Sunday, October 23, 2011

The closet claims many victims, not just the occupant

I never look back on my high school days and think of them as the best years of my life. They weren't. I was a late bloomer, fairly shy, and not a member of any of the popular cliques. I had a small circle of friends and I was content to just blend in. There were no scarring events, no cat fights with other girls, or anything else that would have traumatized me for life. They just weren't the best years of my life and waxing on poetically about them, as some of my friends seem to do, is not something you will catch me doing anytime soon. 


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 Eric, I mean Lillevig.


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:




















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11 comments:

Sage said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Sage said...

I have learned to never say never. So if I had the consciousness of believing I could not be put aghast, that would have been put to the test after reading this post. I don't even know this person and I feel like an atom bomb has been dropped on me just reading your wonderful post here. At some point I will read the newspaper series. I don't know if I have the strength just yet. Still, I am not too bowled over to not recognize incredible, incredible importance of you posting this here. And for that I sincerely and gratefully thank you, Dear One!

Seething Mom said...

My heart aches for Eric and his entire family. And all I can think of is What a waste. This should not have happened.

Eric had so much potential, so much energy, so much to offer. What did did we, as a society, lose? I guess we will never really know the answer, but my guess is we lost a lot.

Anonymous said...

I just finished watching last Friday's episode of 20/20 about Eric's 'disappearance. Did you happen to watch the heart wrenching interview with Eric's daughter? If you missed the show I'm sure you can watch it on ABC's website. My heart aches for Eric's daughter and the absolute hell he put her through. What are your thoughts?
SammyJo

Seething Mom said...

Hi SammyJo,

First of all, thank you for writing and letting me know about the 20/20 piece on Eric. You are so right, it was absolutely gut-wrenching watching his daughter's interview. Her agony was palpable. Eric truly left a lot of victims in his wake.

I cannot and will not condone Eric's decision to leave, but I do believe his desperation was real. I can only imagine what it is like to feel forced to live a life in which you deny who you are and conform to what you believe your family, friends, and society in general want you to be.

Watching Eric made me realize how psychologically damaged he is. He bore no resemblance to the person I knew in high school.

I have always maintained that when anyone forces themselves to live their lives so in-authentically, as Eric did, there will be many victims and believe me, I do see those victims in my PFLAG meetings. Victims just like Eric's daughter.

This 20/20 piece was haunting. I ache for Eric's family --- but I ache for Eric too.

Anonymous said...

Hi Seething Mom,

Thanks for replying. I did find Eric's website http://thatwastheact.blogspot.com/
which in itself is disturbing. I'm sure you will find his defense of his choices interesting, to say the least!
Eric's daughter reminds me of my own. Her 'father' was a lifelong friend of mine; however, he has made no effort to ever see or speak to her. She does have a wonderful relationship with his parents and brother. Now at the age of 27, she still has 'abandonment' issues and has difficulty trusting any man. Of course I feel guilty because even though I did what I thought was best while raising her, I can't fix his non-involvement in her life. It is a long, multifaceted story. She is once again in therapy.
SammyJo

ThatWasTheAct said...

Follow-Up InterVIEW: ABC’s "The VIEW" aired on August 2, 2013 ( http://watchabc.go.com/the-view/SH559080/VDKA0_x4l7qrmf/the-view-82 ) < the complex Story (tip-of-the-iceberg) starts at the 19:27 min mark.(See more at ThatWasTheAct.com)

I make no excuse. There is none.

A dam breaks and harms all below it.
Afterwards, research reveals the weaknesses of the dam - not making ANY excuse for not addressing what should have been addressed before the dam broke. The research is done to help others to see what weaknesses must be addressed to avoid such harm in the future. What made me go off the deep end are NOT justifications or excuses. I speak my “WHY” so that others will be true to their real selves and thereby avoid breaking (or even getting into the ‘damn’ situation in the first place). Not being true to self (eventually) always results in collateral damage…which is wrong and painful for all involved.

I felt I had failed as a husband and father and I could not accept myself as a gay man. I had nothing left to live for. Then I got robbed and I snapped. I didn’t decide to leave my family – I had a breakdown and left. I would not have done what I did if I was mentally healthy.

I never thought about running away. In San Diego, I was traumatized by a robbery. I was broken down, weak and I cracked. My greatest fear was losing my entire family and the life I knew, if they found out I was gay. I grew up in the 60s. When it was not OK to be gay. (Others who have lived in fear, shame and hatred may not have cracked. I was weak and I did.) I thought of killing myself 3 times when I was 13. I became a religious fanatic hoping to cure myself. In that religion, divorce and being gay are not options. In my mind I had no options. I failed with my family and my faith failed me. Killing myself was an option too.
I am humbly greatly sorry for all the harm my damn situation brought to everyone.

