|Contemporary Portraiture United States of America|
EXIT WOUNDS: SUICIDE IS HARDER THAN YOU THINK - Tim Barrus (Creative Director, Smash Street Boys, Show Me Your Life, Real Stories Gallery Foundation, Cinematheque Films)
United States of America
© SHOW ME YOUR LIFE/ SMASH STREET BOYS
I am never comfortable without a shirt. People might see my scars.
Sometimes, our scars are who we are.
My guts were spattered all over the wall. I dropped the shotgun and screamed.
It’s harder to kill yourself than you think. The human will to live is awesome.
They call us survivors. Of whatever. I don’t want to talk about it.
How many suicidal kids have I dealt with over the years who have looked me in the eye and said: I do not want to talk about it.
I’m sorry. But we have to talk about it.
I didn’t think I would ever have the courage to put the above photo here. Or anywhere. Ever. I try not to think about it. But it hurts, I still have the lead from the shotgun shell inside of me, and it often reminds me of one thing: the wall.
I do not know how I can ask the suicidal to talk about it if I can’t, and every word of this is very difficult to pound out.
I hate my body. I hate what I did to it.
Recovery was a breathtaking nightmare. But that is another story.
I work with boys with HIV. All of whom have done sex work.
I did sex work. My tricks always wanted to touch my scars.
Sometimes I even let them. The ones I wanted to love me.
In sex work, we say it’s all business, and it is. And it isn’t.
Touching my scars is more intimate than fucking me.
I can’t indulge my own hypocrisy unless I put the photograph here. I can’t ask anyone to talk about how badly they want to kill themselves unless I write this here.
I don’t want to sound like a broken record. But there are some boys I am dealing with (we make a lot of art) to whom this is a beginning.
I can’t say I know how you feel tonight. Because I don’t. All I can say is that I was there. All I can say is that I hear you when you tell me the darkness is eating you alive.
I understand it does that. I understand you do not want to be here. On this planet.
I want you to hear that suicide is harder than you think.
After my guts were splattered all over that wall, and some of them were hanging from me, I pushed them back in, and I ran up a flight of stairs to where the people were who were screaming. They had heard the gun. They knew. They stood at the top of the stairs.
The people who had abused me.
I loved them. I still love them. I will always love them.
I have forgiven them.
I can’t tell you that you have to live.
I will tell you this: forgiveness is the hard part. It is way, way, way more difficult than shooting yourself.
It doesn’t mean I’m not mad.
I am so mad. You have no idea how mad I am. The memories of abuse do not go away.
But they do not have to control you. You can learn control yourself.
I have never met a sex worker who was not abused somehow, somewhere. And I have known many, many of them.
I have met a few who claim they were never abused, and are not being abused now.
I believe them when they say they are not being abused now.
But I do not believe they were never, ever abused.
It’s a personal failing. I have many failures. But I just do not believe them.
I have seen too many of them suddenly remember.
I have a very difficult time posting many of the videos that kids make in Show Me Your Life.
So many of those videos are guts on the wall.
I am told: it gets better.
It’s bullshit. It’s rhetoric. It’s PR propaganda designed by gay white men with advanced educations who very much want there to be light at the end of that tunnel.
It might not get better.
It might get worse.
There are no guarantees.
To unlearn how to snake these legs of chains from around and around our grim existence. Our deaths deserve more than the superficiality of one more fucking slogan. Just get tested. AIDS-Free generation. When are we going to learn that when we discount what the reality is, when the enormity of it all has cut us in two somewhere just above the knees, we cannot dance the rites of passage, the labyrinth of corpses trails our insides like a path through the woods of razor blades. If we keep saying — it gets better — we can make it true even when the slogan itself is the glimmering of a lake of blood. I am often asked: what do I have to do to get your attention, Tim.
You have to stand in front of me. You have to grab me. Sometimes you have to shake me. Sometimes you have to make a very loud noise.
I will stop what I am doing.
All I will promise is that I will listen. I do not know your pain because no one does. It belongs to you.
If you want to work to live, I will try my best to be there for you.
You see: I am doing it again.
Allow me to erase the word T-R-Y.
Try hard. Try hard. Try hard. Try hard. Sometimes all the trying hard is what undoes us.
I will be there for you. Pound the table at breakfast and scream to be heard.
I will listen.
No more walls.
I am told that our scars, the scar tissue each of us possesses somewhere, and it’s in different places with different people, is tougher tissue than the surrounding tissue.
You have no idea how tough I am. There is nothing you can say that will shock me or hurt me. That would be on me.
We drag our slow length of scars along.
But we are the other tissue, too.
Exit wounds need tending. I cannot promise you so much as bandages or a place to sleep. A lot of it will be on you.
What I can do is help you put your guts back in. We will use our hands. We will make a lot of art. I will not be waiting at the top of the stairs. Frozen. Or too afraid to go down there. I will go down there to find you if I have to. I will be quick about it. Sometimes, the clock ticks very slowly. Sometimes, it ticks lightning fast. We can make it to the top of the stairs together.