He met him at a bar ten years ago. The man that would single-handedly change everything.
Every memory and every moment of that week is still so painful and real. I had so much to learn, so much to ask, and so much to love. But this one moment, this one circumstance, changed all of that.
Twenty years ago, she woke up from a long mid-afternoon nap. The sun was going down and realizing that she had errands to run, she drove to a nearby grocery store to pick up a few things. On the way home, she stopped at her bank’s ATM to deposit a check she had received as a Christmas gift from her parents. On her way home, she made a life-changing decision.
He was the kind of man my father was incapable of measuring up to and she was the type of woman you would have wanted your daughter to grow up to be. Both of them have three things in common: a bad decision, Austin, and Me
My Uncle Junior, I knew my entire life. He moved to Chicago right out of high school and lived there for about ten years. Even then, our connection was strong. He eventually moved back to San Antonio, got a degree in Computer Programming, and landed a job working for IBM in Austin. He was probably the only uncle I felt 100% comfortable being myself around. That’s not to say I don’t love my uncles. My family was so tight back then, that I felt as if I had six different fathers. Each of them taught me something important, but I knew what my Uncle Junior could teach me would inevitably be the most important.
You see, Junior was gay. Everyone knew it, but hardly anyone acknowledged it. I remember one year he brought a guy home to meet all of us. This guy was so flamboyant (he had polished nails for pete’s sake!) that he was practically telling everyone in the family, “Hey! You see here! This is who I am am! Deal with it.” I for one enjoyed how uncomfortable everyone got. Everyone didn’t want to bring attention to this glaring proclamation as they didn’t want to upset my Grandparents. The thing is, I’m pretty positive they had known for years. It just wasn’t talked about.
His pent-up frustration with having to hide who he was came up during our last one-on-one conversation. We were at my cousin’s quinceneara. I had just finished dancing with my Mom, brother, and sister and saw him standing alone to the side. I went up to him and immediately noticed a change in him. He was un-characteristically unhappy. Something was stirring in him and his eyes told me he needed to let it out. So, I went and stood along side him, we watched everyone dance for a few minutes, and he nudged me on my shoulder.
“You graduating this year?”
I immediately noticed he had had a few beers, but he was trying his best to hide it
“Yup, I’m almost done”, I told him.
“Well, we need a party as big as this one for you, mijo. We’re so proud of you.”
I looked at him and smiled. I really had no idea what to say. Then my Uncle went on…
“You have so much to look forward to. Everything’s beginning.”
“Yeah”, I said, “It’s a little scary.”
“It’s suppose to be.”
My Uncle took a long look at me, and then looked back to the dance floor.
“Just be who you are and fight for what you want. Don’t ever compromise.”
“I won’t”, I told him
“I hate that. Compromising. Hiding.”
As he said those words, I could feel it was something he begrudgingly had to do time and time again. He went on…
“I was seeing someone special. And last month I had to end it. And do you know what? It was probably the best decision I ever made in my life, even though it didn’t feel like it at first.”
“Oh?”, I replied
“Yeah, it hurt like hell at first. But God damn it, I was tired.”
His voice began to shake.
“He had the nerve…the fucking nerve…to introduce me to his parents as his best friend.”
That was the first time my Uncle had ever sworn in front of me, and the first time he had openly acknowledged to me that he was gay.
“I’m too old for that shit”, he said.
“So, do you know what I did?”, he asked me while smiling.
“What?”, I asked smiling back.
“I told him right there in front of them to fuck off, threw my soda at him, left, and never looked back.”
At that point, my mother came up to us and asked Junior to dance with her. He did. And I watched as they laughed and danced across the floor. He was her rock on my Father’s side of the family. My mother trusted Junior with all her heart. And seven months later, her heart would be shattered…
She was on 60 Minutes, Unsolved Mysteries, and a variety of other Crime programs on TV.
But before all that, she had lived in Louisiana. She moved to Austin where she was working as an accountant and had been dating my Godfather Oliver for a while. Oliver had gone through a terrible divorce with my Godmother, but Colleen had mended that. She was beautiful, intelligent and full of life…and I know this, I remember this from our one and only meeting in the Summer of 1991.