ABC’s 20/20 program, "I Escaped My Life..." took 100s hours of coverage and edited it into 21 mins of Sensationalism vs. Balance Journalism - for Perspective/Understanding check out ThatWasTheAct.com

Others, who have made huge mistakes, hide. One more closet I’m not willing to be in. This is a discussion to reduce such future tragedies. If my motive was to be viewed positively, I would have stayed away. Before, I couldn’t face my life; now I can AND AM.
My previous weaknesses are lessons for others, to help as many as possible to avoid my pitfalls.

There are NO excuses for my mistakes - only background to help others who may be in similar situations, not to make theirs. After the airing of 20/20 we went to NYC for "The VIEW" (see top link)

It is as if I believed there should be no gun restrictions and after hurting someone horribly with a gun, I’ve become an advocate for restrictions. Living A Charade Causes Much Damage for All Affected.
COME OUT, COME OUT — For Everyone’s Betterment.
I am OK with being the “Come Out” Poster Person similar to a Stop Smoking Poster, showing what could happen.

I made a serious mistake and if anyone will learn from it, and not do anything hurtful by living a charade, then some good can result.
________________________________________

Nothing whatsoever can be said/done to undo. I do regret that that statement is absolutely true, yet accept that it is. Though someone's sentence has been served – it does not undo the act – nor undo the pain caused by the act. Even sentencing one to eternal damnation does not undo.

I pray time, healing and forgiveness can repair vs. undo.
________________________________________

I hope this much needed conversation continues. So that it will make it to those living a charade, and encourage them to stop and avoid the collateral damage that will assuredly result.
ELM

Eric LungMyers said...

REGARDING WHAT Seething Mom said...
"My heart aches for Eric and his entire family. And all I can think of is What a waste. This should not have happened.
Eric had so much potential, so much energy, so much to offer. What did did we, as a society, lose? I guess we will never really know the answer, but my guess is we lost a lot."

I assume she knew me and hear her comment.
I wonder if now, after making such a tragic life-error, that the potential lies in becoming a Messenger to all those 'on the down-low' to those living a charade, and encourage them to stop and avoid the collateral damage that will assuredly result.
I hope this much needed conversation continues. The down low needs to stop (period).
This is very much about being true to yourself and others...NOT HIDING from the TRUTH.

The Potential for good:
It is as if I believed there should be no gun restrictions and after hurting someone horribly with a gun, I’ve become an advocate for restrictions. Living A Charade Causes Much Damage for All Affected.
COME OUT, COME OUT — For Everyone’s Betterment.
I am OK with being the “Come Out” Poster Person similar to a Stop Smoking Poster, showing what could happen.

I made a serious mistake and if anyone will learn from it, and not do anything hurtful by living a charade, then some good can result.

Thank you Seething Mom for helping to spread this Message.

Seething Mom said...

Eric, I was hoping to find a way to privately email you, but could not see an "email me" anywhere on your blog.

As to your second comment on this post, you said you assume I knew you. I did Eric. And in fact I go into some detail on this post how I knew you. We went to high school together and were in the same graduating class.

Let me state again Eric, what I said in the post, I loved you for your energy, your personality, your sense of humor, and for that beautiful nonstop smile. I was most definitely an admirer, you made my years in high school a lot brighter and more fun just watching you.

But sadly, I realize now I was very naive too. I didn't recognize then that what I was seeing was a kid laughing on the outside and dying on the inside. And as a mom of a gay son myself, I thank God he was born a generation later and to a family who never let religion dictate to us who we should hate.

I didn't know you were gay Eric. But had I had the life experiences back then that I have now, I'd have had no doubt. I watched my own son growing up and he was too was afraid to be honest about himself. When we did find out, my heart broke that he felt he had to hide such an integral part of who he is from the people who love him most. I am just grateful we learned he was gay while he was in high school. It gave us time to really get to know him for who he is and to love him and reassure him that our love is NOT conditional. He is who he is and we would NOT change him in any way.

Please take care Eric. I know you must feel your life is in shambles right now. I hurt for you ---- and I hurt for your family. I won't make any excuses for your decisions, and I don't think you do either, but my biggest prayer right now is that you find some way to reconnect with your children and start the healing with them.

Thanks for commenting here Eric. Continue to love yourself for who you are. And no more secrets. They are toxic --- not just to you, but to the ones you love.

Kim

Eric LungMyers said...

Thank you Kim.
My Life WAS in shambles.
It is NOT anymore - no matter what happens.
All we have is THIS Moment.
Life is short.
We are all fragile.
Handle all with care.

Danka Pavelk said...

what a selfish man
he gives gay people bad name.... smh
i respect when people takes responsibilities if they messed up...
Daughter is better off without him.