SUICIDE PREVENTION TOOLS LISTED BELOW THIS STORY
(Editor’s note: Raised in an extremist Christian household, assaulted in classroom with a teacher present, EricJames Borges, 19, of Visalia, Calif., was repeatedly bullied, tormented and terrorized for the duration of his childhood and teen years. Exorcisms, beatings and extreme Christianity pervaded his young life and did not “cure” him. “Disgusting, perverted, unnatural and going to hell” is what his parents told him as he was kicked out of his home. Just last month, EricJames made a video for the “It Gets Better” project, a campaign that features personal hope-filled videos to LGBT teens to get them through difficult times. Although he said “it gets better” and asked other teens to “ never give up,” he could not live through the extensive damage to his psyche and the pain that life had brought to him. On Jan., 14, 2012, EricJames committed suicide, shocking his friends and his co-workers at The Trevor Project. SDGLN Contributor Melanie Nathan attended one of his funerals, and obtained a copy of one of his suicide notes that gives insight on what he was thinking. This is her exclusive story.)
“To my friends you gave me life and love, never think this was your fault ... To Lady Gaga, you have been a fearless relentless proud LGBT advocate ...” - Excerpt from a suicide note by EricJames Borges
Never before had the sound of “Edge of Glory” been so inconceivable; EricJames Borges chose Lady Gaga, and not only for the echo that would pave his heavenly journey but as a benefactor, leaving the last of his life’s dealings to his icon:
Five hundred dollars would go to Lady Gaga’s Born This Way Foundation, $500 to the Trevor Project, $521.56 to the Human Rights Campaign and almost $2,500 to his rescuer, Jennifer McGuire, for her upcoming same-sex wedding. “I want it to go where it deserves; to life, love and equality.”
Unlike during his life, 19-year-old EricJames Borges was in control at the end; he uploaded the music and chose the people; he designed his own funeral service and it was poignant. This past Saturday, Borges was celebrated at one of three memorials held in Visalia, and the one I attended was held by the small California Central Valley town’s grieving LGBT community, those describing themselves as his new family.
His religious-extremist parents had been invited but did not attend.
Mere months before, EricJames came out, recorded an “It Gets Better” video, made a short film and gave anti-bullying suicide prevention workshops to other teens; yet he could not sustain his own pain and committed suicide just two weeks ago.
I obtained an exclusive and copyrighted copy of one of his suicide notes addressed to Jennifer McGuire (page three is found to the left), and EricJames wanted all to know that he was grateful to the Trevor Project: “I do not want my passing to reflect poorly on the Trevor Project,” he clarified. “That organization was the best decision I ever made in my life.”
A confused community packed the convention hall, trying to grasp the pain that could have caused this young suicide, further perplexed that even after the rescue which took him from a world of shame and torture to one of acknowledgment and safety, he would still want to die.
And so he did, in the home of a tender stranger, who took him in like her own, and whom he described in his last note as “mother-like” to him. She gave him love, safety, comfort and a Christmas like none other he had experienced in his life.
While officiate and friend, William Van VanLandingham, the director of the local chapter of Trevor Project, noted that “we are not here to point fingers,” Jennifer McGuire, the kind stranger who had opened her home to EricJames and grown to love him, spoke to the mourners candidly:
“I am not going to avoid the elephant in the room. He tells his story better than any of us could in his short film and ‘It Gets Better’ video, but I need it to be spoken out loud – and said for him ... his parents tortured him – there is no other word to describe it. What he shared in his video was the tip of the iceberg, and that’s only compared with what he shared with me, and I am sure there was more.
"His parents tortured him by not protecting him from the extensive bullying. His parents tortured him through their relentless, extremist religious teachings. His parents tortured him with shame and intolerance and emotional and physical abuse that most of us can’t even begin to imagine. And yes, I blame them, and not just a little, but for a majority percentage ... His parents killed him.”
McGuire described how a college community including professor Debra Hansen and Trevor Project volunteers had come to the rescue of the destitute young man. Yet all the love and support in the world would not be enough to save EricJames from the gushing wound of his childhood and the piercing gashes of his preceding teen years.
“By the time he got to us, his real family,” McGuire wept, “he was so injured and so wounded that the triage we provided wasn’t enough.”
While grieving friends sat weeping, the air was thick with an omnipresent craving to comprehend; and as McGuire continued, through the poignancy of a triage metaphor, a small light was shed on that dark day, as if to entice understanding:
“He really was a warrior and many of us really were the M*A*S*H doctors trying to patch him up through our love and our friendship ... We tried to stop the bleeding and in my heart I know we, all of us, did everything we could, but the wounds from the front-line, his front-line, were just too severe.”
“Our plan was to get him through his last year at COS and help set him up in a form or apartment at UCLA where he wanted to go to film school. He was so young, so alive, so strong in so many ways, yet utterly defenseless against the hell thrown at him.
“And while many of us saw that and tried to protect him, basically, he had no defenses. He didn’t know how to shrug off the torment from bullies. He didn’t know how to reject the condemnations that are ever prevalent in our society.
“We gave him slogans from T-shirts and videos instead of tools. He hadn’t learned the art of removal or the snap and shoulder shrug or even anger, the defenses many of us have had, to learn to survive in this hostile world. Instead, he internalized it, all of it, and really he didn’t understand it. It wasn’t in his nature to understand the hate thrown at him.”
Describing Borges as a smart and articulate young man who barely scraped the surface of his potential, McGuire related how she prepared for his move to her home:
“The day before he moved in, I emptied the bedroom for him; I emptied the drawers and the closet because I wanted him to move in, not just stay, but live there, and I made his bed, and I put a stuffed animal dog on the bed with the fluff pillows, thinking he’d stack them all in the closet when he went to sleep.
"Instead he walked into the room, saw the stuffed animal, and hugged it, and teary-eyed said, 'Is this for me?' And of course, I’m like, 'Ya.' And you know he slept with the dog every night.”
And the eulogies effectively conveyed the message that EricJames had sought to impart, when he noted so succinctly in his final written words:
“My pain is not caused because I am gay. My pain was caused by how I was treated because I am gay.”
As McGuire concluded with an impassioned resolve to reclaim the “GAY” fight, the grieving community, and some well-known activists all stood in unison, cheering, while the ultimate blast of “Edge of Glory” touched us with the sweet smell of ironic rebellion as the young man who could not be saved by anyone, controlled his own demise, leaving us with his choices and his money, defying those who stole his life, and revering those he had savored to his end.
Melanie Nathan of San Francisco is a lawyer, human-rights advocate and blogger for www.oblogdeeoblogda.wordpress.com. She also is a regular contributor to SDGLN and The Advocate. Melanie tweets @melanienathan1. Pictures are by Kristina Lapinski of GAY U.S.A. the Movie.
“It Gets Better” video by EricJames Borges
How to find help if you feel suicidal
If you or a young person you care about needs support, call The Trevor Lifeline at (866) 488-7386. It’s free, confidential and available 24/7. Learn more at TheTrevorProject.org.
-- National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: (800) 273-8255
-- Suicide Awareness Voices of Education: save.org.
-- Suicide Prevention Resource Center: www.sprc.org
-- Every county operates immediate mental health crisis response services. For information, contact your local county human services agency.