It was a typical hot July day. My Mom’s side of the family had all gathered at my grandparent’s house for a BBQ. This occassion was especially important because I was to see my Godfather. Everytime he would come to visit, he’d bring me something. I still have a few collectible coins he brought me to commemorate my holy communion. Anyway, my Father told me that he was brining his new girlfriend, and that she would potentially be standing in for my Godmother when I received my Holy Communion the next Spring. It never happened.
Nine months later, in the Spring of 1992, my Godfather returned to visit…alone. It was time for my Holy Communion, and I was the only one without a Godmother to take part in the services. It didn’t bother me. I was proud of the Godfather I had. He was bright, honest, compassionate, and lived the city life in Austin, TX. All small town boys like me, especially the gay ones, dream of breaking out into the world. When you come from a small catholic socially-conservative town like I came from, you can only hope that the world beyond the borders of your current life can provide you with the path you prayed existed: a path to something better; a path to connect yourself to something fulfilling. My father had a catalogue of UT-Austin in his library. I loved flipping through it every now and then. It gave me hope. And it was while flipping through those pages, that I realized that college would be the only way past those borders. It was my only chance.
After Holy Communion mass, my Grandparents held a party at their home. I still remember the sign my Grandmother made and placed on her front porch with the words “Congratulations, Josh!” written on it; it was surrounded with balloons. We had a BBQ, and I caught my Father and Oliver talking in private away from the others. Oliver was saying, “It should air on Sunday in about 2 weeks.” He then noticed me nearby, smiled, and furtively changed the topic of conversation. Later, I questioned my mother about it, and she begrudgingly told me.
“He’s talking about Colleen. Do you remember her? She visited last Summer?”
“Yea, I do”, I replied.
“Well, she was killed earlier this year. She’s going to be on “60 Minutes”.”
I was stunned. No one had told me this.
“Can I watch it?”, I asked.
“I’ll have to ask your Father.”
He agreed. And our family watched it together.
Colleen was a popular CPA who worked for the Lower Rio Grand River Authority in Austin, TX. Oliver was her supervisor, and when he left for a better opportunity in the private sector, they began dating.
Below is what was reported by 60 Minutes:
On December 29, 1991, she awoke from a nap to Oliver calling her. It was Sunday, and Colleen wasn’t feeling well. She had spent the morning doing volunteer work as the Austin area had been subject to some recent flooding and she was helping work the phone banks. On the phone, she told Oliver she was upset with herself because she overslept and had errands to run. She needed to deposit a check in the bank, had grocery shopping to do, and her car was filthy. Oliver told her those things could wait until tomorrow. She agreed. However, after they hung up, she changed her mind. She decided to get them done that night.
Later that night, a group of individuals were discussing dinner plans on their front porch on Fifth St. in downtown Austin. As they were discussing their plans, they heard a woman screaming in the night, a car door slamming shut, and a car speeding off the wrong way onto Fifth St. They realized the car came out of the car wash nearby, and they drove over to check the place out. When they got there, they discovered an abandoned Mazda Miata covered in soap suds. There were car keys, a purse, and freshly bought groceries sitting on the passenger seat. They called the cops.
It was discovered month later, after fruitless efforts in finding her, that Colleen was the victim of serial killer Kenneth McDuff. He came across her at the car wash, decided he wanted her, drove into the bay next to hers, snuck up behind her, and took her. She was never seen alive again. The only reason he was caught was because he had an accomplice. And he sang like a canary. He divulged all the disgusting details regarding the horrors Colleen went through as they drove her to a rural part of Texas that night. Her body wasn’t discovered until about 7 years later, shortly before McDuff was put to death.
May 6, 2002 – My Brother’s 24th birthday and senior prom week for me.
I got out of school early as I was enrolled in a program at school that allowed me to do volunteer work at a local elementary school library for physical education credit. At the time, I didn’t have a car or a driver’s license, so I depended heavily on my Grandparent’s to take me to where I needed to go. I didn’t really appreciate this as much as I should have. In fact, that day I was upset, because by Grandfather hadn’t shown up. He was late. So, I called him from the school pay phone. He picked up, and told me he’d be there right away.
