A couple of things Drew left out of his account of our trip to Hairspray:

As we waited to go into the theater, we spotted a heavyset man in middle-aged woman drag. It might’ve been an unusual sight at “The Lion King” perhaps, didn’t it seem quite so strange at this show. This particular Turnblad wannabe was with three or four young women and was overheard to exclaim, “I got tickets for all my girls!”

Little white girls with cornrows would be disturbing at any theatrical event, but two rows in front of us were two sisters, about 7 and 8 years old, with intricately cornrowed hair. A certain boyfriend of mine was heard to exclaim, “I really hope they just got back from Jamaica.”

Also spotted in the crowd was a guy I used to date, which unfortunately can’t be summed up in a single one-liner.

There’s a long story behind Steven/Stephen, who not only couldn’t decide how to spell his name, but who had problems getting just about everything in his life in order. When I met him, he claimed he was recovering from a recent head injury, and though he was usually perfectly cogent and well-spoken, there were times when he became easily confused and distracted. I suspected drugs were involved, but since my experience with drugs is severely limited, I wasn’t sure how to recognize the warning signs.

Suffice it to say he was a guy who needed a lot of help. And for some reason, he didn’t want it from me. We dated for a couple of months, then broke up over a minor disagreement. In the extended squabbling that followed, I realized just how severe Steven’s problems were, but he rebuffed every attempt I made to reach out. Twice I tried to meet him for dinner, and twice he stood me up. (I know, fool me twice…) There are few things in life more hurtful than telling someone that you care and having them respond, basically, “I don’t care that you care.”

I met Steven on the internet, and when we broke up, I realized how little I still knew about him. I’d never met any of his friends, didn’t know much about his family and had very few means of getting in touch with him. (He didn’t own a cell phone.) He quietly slipped out of my life, but I continued to worry about him. About six months later, I got a very disturbing “goodbye cruel world, thanks to all of you for being so kind to me” email. If you’re ever going to issue a cry for help, take a tip from Steven: keep it short and vague, because a lack of detail will maximize the frustration your recipients will feel. The email ended with a quote from the farewell episode of M*A*S*H, which was probably the most disturbing part of it.

If not for the M*A*S*H quote, the saddest thing would’ve been that Steven’s farewell to humanity went out to a grand total of nine people. By that time, Steven had moved, and his phone number had changed, so the only contact info I had was that email address. I hit reply and scrawled off some version of “WTF? Are you okay?!?!” There was no response.

Not knowing what else to do, I hit “reply all”, then deleted Steven from the recipients. I asked everyone else on his cry for help list if they’d been able to check on him, and if he was okay.

I received three responses. One person wrote only, “Have the cops run a welfare check on his house.” That’s it. Not even “I’ll have the cops run a welfare check.” Just a suggestion. As far as he was concerned, I could take it or leave it. Who even knew that this was a service the police department provided? As far as I was concerned, if you had that much experience with welfare checks, you owed it to the rest of us to step up and put your expertise to use.

The second person’s response was even starker, though just as short and to the point: “He has done this a number of times over the years. I am tired of dealing with this sad, pathetic individual.” And this was one of the people Steven was reaching out to for help.

But the third response was the worst of all. “I don’t even know this guy. I answered his ad for a roommate a few months ago, and he won’t stop calling me. Needless to say, I’m really glad I didn’t take the apartment!” Right, needless to say. And those were all the clues I ever got as to what was going on with Steven. I had no more leads to follow, so my investigation ended there, and his fate remained pretty much a mystery to me.

That was two years ago. I worried about Steven a lot since then, but there was nothing I could do, and he didn’t seem to want my help anyway. Whatever was going on with him, he didn’t want me to know. The “Hairspray” sighting was the first time I’d seen him since the suicide email, my first confirmation that he was still alive.

And I didn’t go talk to him. I watched him from afar and saw him chatting with a group of friends. Were they new friends, or were these the same people who’d responded to my email to say they didn’t give a shit about Steven? I didn’t know. It still stings and confuses me that he simultaneously reached out to me and rebuffed my offers to help. I wish I could be like him and cut people so easily out of my life, although there’s only one person I’ve ever really wanted to do that to, and that’s Steven himself.

I’m far beyond trying to help Steven, and I’ve given up trying to figure him out. Still, it was a relief to see that he was okay and that he’d found some friends, and that’s probably the only kind of closure I can hope for with him.

And it didn’t hurt to see that in the time since I’d known him, he’d put on a ton of weight.

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