WARNING: This is a bit raw and intense. Read at your own risk.
He was the first boy I ever wanted. He was the first boy who wanted me.
He was my first.
On October 23rd, 2009, Damon Nicholson was brutally murdered by a man who had slept with him the night before. He was beaten with a baseball bat in his own home so the man and his accomplice could take his electronics and sell them for drug money.
I didn’t know this. I had been thinking about him for the last few days, and last Saturday I decided to look him up on Facebook. He wasn’t there, which seemed a little strange, so I googled him.
I found his obituary almost immediately.
Damon Lee Nicholson: Mr. Nicholson was born on August 27, 1968 in Tucson, Arizona to David and Barbara Nicholson. He left this earth unexpectedly on October 23, 2009.
Those words burned into my brain. I tried to unsee them, to deny them. But they remained stubbornly there, on my screen.
He left this earth unexpectedly. What the hell did that mean? Car crash? Cancer? Certainly not AIDS. Right?
I had to know. So I started my journey down the rabbit hole.
In five minutes, I found out he’d been murdered in his living room by a man he’d slept with the night before. And now he’s just gone.
I can’t process this.
Mark holds my hand, hugs me, lets me cry on his shoulder. Whatever I need to figure this out.
So many memories have flashed through my head over the last two days:
The first time we experimented with each other when I was 14 – in the middle of the day under the branches of a mesquite tree in the Arizona desert at the end of a cul-de-sac, not far from home. There’s still a desert plant smell that takes me instantly back to that moment.
The mixed drugs of lust and shame that used to run through me at the sound of his motorcycle coming up the cul-de-sac, and the intense waves of guilt afterward. I was so deep in the closet.
And the last time I saw him. It was in 1991. I was 23. I was living with my girlfriend Dawn and her parents. One day she handed the phone to me and said “It’s a friend of yours. He says his name is Damon.”
My heart began to beat a thousand times a minute. Outwardly I struggled to stay calm.
“Do you want to come see me? I’m in Laguna Beach now.” His voice. Such a normal thing to ask. So much behind those words.
I wonder now why he called. What was he hoping for, in that moment – a renewal of our friendship? Something more?
I said yes.
When he opened the door to his apartment, I remember how stunningly normal he looked to me. How somehow that made the idea of being gay normal for me. How, unknowingly, he inspired me to come out and leave my girlfriend soon after.
All of this runs through my head as I try to process the fact that he’s gone. That I missed my chance to ask him these questions, and so many more. That he’s been gone for more than eight years, and I didn’t even know.
How did I not know?
He was beautiful. I remember thinking that too when I saw him in 1991. He was living his life the way I had always dreamed of doing but had been too afraid to try. I am ashamed now that I didn’t take advantage of that moment. That I didn’t get to know him better, to see the man he had become. That I didn’t stay in his life.
I was so scared of being gay, of what it meant, so scared of how attracted to him I was.
I have no photos of him beyond the small black and white sophomore pic from the Canyon del Oro yearbook. I’ve searched for others online—there are only a handfull, and they’re all from the last few years of his life. None of them are the Damon I knew.
It struck me at two in the morning the other night that the internet doesn’t remember who Damon was. It only shows me what happened to him. Beyond that, it’s like he was wiped from the face of the earth. No Facebook profile, no website, no photos beyond those few from his funeral and obituary. Even most of those are locked behind a paywall.
I struggle to remember exactly what he looked like when we were together, especially in 1987-88, before I moved back to California. In my head, he’s a bit like the tiny image I found of him on the obituary (blown up above), one of those where the full size image is hidden away, awaiting payment. Kind of how I locked him away in my own mind for so long. I remember him, but it’s hard to bring him into focus.
I kick myself for not taking a photo of him. With him. I cry for the closeted person I was when we were together.
A giant piece has been retroactively ripped from my life. The hope for a reunion at some future time and place – for reminiscence, a circle of closure. The wonder about what might have been, but somehow never was. And all the questions.
How did he know I was gay, when I was all of 14 years old? Why did he decide to make the first move? Was he as addicted to me as I was to him? Did he ever think about looking me up again, after that last time? How was his life since?
Who will answer these questions for me now?
As I move toward my fiftieth birthday in April, nothing else in my recent life has made me feel so suddenly, irrevocably older. He and I shared a secret world together for a short time that no one else knew about, and now I’m left holding the broken half of that world.
It’s not fair.
I’m furious at the men who did this to him. I’m sad that I never got to see him again. And I’m feeling guilty about not knowing that he was gone.
I waited too long to try to find him.
I was fortunate enough to locate one of his friends on Facebook. He told me Damon had enjoyed a full, happy life. That has to be enough, for now, right?
I can still smell him. I can still remember that first time, can see it if I close my eyes.
“What was it like?”
“A warm popsicle.”
It makes me smile, even now. We were so young.
And slowly some other memories have been trickling back. How he wouldn’t kiss me. That he had a black truck. That one time he wore a blue-striped dress to school on Halloween. That he had a shelf of books in his apartment about gay relationships. The night he took me to my first gay bar, and I was so scared, and then everyone ignored me.
He opened the closet door for me.
There’s a strange hole in my life now. He and I were an intimate part of each others’ lives on and off for five years, and nobody knew. He’s the only one who shared that part of my life. And because we never really talked about it, I don’t know what that meant to him, if anything. Now I probably never will.
This late news has ripped something open inside of me that I thought I had carefully folded and put away a long time ago.
He’s gone. There are only the little pieces of him left in my head. I grasp at them, as I try to make sense of the senseless. In my head, I am trying to write the narrative of our time together, but I only have half of the story.
Somehow I have to make it work.