When he arrived, my Grandmother wasn’t with him, which was odd, and he seemed completely distracted. I was just anxious to get to work, but when explaining why he was late he told me, “We just got a phone call from Austin about Junior. Terrible stuff.” I figured Junior may have been in jail and I didn’t think it was my place to ask for details.
After work, my Grandfather was late again. I waited for over an hour, and upon realizing he had probably forgot about me, walked about a mile to a nearby grocery store, and called him again. This time, my Aunt picked up. She seemed frazzled. She told me someone would be down there to pick me up as soon as possible. About 20 minutes later, my Grandfather showed up. He was eerily quiet in the car. The next few minutes would change my life forever.
After what seemed like a lifetime, my Grandfather turned to me while driving through town, “I need to tell you something.”
“Ok.”, I responded realized something serious was going on.
“What I’m about to tell you, isn’t going to be easy to hear. But I need you to be a man, and stay strong for your Mother and your Sister.”
“I will”, I responded.
“Your tio Junior was murdered. They found his body in his apartment.”
My stomach twisted and my heart sank. I didn’t know what to say.
“They’re still looking for the guy. The police believe it was someone who was living with him at the time.”
I was breathless. No words came to me.
“I need you not to tell your Mom until she gets home tonight. I don’t want her driving under duress.”
“Ok”, I promised.
It was a promise I had to break. It was eating me alive.
As soon as he left me at home, I called my Mother. I needed her. I needed someone.
I just lost a lifeline. I just lost my greatest ally. My Mother was all I had left and I needed to know she was okay.
The man responsible was found the next day. His trial was held in 2004, and my Grandfather refused to give us any details. We knew he was hiding something. When I became older, I searched the Austin Statesman archives, and found the answers:
My Uncle was a generous man. And it was that proclivity for generosity that cost him his life.
He met a man who was on the outs with his parents and needed a place to stay. My Uncle often helped out friends and allowed them to sleep on his couch for a month. During that month, they were to find a job, and get back on their feet.
This is the part that will be the hardest for me type down: My Uncle seemed to have a drug problem. My brother told me he witnessed it, and it really upset him.
Well, according to Bishop’s defense, the night of Junior’s death, Bishop, Junior, and a friend were out a bar in Austin drinking and doing cocaine. Bishop claimed that he had to defend himself from my Uncle’s advances. And it got worse when they arrived home.
The next week, Junior’s neighbors became worried when they hadn’t seen or heard from him in a while. His friends then stepped in and went to his apartment. They could smell something foul emanating from the apartment and called the landlord to let them in. They found the home in disarray and found my Uncle’s body wrapped in a mattress cover with extension cords wrapped around his neck and a belt around his ankles. He was stabbed 20 times, had been robbed, and his truck was missing.
The defense claimed Bishop killed Junior in self-defense. Feeling that there was little evidence in proving otherwise, the prosecution struck a plea bargain with Bishop and now he’s presently out of jail and free to live his life.
My family was left in shambles. Nothing would ever be the same again.
Clearly, my Family’s history with Austin has not been a fortuitous one.
And here I am: A gay single man living in Austin who works for the State and also hopes to become a CPA one day.
My Mother was clearly not overly-thrilled about my moving here. I could sense the fear in her heart. I hated putting her through that. And I couldn’t let her see that I too hold those same fears.
I know it may not be logical, in fact, it’s all emotional. But the scars are still there.
And I’m writing this all down for one purpose: To show myself how illogical this type of fear is.
After a year in Austin, I felt those protective walls coming down and I began to pay no mind to any history that is not personally mine.
However, this past month, there was a another story in Austin about a single gay man was who killed in his apartment because he was too trusting.
It sent me into a tailspin of emotions and brought everything back. And I hated it. I don’t want to live in fear of something I can’t control.
The only way I have learned to get through all of this is to understand that every action I take will have a reaction. And I can’t be afraid of that. Otherwise, I’m robbing myself.
Otherwise, I won’t be living at all. So, what’s the difference?
We make hundreds, thousands of decisions everyday. And even the innocent ones–as in running errands or helping someone out–can change your entire World.
I’m going to choose to live with my decisions. And if I ever make bad ones, I will fight to survive them. And I refuse to stop living for the potentially adverse outcomes.
And this entry will be my reminder of that.