A Personal Tragedy

First published at 365gay.com on October 2, 2009

Chad and I met on my first visit to Detroit, back in the spring of 1998. “Damn, he’s good-looking,” I thought to myself–a familiar reaction for those who met Chad. He was thin then–he didn’t become a gym bunny until a few years later–but it was his handsome face and his unassuming manner that captivated me. He had piercing blue eyes and a gentle, welcoming voice. I was in town to look for an apartment, but I remember hoping that we would meet again upon my return and that the “boyfriend” he introduced me to was merely a temporary fling (I was single at the time).

As it turned out, his relationship with the boyfriend grew stronger and I acquired one of my own in the months prior to relocating. But Chad and I became friends, and a year later we decided to buy an old duplex together and move in with our respective partners. Within eighteen months both relationships soured, a development we always jokingly blamed on the house. Nonetheless, Chad and I kept things platonic. He seemed to have difficulty being single, and no sooner did he break up with one boyfriend than he would cling to another.

Seldom did his friends approve of the choices. The bolder ones would tell him what the rest of us were thinking: “You’re good-looking, you’re an attorney, you’re charming–a total ‘catch.’ Why are you dating this mooch?” Chad’s good nature sometimes got the better of him; besides, he seemed desperately afraid of being alone.

He was also deeply closeted. Having grown up with a fundamentalist upbringing, attended school at Hillsdale College, and chosen a fairly conservative profession, he was terrified of people–and in particular, his family–finding out that he was gay. Once, when we were walking through a suburban downtown with our boyfriends, he suddenly disappeared. A few minutes later we discovered that he had ducked into a store after spotting some law-school classmates across the street and fearing that our presence would somehow “out” him.

While the dual life he led took an emotional toll on him, it also created (or perhaps exacerbated) some unfortunate character traits. To put it bluntly, Chad was someone too comfortable at lying. This manifested itself not only in his closetedness, but also in his cheating on his boyfriends, and ultimately, in his gradual spiral into drug use, which he kept largely hidden from those friends (like me) he knew would object.

Of course, it’s hard to keep some things hidden for very long. I had heard from mutual acquaintances that Chad was using crystal meth, though he denied it (and later, when that became too implausible, falsely claimed that he had since stopped). Eventually he lost his job, not to mention many of his friends.

I tried to remain close with him, even after I moved out of the duplex, but it became increasingly difficult as his drug use increased. One day a routine check of my credit report revealed missed payments on our mortgage. Chad, I discovered, had not paid for months, even though he continued to collect my contribution. I will never forget the look of shame and despair on my friend’s face when I confronted him: he had hit rock-bottom, and he could no longer conceal it.

We met for lunch about a month after that. I urged him (as many times before) to get counseling, and for the first time he seemed somewhat open to it. He claimed that he was taking several steps to get his life back on track. I was reminded that day of the reasons I had grown to love him: his gentle, reassuring manner; his endless well of charm; his fundamental kindness. Maybe, I thought, he could get treatment for his depression, stop self-medicating, and tap into his enormous potential. I felt hopeful.

Two weeks later, I stopped by the duplex to pick up a check from my tenants. Chad was outside, pleading with the electric company not to turn off his power. I called him later, but he never answered my call or returned my message (it had become a familiar pattern). That was the last time I saw him. The following week, on September 29, 2004, Chad committed suicide, hanging himself in the basement of the home we had once shared. My tenants found him. He was 32 years old.

At the reception following his memorial service, the boyfriend I had met on my first visit to Detroit turned to me and said, “We failed him.”

“Yes,” I replied, “but he failed us too.” Five years later, both claims still pierce me.