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.
10 thoughts on “POINT OF VIEW: He’s Gone”
Letting it out of you is the best thing you can do right now. I lost somebody I was involved wit (both of us deeply in the closet) back in 1988 (he was never that well!) Yes, I was madly in love and I still miss the guy. I cried for about a year. You will be okay, eventually. And it is good that you feel and care.
Hugs. Even though this is something you must get through by yourself, know that those of us who love you are behind you, supporting you, willing and ready to give you a shoulder to cry on and arms to hold you. Hugs.
Yes, and it has meant a lot to me. Especially those folks who know me well. I’ve been on a journey this last week to see who he was and what happened to him in those intervening years. I have learned a lot, and it has brought me closer to peace.
I am very sorry you’re going through such raw grief and I am glad Mark is there to help you through it. And I am sorry and furious someone decided a person’s life wasn’t worth the money and electronics they wanted to steal from him.
Yes, I know. I try not to be angry about it. What good will it do? It’s long over and gone, and the fate of that man is not in my hands. But it still hurts. xoxo
scott, this piece of writing moved me deeply. you captured the pain of missed opportunity so well, the way shame robs us of our natural impulses (to question, to stick around, to hang out), as well as the evanescent nature of life. I am so sorry for your loss, compounded over 8 years of not knowing. and based on the little I know of you through your writing on these blogs, I am glad Damon had you in his life.
Thanks, Jeff. I am glad he was a part of mine, however briefly, and even though things never went anywhere between us. He still had a profound impact on who I became and am today. xoxo
I seriously hope that you will write about this in a larger way; as a book, or more–actually, as I was reading this, I was mentally transforming your words into movie scenes. Historically, it was almost a rule that one or both members of a gay couple must die at the end of a book, movie, or play. The tragedy of the death awakening others to the damage caused by their prejudices might give some meaning to the death–like Romeo and Juliet, West Side Story, Bare–but basically, the death ends the story, and the reader or member of the audience is left in tears.
But you’ve had a complete other life by now, 25 years with someone you love; married for ten years (almost, I looked it up on Facebook); and a few years ago, the two of you could be happy that your relationship gave you the same rights and status as that of any other married couple in America.
I heard that sentiment expressed by a man my age, phoning a friend on the night of the Supreme Court marriage ruling. We were both standing in the park across from the Stonewall Inn, jammed with revelers. He was a stranger, but I’ll never forget the awe in his voice when he told the friend that for the first time, he had the same rights as anyone else in the country. I’m sure you felt the same way.
You mention finally having the courage to leave your girlfriend, and become who you really were, after he had called you. If not for him, that historic day in 2015 might have been nothing but bittersweet; happy for others like you, and regret that you had gone so far in the wrong direction that it didn’t seem possible–or worth it–to find your way back.
I hated Brokeback Mountain, because nothing positive came out of the senseless and brutal death of one of the men. Even in the genre of gay love stories, it left me emptier than any other.
Your first love’s death was tragic and senseless, but you heard he’d had a happy life. As have you. I’m going to go out on a limb and say you’ve seen WICKED, so you’ll understand when I say that “For Good,” could have been written about the role he played in your life. He showed you who you were, and then showed up again later, to remind you to do something about it. Maybe you can use your talent to return the favor.
Sorry about the length of this, but I had a passionate response to your story.
Thank you so much for your thoughts. Yes, I am lucky. Lucky to be alive. Lucky things worked out for me the way they did. I am glad that he touched you too, through me. That’s one way we continue on in the world, even after we are gone. xoxo
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