Our son Noel Clayton wrote and posted this on Facebook on October 31, 2012. I have his permission to share it, and I added the photos of Noel and Bill…
I missed it. Somewhere in the hustle and bustle of everyday life, a milestone came and went without comment.
Many runners will tell you of the healing power of running, that when we get out on the road we can let go of all the little stresses and worries in our life and just live in the moment for a little while. But sometimes it backfires. Sometimes, on a solo run in the rain, your mind begins to wander, and you remember something you have tried to forget.
It was a date that I never marked on a calendar, the answer to a math problem done entirely in my head because even as I worked it out I knew I didn’t want to remember it. Back in January, I realized it had been 17 years, but I couldn’t let it go at that. You can’t ignore the extra days. So, 17 years and 105 days later, on an unremarkable day in August 2012, my brother’s absence from my life surpassed the length of his presence on earth and I was mercifully unaware.
But the memory caught up with me, and I found myself dodging puddles and wondering what my life would be like if he hadn’t swallowed those pills over 17 years ago and ended his own life. Would I still be me without the absence I’ve lived with for so long? And what about my family? My parents were always activists, but would they have become such seemingly tireless crusaders in support of a beloved and still living son? How many families are better off today because of the outreach, support, kindness and courage they have shared so generously. A flame not sparked, but certainly fanned by their loss.
Without the work that they have done, would this state be on the verge of fully legalizing gay marriage next week?
But then I remember that mischievous grin, that boundless energy, that incredible stubbornness. I remember the boy who could never give up on an argument, no matter how absurd. The 13 year old who organized a walkout of fellow students to protest a war. And I remember the young man who stood up in front of a crowd just days after he was brutally beaten because of his sexuality and told them that no one should be forced to bear those scars.
And I know that the world cannot possibly be a better place with him gone. The brother I remember would not have settled for 17 more years of being a second class citizen. He would have fought the crusade himself and brought us all along with him.
Those who know me will know that I have not taken on the role of a crusader. I do my part in subtler ways and make an art of silence. But today, with this forgotten milestone weighing on my chest and the image of his face before my eyes I can’t stay silent.
So I’m asking you all to cast your votes to support marriage equality in Washington and Maine and Minnesota and Maryland. And to support candidates who will stand on the right side of history on the issue of gay rights. Because it is time. It is long past time for us to stop treating people as something less simply because of who they love.
It is time to make a change.