“What I really wanted was a part of me to die. [All of] life didn’t stink, but that situation did, and it was a huge bruise that I had to heal and couldn’t. I didn't want to throw away the whole thing, but I did not know how to heal the bruise at the time. The only way I knew was to throw away the whole apple.”
Ed’s is a cautionary tale about our cultural heroes and who we need them to be. No one is uni-dimensional, but attempting to be so, can be life threatening. And, in itself, being gay is not a cause of suicide, but because of ignorance and societal pressures, the façade that one must create to hide in plain site, can be. Ed's is also a story of tremendous heart and courage as he returns to life, becomes a public figure and inspires others, but before that, we can see how lost he became in what I call the 'suicidal trance', and how deeply he plummeted.
"When John Lennon was murdered in 1980, it sounds strange, but that inspired me to…[realize] that maybe I have a talent. I thought, ‘If I can do one one-thousandth of what Lennon did, maybe I can accomplish something in this world.’ To my thinking, then, it seemed all the great ones—Lennon, Martin Luther King, Kennedy—they go out with a boom. Something about that turned me on. Something about how they went out and how they were loved afterwards. Maybe one day I’ll spring a hit on everyone and they’ll look back and realize that Gallagher just didn’t play football and physical things—that he had some kind of brain."
Secretly, Ed began to romance death…as a means for his truer self to be seen. As the disparity between his inner and more public selves grew, Ed became both more clandestine and impulsive. Early one morning, about three A.M., he stole into New York City to hire a prostitute. He was afraid of what he felt inside. He desperately wanted to affirm that he wasn’t gay.
"I was glad afterward. I was thinking, 'Wow, I can really do this. Maybe I’m not gay. Maybe my friends won’t suspect I am.' I was still playing the jockish part of my nature in public. [Privately], I said to myself, “Let me write these songs in secret.”
Ed began to study songwriting formally and it bore unexpected side effects. As he received encouragement from his teachers, he stretched beyond the cloak of 'Big Ed'. Combining visits to music classes with explorations in Manhattan, Ed ventured into Greenwich Village, specifically the West Village, where the gay community lived in high concentration. It was there he had his first encounter with the life he’d so surreptitiously fantasized about for over a decade.
"I was curious, but I acted disinterested. Very guarded, very intrigued. I’d start to hang out more frequently, still not even entering one of the gay bars—just walking past; looking in but acting nonchalant. I did that many times—eat by myself, walk past a bar, going to Washington Square. Finally one evening, I said, “Fuck, man, I’m twenty-seven years old! I can do what I want!” and after having a bite to eat, and getting a little bit tanked—not too much, but I feel good—I go into this bar—I won’t tell you the name of it—and I feel different. I can talk with guys and feel good about it. I can be myself ! I was gonna leave, but this guy asked me to his place. I’m thinking, “He’s really good looking, and I say to him, “I never really did this stuff before.” He said, “It’s okay, I’ll help you—I’ll show you.” He was coming on to me, I know, but he was also nice, not pushy. I’d never even kissed a guy, let alone done anything else. I felt so comfortable to be myself. I had a real nice time. It also helped I was a little tanked!"
That night, Ed embraced his longing for a man, and for a few precious hours he felt whole. Yet at some deeper level, the binary construction of his psyche, the sharp division of self that he’d been living with for so many years, became inflamed. Driving home the next day, Ed was consumed with fear.
"I started thinking, “Now what? You can’t go back to your old lifestyle! How can I look my friends in the eye, my friends who think I’m straight as an arrow? You never told anyone and then just because you walk down Greenwich Village, you get involved with someone!”
The intensity of his self-flagellation increased, and Ed, alone more than ever, grew frightened and more savage with himself.
"Then I started thinking of AIDS, of which I knew next to nothing. “Was I careful? Was I not? What did you do! You stepped into this new world and then you get AIDS! You’re gonna kill anybody you come near.” I remember going to work and not wanting to breathe near anyone.”
One might think that Ed’s first encounter caused his suicide attempt. It didn’t. One must look deeper. The now longstanding pattern of hiding, secreting himself away with no support, no friend or mentor to offer perspective, created a fault-line so deep, that he couldn’t withstand the internal pressure.
“I never had an experience opening up to anyone and I couldn’t do it now.”
THE HEART OF THE ATTEMPT
What drives someone, in these final moments, to carry out his or her plan rather than interrupt it? What is the nature of the momentum that continues one forward, often despite consider- able obstacles? The answer to these questions lies in at least one of the following desires:
• To escape a dilemma that feels inescapable
• To gain control of uncontrollable confusion
• To send a message when all others means of communication have failed
There’s a dam in upstate New York near the small town where Ed had been a high school all-star and hero. He drove to the top knowing that in its seventy year history, none of the forty people who jumped from it had survived. Ed couldn’t imagine living life as a gay man, nor could he endure one more day of the vicious and corrosive self-hatred which was consuming him. He paused for a half-hour or so, then tumbled.
Someone witnessed the fall…a medical student, taking a walk nearby. When he reached Ed at the bottom, Ed asked:
“Did I do it?”
“Yes,” the young man replied.
“Am I gonna die?”
“I don’t think so,” he said.
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