The Roommate Who Saved My Life

When I was 21 years old, I moved to San Francisco by myself. At that time, I didn’t realize just how lonesome the real world could be.

This is the story of how my roommate saved my life and how I wasn’t there to save his.

His name was Justin, a sailor who had recently moved from Maine to San Francisco in order to attend the local community college. He was white, short, and skinny. He often wore tight t-shirts, tight cut-off shorts, and too much makeup that made him look feminine. He fit my stereotypical image of a gay man, so I knew he was gay when I first saw him. He was flamboyant when he wanted to be and usually spoke whatever was on his mind, no matter how inappropriate his comments were at times.

We were the complete opposites, but we got along quite well. We shared details about our lives during the first days he moved into the house, and we quickly developed a friendship. I wanted to be completely honest with him, so I decided to tell him I was gay. At first, he looked at me in shock and then, very excitedly, told me he would take me to gay clubs, bars, and show me around the city. I smiled. He was my first true friend in San Francisco.

On our first night out, Justin gave me vodka to calm my nerves, but I felt more nervous and drunk by the time we arrived at the club. Once inside, I couldn’t believe I was seeing men kiss, touch, and dance with each other. Suddenly, I became part of the gay world and I felt strange and partly scared. I wanted to go back, but Justin didn’t allow me. My world had just been changed and Justin was to thank.

While inside the club, Justin warned me that the gay world was all about sex and that I should be careful because men in these clubs prey on younger guys. I looked around and saw a room full of friendly men; his comment confused me. He advised that long-distance relationships do not work because most gay guys cheat; I assured him that my boyfriend and I were happy even if we were living far away from each other. Finally, he told me that most gay guys in the community have fucked around with each other, so a true gay platonic friendship was rare. I didn’t know what to say; I had no intentions of messing around with him.

That night an older man tried to take me to his place because he knew I was drunk. Luckily, Justin found me before my panic attack worsened and we took a taxi back home. After that incident, he told me that he would be there to protect me. And he kept his word.

I can go on and tell you about the many times Justin took care of me when we went out clubbing or how he called me a prude for being so afraid to show my sexuality. Or that one night he said I dressed too “straight” and decided to dress me in a tight flannel shirt that showed some skin. Or how we spent hours in his room talking about music, our families, our relationships, and the little friends we had. But that’s not the story I want to tell.

Justin passed away in April of 2012. He was only 22.

I had only known him for 2 months before he moved back home, but that was enough for us to consider each other friends. But soon I became busy with school and we hardly talked. I last messaged Justin a few weeks before his death to tell him that my boyfriend had cheated on me throughout our relationship. Justin was right, gay guys often cheat.

I learned of Justin’s death later that month. It was ruled as an accidental fall.

Truth of the matter, Justin had been going through some hard times. He didn’t have many true gay friends he could talk with about his problems, so he often took trips by himself when he wanted to clear his head. I often wonder what would have happened if I was there to talk with him during the night he fell off the tower. Truth is, I often think about him.

You see, Justin tried to teach me about the gay community, but he taught me about life. Older, more experienced, individuals can take advantage of younger, less experienced, people. Sometimes relationships just end or people cheat while being in one. More importantly, he taught me that true friends are rare.

I needed Justin during that time in my life. The gay world for a newly “out” individual can be dangerously lonely.

On the night he moved out, we were avoiding that awkward goodbye hug. Finally, after constantly checking his room for any missing belongings, he approached me. He gave me a hug and said that I was one of the good guys. He said that I shouldn’t be afraid of being myself, my gay self, and to take care of myself. I told him I would try to be more gay and for him to take care of himself too.

If I knew that would be the last time we would see each other, I would have hugged him longer and tighter. I would have thanked him for being there to teach me about the world and for protecting me from the bad guys. I would have told him that I loved him for being himself. I would have told him that he could always talk to me whenever he wanted to cry. But I didn’t say any of that.

As he drove off, I waved goodbye. I then went to his empty room and cried.

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26 thoughts on “The Roommate Who Saved My Life

  1. I went through a nearly identical experience that I never talked about. I want you to know that it’s awesome you are able to talk about it. This doesn’t make you dirty and it’s something I had to learn about myself! It makes you someone who didn’t know what to do in a situation that made you uncomfortable. Everything always gets better.

  2. Amazing post and so sad to hear how it ended. I am sure he’s still watching over you and you have him in your heart and in your memories so he will never be forgotten.

  3. This is a really tragic story. It actually made me feel quite teary to be honest. Life is harder than it should be at times and I can’t imagine what it must be like to be a young gay man, having all the usual things with coming out on top. Sometimes also, things like this make you think about what you say. Sometimes, it’s better to say what people mean to you than never getting the chance. This is a really good piece.

  4. Shoot. This really made me cry. To think I’m short and skinny, my name’s also Justin, and I’m only two years younger than him. Goosebumps.

    He was a great guy, basing on your description of him. He may have liked you, too, I can sense that.

  5. I must first say, thank you for sharing this. I have a friend who has saved me in more ways than she’ll ever know. I’m so sorry you lost your friend & at the same time, I’m elated that you had Justin in your life, even if only for a short time. May his memory forever be with you. Take care, friend.
    – TF.

  6. It’s a beautiful story. Actually I’m quite envious that you have a friend like that. I’m out but I don’t have a gay friend to share what I feel. Some of my friends are closeted and want to remain that way so I can’t really share my stories. And I’m so sorry for your loss. I’m afraid to lose a friend like that.

  7. wow what a sad story. You are a true storyteller to bring us into your experiences and remind us of how what people mean to us. This is a heart wrenching story.

  8. Hi, I’m Justin’s mom. I’m glad he was there in your time of need. He was a good boy and a good son. He had a troubled relationship that no matter how hard he tried to fix he couldn’t make it work. He left his romantic heart in Seattle. I’m sure he talked to you about him.We would talk for hours when he came home about his feelings but he just couldn’t let go of that love. As a mother I wanted to wipe all the bad away for him but I couldn’t. When he visited the tower that he fell from, he was on his way back to Seattle. I feared that it wouldn’t end well when he said goodbye to me and gave me his last kiss and hug. I just didn’t know how badly until the call came at three in the morning that the deputy was at my door and I needed to go speak with him. I miss him with all my heart and it bleeds a little more with every memory I have of my son, Justin.

  9. Oh my gosh. So powerful and your story made me cry. As someone who’s had a tuff time making friends and lost the ones that I’ve been close too, I feel for you and justin. Thankfully you’ve made justin live on. Lou Reed has said that there are three times one dies.
    1. When their heart stops.
    2. When they’re buried.
    3. The last time someone says their name.
    You’re a great writer!
    If you ever need to talk feel free to get me up.

    • Awe. I’m not sure if making you cry was the intention. I was just telling me story about my friend. But thank you for your kind words. I am sorry that you have a hard time making friends (something I can very much relate to). I really like the Lou Reed quote. Feel free to say hi anytime you like. – EDDY

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