January 24, 2017

All Out

The stranger on the phone wants to kill himself.

He is young, a high schooler. He is attracted to men. His family doesn’t know. Neither do his friends. Carrying his secret is suffocating — maybe it would hurt less if he didn’t breathe at all.

But he had read a story online about a brave young man, Alec Donovan — “Gay New Jersey high school wrestling state champ comes out on college recruiting trip” — who told the world that he knew how it felt to suffocate every day, every minute, and yearn to end that pain. So he ended it — by coming out. He offered to help others enduring the same torment. So the stranger decided to take his offer.

Alec’s hand trembles as he holds the phone to his ear. He is in gym class when the call arrives on this spring day at Brick Memorial High School, but the period is idle, so Alec dashes off to find the only man around who he trusts can help. Earl Mosely, the school district’s anti-bullying coordinator, pauses to process what the breathless 18-year-old standing in his office is hearing. Mosely wants to know: Is the stranger willing to reach out to someone better equipped to steer him to safety than a panicked high school wrestling state champ? But the voice insists it must be Alec. He has stepped to the same precipice and contemplated what relief might lie in the void below.

So Alec stays on the line. He listens and occasionally places his hand over the phone when he needs to whisper to Mosely. The teacher guides him: probe for an address, he says; remind the boy that there is another path. Mosely calls the authorities, relays the location and asks Alec to parrot back words of confidence and assurance. Eventually, the sirens ring in the background. Then, silence. For five disquieting minutes, just silence.

Alec hangs up.

By Brian Burnsed | Photo By Jamie Schwaberow | NCAA Champion Magazine

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