A excerpt from Pedro Serrano’s book, Pride—Diary of a Gay Skinhead.
I felt naked. The 27 degree wind seemed to pass through my clothes and my body like a ghost. I should have accepted the offer of a ride home.
I’d just done some spoken word at one of my favorite cultural and alcohol distribution sites and was paid 40 dollars for talking an hour and a half.
When I started shivering I took a detour for shelter at The Melody Bar. OK, so I usually end up there anyway for the 50 cent Pabst Blue Ribbon but tonight it would be hot tea, a piss, and then the journey home.
Walking in, the first person I see is G__ on a stool, his back towards me. I give him a pound on the back.
“How you doing?” I ask.
There was a beer in front of him, and he was looking at the skull and crossbones ring from his young dumb and full of it white power days.
“I haven’t worn this in years.” he said.
“How have you been?” I ask.
“I haven’t been acting myself lately. I haven’t been to work in days. Pedro, that’s just not like me!”
He seemed as worried as he was miserable. I’d never seen him like that before. But I had seen the expression before; on my face in the bathroom mirror.
I asked about how long he’d been feeling this way. Whether he’d talked to anybody else about this.
“Pedro, you don’t understand, I don’t have any one to talk to!”
This took me aback. It seemed to me that he had plenty of friends. Then I realized what he really meant.
It wasn’t that he didn’t have any friends he could talk to. It was that he didn’t have any friends he felt he could open up to. Some one to explain his fears, pain or disappointments to, instead of wondering if he was bringing his friends down. But then seeing his problems as really not being that bad, and, what right does he have to complain about something insignificant?
I understood what he was dealing with. While hanging out at a show or a bar or the local Skinhead House of Pleasure there aren’t usually opportunities to talk about how one is feeling. It does happened though. Usually over a beer or two. Unless you’re of Celtic decent, in which case it’s a pitcher or three.
“I understood how you feel.” I said.
“There have been times when I have what I called, ‘The Suicidal Perspective’.”
He raises his head and his eyes grow wide.
“Pedro, that’s it exactly.”
“Do you want company? I ask.
He said that he’d rather be alone.
“You see I’ve got a knife at home already there on the kitchen table that I’m going to use to kill myself with,” he said.
OK! So I figured he hadn’t planned on an audience.
I think to myself, ” Tough shit!”
“You’re stuck with me,” I say. “I’m gonna be like a piece of chewing gum stuck to the bottom of your boot.” My right arm is over his shoulder, my face close to his to assure some privacy.
I’d always knew my brother to be a man of his word. If he said he was gonna try and kill himself it would be disrespectful to not accept it as fact.
I tell him he’s stuck with me, with my arm across his shoulder. I’m leaning in talking close to his ear. Partly because of the noise in the bar and also to guarantee some privacy. I keep talking to him, asking questions, trying to get him to talk. He tries to express himself but never gets too far before the tears overcome him. Then he just lowers his head to the bar.
After a while the bar closes and we head out to into what feels like a solid wall of frozen air. Before parting he takes me aside, away from the people that are with us. “Pedro, I’m gonna be OK. I’m not going to do anything. But call me tomorrow, OK?”
We hug. And he says into my ear, “Call me, OK? I need help.”
I look on as he and his friends head home.
Some years before, a brother of mine talked about what he saw as the superficiality of so many friendships.
“It can take years before you can say you truly know someone.” I said.
“Other times it seems you learn a lot about some one in no time at all.”
A lot of this seems to depend on how much shit you have to go through together. Backing up some one in a fight, or dealing with some personal crisis, or just talking about your life, the high points and the low.
There were talks I had with skin heads who would rage at shows and end up generating a riot.
At first they thought the reason I was bothered was that I disapproved of the violence. But it was more than that. I was worried about them. I didn’t want to see them dead or in jail. We’d talk; sometimes on the morning after. In time most of what we’d talk about had nothing to do with the fight the night before but with what was going on in my friend’s life. Or what had gone on in his past.
Being a Skin does not automatically mean that we had a lousy childhood or are dysfunctional but I have found a lot of rage in the Skinhead scene. And that rage was a big reason I found myself pulled to it. I’m not the only one. A lot of us grew up in situations that make me wonder how we survived at all. Surviving, however, does not mean that we don’t still carry scars with us. It can take time before we prove worthy to ourselves of our suffering. Most people don’t make the effort to understand. We all have a fire in us but for some it burns too hot before it burns brightly. And that’s more then most people can bear. That’s one reason why I feel the need to take care of others, when I see them in pain.
Intimacy is not a word you hear much in the Skinhead vocabulary. In fact I can’t think of one OI! song with that word in it. The word you hear is Brotherhood. But what do we mean by that?
Does it mean hanging out at shows? Knowing the same songs? Buying each other beer? Does it mean being honest? Showing each others scars? Being unafraid of asking for help? Being willing to give it? There are Skins that I like and care about who have really gotten on my nerves. There’s a universe of issues we disagree on. But we consider each other friends because what we get out of the relationship outweighs the annoyances. I’ve learned more from talking with someone I disagree with than with people who toed the same line. I found myself thanking a Skin when he told me about something about me that bothered him. I’ve listened to and have related my own fucked up childhood experiences. And I’ve learned that the level of courage that comes from standing your ground in a fight doesn’t come close to telling a friend, “I need your help.”
I called G__ the next morning. No answer. I call a couple more times and I decide to pay him a visit.
I ring the door bell. No response. OK, now what? What else! Break in, of course.
I come in through the back door. The kitchen is a wreck: table on its side, the chairs as well. There’s a knife on the floor. I go to his room and knock. Nothing. I call his name. Nothing. I try to open the door. It doesn’t budge.
“Fuck!” OK, Pedro, don’t panic. I lean into the door. It turns out not to be locked, just stuck. I keep leaning in till it gives. I step in and see my little bro snoring quietly. I leave him for a while to sleep. When I return to wake him up I ask how he’s doing.
“Hung over.” he says.
I think, “Cool, things are back to normal!”
He apologizes for last night.
“For what? Don’t worry about it.” I say.
I leave him so he can get more sleep. I head out for breakfast.
When I call him later he tells me he’s heading to his parents for a couple of days.
“That sounds like a good idea.” I say.
I give him the phone number to a local counseling center that I got for him.
A few weeks after that night to I ran into him at another one of our favorite cultural and alcohol distribution sites.
“I’m really sorry about last night,” he said yet again.
He kept apologizing for a while about that night. I told him to stop apologizing.
“If you ever need to talk give me a call, any time.”
“I appreciate that.” He says.
The time comes for me to catch my train. I say my good nights give him a hug.
“I love you,” I say.
Immediately I think to myself, “FUCK! I just said ‘I love you!'”
“I love you, too,” he says.
In Canada and the U.S., the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is 1-800-273-TALK (8255).
Read more on Suicide.
Photo credit: RosaMaria_Nika/Flickr