30 March 2003
Jim in Bold

I knew this kid in high school. His name was Jim. I didn't know him all that well, but he was an artist, a beautiful painter, and so I knew him from an admiring distance, watching him across the art room. When I was a junior in high school, he killed himself. In the newspaper coverage that appeared in the following days and weeks, I learned that he had gotten a lot of crap from kids in my high school and in the community in general. Although I hadn't heard about it firsthand, I wasn't really surprised by this. I remember how brutal Cedar Crest High School was for those who didn't fit the mold

I only have a couple of distinct memories of Jim: one of his paintings, an angel, in blue and yellow. I remember him working on it. I also remember taking an art field trip to the Wyeth Museum in Chaddsford and we stopped at the rest stop on the turnpike and got ice cream, and then we laughed when Jim fell asleep on the way back with my mouth gaping open. I just remember him being so soft and gentle and sweet.

I remember going to the memorial service with Alexis. It was a last minute decision. In one of those bizarre small-town twists, his father is my family doctor. I remember Dr. Wheeler being there, along with Jim's numerous brothers and sisters, all blonde, ranging from high school to kindergarden. His paintings were displayed. All the kids from high school were there. My high school art teachers were there, and Mrs. Miller was crying.

I don't even remember the memorial service itself, just standing outside on the porch of the funeral home with some kids from school. I remember that we talked softly, and we kept making jokes and smiling at the slight ridiculousness of it all. Like this wasn't supposed to happen. He had just graduated high school the last year. I think we still thought we were immortal.

My mom called me yesterday afternoon and told there's been a documentary made about Jim, focusing on homophobia and teenagers. It's called Jim in Bold, after one of his poems. It's being produced by PBS and MTV, and will be shown on both of those networks. I did a little research on the web, and I actually found a Citypaper article about him from 1998, in conjunction with a panel going on during Pridefest that year. There's a screening of it at Lebanon Valley College on Wednesday. So I'm going to go.

It's so strange how a piece of my history has come back to me like this. I guess you have to ask yourself...what kind of world do we live in - and what kind of town did I grow up in - that made a young man hate himself so much he decided to end his life.

reading: Pete Hamill, Snow in August
listening: Neko Case, Blacklisted

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