience. The beauty of that moment with the moonlight dancing on the waves in almost pitch darkness, lured me into the water — and I swam out on that bumpy road of moonlight. I was the captain of my high school varsity swim team, so I had an excellent swim stroke. Even so, I ended up taking in large amounts of seawater on those first few strokes. I stopped to cough/choke out the water, when I turned around to see exactly how far out I had gotten. As I tread water, I noticed how the moonlight was illuminating the facades of all of the boardwalk hotels and closed businesses — like I was looking at a seaside ghost town. Then it hit me. I was supposed to be drowning myself in some dramatic “A Star Is Born” moment and instead I’m taking in the beauty of this 3:00 AM swim. “What the hell am I doing?” I muttered to myself and I began to swim back to shore.
The swim back was not as pleasant, which I’m certain worked in my favor. Feeling like somewhat of an ass, I took in more seawater as I sprinted to the beach. The water seemed to become colder, not as beautiful — scary. I became freaked out about what nocturnal sea creatures were going to be clamping down on my toes as I stirred up the water with my kick. The opening scene from “Jaws” began to loop in my mind. Somewhat panicked, I made it to the beach, walked out of the water and vomited. The seawater in combination with the large amounts of vodka I had consumed earlier, forced my stomach to involuntarily rid itself of its contents.
The next morning, I woke up having to vomit again, which I did twice. Both times, I noticed quite a bit of blood. My friend, Mark (the tennis pro) and I went to grab some breakfast. I thought eating would make me feel better, but it didn’t. I was glad that I survived that night, but feeling like an ass that I almost allowed outside influences to determine my worth and my future (or lack thereof). I was embarrassed — I had let myself down.
However, more than that, I was instinctively aware that I had taken the first steps of my own personal journey. The sinking feeling inside of me was either the effects of a really bad hangover or the realization that I had a lot of hard work ahead of me. I knew that I had to begin to accept myself.
Something about that image of the inky black water, the moon low on the horizon, the waves creating the illusion of a rippled, lunar highway, made me realize that whatever I’m faced with, I can handle it. Although I was extremely vulnerable and alone on that beach, I had never felt so connected to the beauty, the fragility — the power of life. Something that night was letting me know that it may not make sense now, but no matter what happens, I am here. I am me and I am supposed to be.
It is crystal clear to me why gay teen suicide rates are sky high. I’ve been there. Hopefully, my story will reach others who are also feeling alone, confused, and isolated. My message to them: You are you, you are here and you are supposed to be.
Today, I live in California with my “dark haired” partner of 5 years, even though we’ve known each other for ten. We met in 1999 while doing the California AIDS Ride and from day one felt a comfortable, familial bond. We’re planning on making it official this Fall. By the way — he’s completely into the idea of a white tux jacket and black pants for wedding wear. We’re keeping our fingers crossed that the California Supreme Court allows us to do so.
The feeling that cradled me that night in the ocean, the beauty of the moonlight dancing on the waves, the one that distracted me from my premature death, has been with me ever since and it guides me to this day.
My name is Carlton, but everyone calls me Tré. Yes, I am gay and I can assure you, I was born this way.