|After hearing about his suicide, columnist Pollo Del Mar pulled out this 2008 promotional photograph with Johnathan Gaffney and started to cry.
Notorious Sainted Glamazon About Town
My heart broke this afternoon. I was pulling into the grocery store parking lot when the text came from BeBe Sweetbriar. It was so shocking, I slammed on the brakes to read it a second time. I was sure I somehow misunderstood, but the message was incredibly direct, with no room for misinterpretation. â€śJohnathan Gaffney took his own life last night.â€ť
Instantly, I went numb.
Outwardly, Johnathan had everything any man could want. By all accounts he was smart, incredibly witty and drop-dead gorgeous. He could charm you with humor or stop you in your tracks with a stare, depending on which he wanted, and he had a smile that could literally light up a room â€” and often did. What none of us could see, apparently, was just how much pain he was in during the final days of his life. If any of us had, I imagine, I might not be writing this now. I wish I wasnnâ€™t, in fact, but I am.
My first memory of Johnathan was late 2007. It was the night he wowed the judges and audience alike with his good looks, biting sense of humor and easy demeanor to walk out arm-in-arm with my long-time friend BeBe as the newly-crowned Mr. & Miss Gay San Francisco.
Soon after, Beebs and I began to cohost BRAIN FARTS trivia at the Lookout, where Johnathan tended bar. For many long months, we worked, laughed and partied together. That spring, I paired Johnathan with one of my best friends and drag sons, Beefy Del Mar (Mike Bonella), in a number for the Trannyshack Madonna tribute. Sparks flew, and the two began to date. Soon we were spending a fair amount of time together outside the bar, too.
Things werenâ€™t always good with Johnathan, though. Both highly opinionated, we often butted heads about ideas, ideologies and, in particular, areas relating to our respective relationships with Beefy. However, when they broke up a year or so later, tensions between us eased, and we fell back into an effortless camaraderie whenever we found ourselves in each otherâ€™s company.
More than once over the last couple years, Johnathan leant his sex appeal to ads promoting my series of Recovery parties hosted by Lookout. I will never forget the photo shoot for my 2008 Memorial Day party, which saw me dressed as a naughty nurse and Johnathan as my bandaged patient. He was such a ham â€“ and it made that poster a huge hit!
Everyone deals with pain and loss in different ways, Iâ€™ve learned. When I heard about Johnathan, I immediately thought of the many, many whose lives he touched. I placed calls to those I knew would be most affected by his passing, then I went home to pull those pictures up on my computer. And I started to cry.
For most, suicide is one subject which can never be fully understood. We are left asking what we might have done differently, whether we could have somehow changed fate or how we are expected to carry on. When itâ€™s someone as bright, young, beautiful and promising as Johnathan, the questions seem even more pressing â€“ and the lack of answers that much more infuriating.
In the hours following the conversations I had about this with friends like BeBe, Beefy and Lookout owner Chris Hastings, who is encouraging friends and acquaintances alike to bring photos and mementos of and personal notes for our fallen friend for a remembrance wall in the bar where he worked until just a few months ago, I found memories of my own darkest moments floating to the surface. You see, there was a time not-so-terribly-long ago when I, too, questioned whether or not I might make the same decision as Johnathan.
Itâ€™s been nearly six years since I found myself utterly desperate, feeling alone, despondent and lacking any sort of belief that I might somehow find my way out of those feelings. The only words I can think to describe my emotional state at that time are â€śutterly and hopelessly lost.â€ť
There are as many reasons for these feelings as there are people who have experienced those. For me, it was a heart-wrenching break-up fueled by an often-discussed addiction to crystal meth which sent me spiraling into psychosis, depression and episodes of intense suicidal ideation. It has taken me long years of therapy, recovery and self-discovery to even begin to talk openly about these. They remain subjects which make me feel uncomfortable, exposed and ashamed.
Until now â€“ this very moment, in fact â€” even my closest friends have not known about the night I stared for hours at a bottle of prescription medication, wondering whether the handful I swallowed would be enough to end everything or if I needed to take it all. Or the time a year earlier when I wrote a good-bye note to my then-partner and climbed to the roof of our apartment building to sit crying on the ledge, staring at the ground several stories below..
What kept me from making those final, fatal decisions, Iâ€™ll never fully know. Maybe it was the intense worry I had about the emotional toll it would take on my family and friends, and most importantly the person whose task it would be to clean up the mess I left. It might have been fear that either would not complete the job, leaving me instead in some vegetative state, unable to care for myself or finalize my intent later. Maybe it was simple cowardice. As I said, Iâ€™ll never be certain.
But every single day, Iâ€™m grateful I didnâ€™t fully seek that permanent solution for what proved to be â€“ and they always are â€“ temporary problems. And at times like this, I am reminded all too clearly of what might have been had some force far greater than myself not intervened at just the right moment.
Instead, I made what seemed an even tougher decision: reaching out for help. Why killing myself felt like an easier alternative than getting professional assistance, Iâ€™m not sure, but it certainly did for quite a while. Thankfully, through a call to an anonymous crisis hotline, I eventually found my way to counseling, intensive treatment for addiction, therapy and a long, sometimes incredibly difficult road to reclaiming myself mentally, emotionally and even spiritually.
Now so many years later, that pain and isolation seems a lifetime ago. From where I am today, itâ€™s hard to even believe what it was like to be in such a place where suicide seemed a viable option. Itâ€™s been the same for so many I know who have battled that kind of depression and come out the other side. Still, it strengthens me to know I did make it through â€“ and if I can, anyone can.
For any who might be experiencing those feelings now, know that suicide is never the answer. Regardless of what youâ€™re facing, donâ€™t give up. There is hope â€” and people willing and able to help, if only youuâ€™ll let them. No matter how dark it might seem, there is always, always light at the end of the tunnel. I promise.
I just wish Johnathan could have lived to see it.
Follow â€śThe Glamazonâ€ť at Facebook.com/PolloDelMar or Twitter.com/TheGlamazonPDM. Email her direct at Pollo_DelMar@Yahoo.com.