But there are a few people from that period in my life that I still think about and wonder where they are and how they are doing. And one of those people was a popular and very charismatic guy named Eric Myers. Eric was both our adorable (at least I thought so) class-clown and our senior-class president and I know of no one who didn't like him. He was boisterous, funny, always smiling, mischievous, and very outgoing. And he made everyone feel like they were his best friend. He definitely made a whole lot of students' high school days a lot more fun and a lot more interesting.
Eric and I did not run around in the same circles, even though his circle intersected with just about everyone else's circle. But I felt I knew him well anyway. And I don't think I was the only one who felt that way. He just had that kind of personality that attracted everyone to him. I think everyone knew he was going to be something really great when he grew up. So it was absolutely no surprise that he won the election for senior-class president by a landslide.
Eric was also our class clown. He always kept us wondering what prank he'd come up with next. But I think he finally outdid himself the day he came to school and casually announced that he had legally change his first name from Eric to Lillevig. And he really had. Now who does that? Especially in high school. Well Eric Myers did and I don't think anyone even batted an eye. This was Eric after all and we'd come to expect the unexpected from
So flash forward a few decades to a few days ago. I am sitting at my kitchen table with a cup of hot morning coffee and I open up the newspaper and right there on the front page is an article, the first in a 3-part series, about Eric Myers. Part One is titled: Arizona man's disappearance leads to dead end, stunning twist. Part of me was not surprised that Eric would make the front page and the other part of me was shocked it took this long. I also could not help wondering: what has Lillevig done now?
I wish I could say the article was an uplifting confirmation of what all his classmates thought he'd become, but it was not. Far from it. In fact it read like a slow motion train wreck and the person they were describing as Eric sounded nothing like the person I so fondly remember from high school. It didn't come close to resembling the happy-go-lucky and fun-loving guy we elected as our senior-class president. In fact, quite the opposite. According to the article, Eric had become a very strict fundamentalist Christian, gotten married young, had 5 children (some of them adopted), and was a successful executive who was deeply in debt and very depressed. His 13-year marriage was falling apart, he was a physically and emotionally abusive husband and father, his wife and children had moved out, and divorce was imminent.
|Eric Myers and his family (1991)|
Part One then concludes by telling us that in the summer of 1991, as Eric's "carefully constructed life was crumbling", the "committed family man and hard-core conservative who lived a clean life modeled on a literal interpretation of the Bible" (his father's description) attended a real estate conference in San Diego and then seemingly dropped off the face of the earth, not to be seen or heard from for the next 17 years, leaving behind a shattered family, a very bitter & angry ex-wife, and devastated parents and siblings..
Eventually the family declares him dead, but the damage and highly charged emotions don't die with him.
Man, this was a lousy way to start the day. I was really depressed. And I had a terrible feeling I knew exactly why the guy I so fondly remember as a fun, carefree, wonderful, charismatic young man with so much potential had gone off the deep end.
Thirty plus years later, and with the wisdom that comes from being a mother, especially a mother who has a gay child herself, this story sounded painfully familiar. That fun, carefree, wonderful, charismatic young man I remember so fondly from high school was putting on an act. He wasn't laughing, he wasn't happy, and he definitely was not carefree. He was dying inside. And no one had a clue. Even the act of changing his name was a scream for help. Eric could not go on being Eric.
I wasn't sure I even wanted to read the next day's paper. My heart was hurting so bad for Eric, his children, his wife, his parents, and his siblings. I didn't need confirmation that Eric was gay. I was almost positive he was. All the telltale signs were there. And having had the very painful experience of watching my own deeply closeted son spend every waking moment of every waking day expending every ounce of energy he had, trying to be something he could never be, just to fit in and be loved and accepted, I knew that tomorrow's story would just be a painful confirmation of what happens when society forces its narrow definition of normal onto a diverse society. There will be many victims. It was not just Eric's life that was destroyed, but also the lives of his children, his wife, his parents, and his family and friends.
Part 2: Arizona man disappears: A secret revealed, a mystery unlocked:
Nearly 17 years after Eric disappeared, however, e-mails began arriving to family members written in a familiar voice. The messages were from Eric. And he wanted to come home.
The man once described by friends and relatives as an ardent Christian and dedicated father had pretended to be dead. He said he had no choice but to cut his family off, treat them as if he were dead. In a way, he said, he already was.
"My motivation for disappearing was death. I was dying inside," he wrote in a blog. "I was mentally ill, incapacitated by 34 years of careful hiding."
Eric grew up in privilege. He was the middle son of wealthy and influential Phoenix developer Don Myers. His family counted some of the Valley's most powerful figures among their friends. He had every advantage: money, connections, opportunity.
But Eric had a secret. He was homosexual. And he believed that he would never find acceptance with his socially conservative father. Eric said his father's crushing intolerance ruled their home. To be different was to be ostracized.
So Eric repressed the urges and told himself he could not be gay. Everything he did in life from grade school on - friendships, marriage, children, church, politics - was an attempt to convince himself that he was not gay, he said.
Part 3: Arizona man disappears: A legal battle, a lingering doubt goes on to detail all of the legal battles and anger that have resulted from Eric's disappearance. And none of it, not the legal battles nor the anger show any signs of going away any time soon.
An entire family imploded. A lot of people were hurt. A lot of people are really angry. There can be no denying the closet produces a lot of victims. But there are glimmers of hope too. If there is any lesson we can take away from this story, it is that we simply cannot go on denying the fact that when we force people to be something they are not, deny them the right to marry the person they love, shame them and strip them of dignity, rights, and worth unless they conform to what we want, we can expect many more tragic stories like Eric's and many more innocent victims too.
Here is an interview done recently with Eric: