“I grew up believing in God, and I never questioned whether or not he loved me. Until I realized I was gay.” — D.J. Martinez, “Reoriented”
Meet D.J. Martinez, the protagonist of my forthcoming novel (which is being released one month from today!), on the worst night of his life. What follows is the first chapter of the book, which serves as a prologue or introduction to the events of the novel and the story of D.J. as a whole. Sorry that it ends on a bit of a cliffhanger. Please share around, and let me know what you think!
It was 1:27 a.m. at Pacific Christian University. Littleton Hall was dark and still, and in an empty room, D.J. Martinez was preparing to kill himself.
The rope felt like a rough snake in his trembling hands, harmless for now, but heavy with permanent possibilities. D.J. could barely make out the dark brown shape through the sweat and tears and God knows what else that burned his eyes and filled his mouth with their acrid taste.
He had bought it at the Ace Hardware in town for $4.99. A good deal.
Outside his room, the halls were silent. But D.J.’s world was chaotic, raging with the remembered wounds of yesterday—the messages of spoken and unspoken hatred he had received in so many ways over the past weeks and months—and with his own harsh, choked breathing.
He couldn’t take it anymore. He was so tired; tired of trying and tired of failing. The sun would come tomorrow, he knew, but the thought gave him neither hope nor comfort. The light only better showed him his tormentors. By its glare, he could see their numbers, their unfeeling faces—and the vast gulf that divided him from them.
With numb and shaking fingers, he tied the long end of the rope to a thick, sturdy-looking pipe that ran across the room near the ceiling, just off center. The dorm was old, and its fixtures were solid. He knew it would take more than his lean 140-pound frame to bring it down. But just to make sure it would support him, earlier in the day he had hung from the pipe by his hands for about five minutes.
He didn’t think it would take that long, but he liked to be thorough.
Just like before, the pipe was warm to the touch, but it didn’t burn. It was probably part of the dorm’s antiquated heating system that the other kids always complained about. It was white and, like the rest of the room, had the look of something that had been painted and repainted many, many times.
He felt like that sometimes, painted and hidden and covered up, again and again, to the point that even he didn’t know what he looked like on the inside, let alone anybody else. And it was agonizing not to be known; worse—to have no one who wants to know you. To be an oddity, an outlier, just . . . less than everyone else somehow.
The thoughts brought on a fresh wave of sobs. He couldn’t do it anymore. He was done. So done.
“Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary, the devil, prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. Resist him, firm in your faith, knowing that the same kinds of suffering are being experienced by your brotherhood throughout the world. And after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, confirm, strengthen and establish you.”
The words sprang to life in his head — he didn’t know from where. But it was too late for all that. He couldn’t turn back now, not when his mind was made up.
Besides, the noose was ready. The rope circle slipped quickly and easily around his neck. It scratched his hot, inflamed skin, and he wondered, briefly, how much dying would hurt.
He hoped the pain wouldn’t be too bad, or at least, that it wouldn’t last for very long.
His sneakered feet inched to the edge of the desk chair beneath him. He looked down, and watched his tears speckle the age-stained wood like the blood sprinkled on the altar by the Levitical priests. His mind raced.
Had he said goodbye to everyone he should? Yes, he knew he had, in some way. He had decided not to write a note. It had been too hard, and it had felt wrong, unfair, somehow. His toes crossed the edge of the chair.
Was he right with God? Again, yes, he supposed he was.
He had decided that he didn’t buy the idea that suicide was an unforgivable sin. The Bible said nothing about it, and anyway, when you got right down to it, the crucifixion was a form of suicide, wasn’t it? How could it not be—Christ being “obedient to death” and all that? Jesus knew he was going to die, and he went along with it for a greater purpose.
He died to save others; D.J. was dying to save himself.
Now he could feel the wooden edge of the seat in the arch about midway across his feet. Still firm wood beneath his heels, but beneath his toes—nothingness. It was time.
He mentally rehearsed the motion in his head. He needed to jump in the air, more vertically than anything else, and kick the chair out from underneath as he came down. He readied himself for one last jump. The phrase “leap of faith” flashed into his head and his moist, pale lips broke unbidden into a sad smirk when he thought of another question.
Had he done everything that he wanted to do?
This was a new one, and it gave him reason to pause, even for just the briefest of moments. His labored breathing quieted as he considered it, hands gripping the rope around his neck like a vise.
The paths of the countless tears across his cheeks began to grow cold.
Then, with a small shake of his head, he pressed on. And yet, even as he took what he knew would be his very last uninhibited breath, that same question plagued him still.
Had he left anything undone?