When I first met Nic his name was Nicole. This was a gradual change that took place over time and for good reason. We both went to Catholic schools together and during those four year there were things about ourselves that were not allowed to be discussed. I had a total lack of faith in the religion I was being taught. I wasn’t the only one either, three out of the four religion teachers at the school quit their jobs and either left the church or converted to other religions. Nic on the other hand had other issues he was dealing with. I wasn’t surprised when I ran into him later and the long brown curly hair was traded for a thin mustache and goatee. Nicole had dated more girls than I had and even though it was kept on the down low people knew but I couldn’t figure out why anyone cared.
Nicole was in Jazz band and enjoyed playing the guitar, something she would continue to do later in life. There was a brief fling between her and one of my friends Kat, something that ran its course and neither of them wanted to talk about afterwards. I never had any bad feelings about Nicole and most of the time she could have been one of the guys. A tomboy she was prone to making the same crude jokes we did and had no problem with speaking up in class. A few years after graduation we would run into each other again.
I was working at the hospital when I spotted Nicole in the hall. Her hair was short, cut into a flattop and she had a mustache with a thin goatee that was slowly filling in. I could tell the moment was uncomfortable for her, however in those few seconds everything made sense. There was no way for her to be the person she wanted to be when going to a catholic school, the institution is designed to transform people into who they want them to be, not encourage them to be the person they should be. When we finally said ‘hello’ I read her name badge and it said “Nic.”
From that moment on I said “hey man” in the halls and during conversations used “dude” when referring to him. After a few weeks of this he finally took me aside and said “so I guess you noticed that I’m no longer Nicole.”
I explained that everything made sense and that I had no problems with the change. His parents on the other hand, devout Catholics, had a huge problem with it and would only use his god given name.
Still playing guitar and enjoying the occasional beer on weekends Nic had the kind of life that any man in his twenties could relate to. Girlfriends came and went, there was the game to look forward to on weekends and work was work. He did go to school to become an X-ray tech, working full time and squeezing in full time classes until he had that diploma in his hands. Working in the same department I know it wasn’t easy, long hours of manual labor followed by hours of classes and homework wares on you. We didn’t talk much about school, a time both of us wanted to forget. Conversations revolved around music, movies, and beer. There were the occasional talks about women problems and the girlfriends he was dealing with. There was a handful of us that went to the same school and worked at the same hospital. For the most part we didn’t interact and pretended that didn’t happen, like the survivors of a human centipede.
When Nic graduated with a degree in radiology he immediately applied for open positions in the X-ray department hoping to have that bump in pay and stop living off of scraps like the rest of us. I was working in the radiology department back then, cleaning and pulling trash, the department was a cake walk since it was fairly clean most of the time and maintenance was minimal. The head of the department came into the staff area where the rest of the techs were picking assignments and snacking on food.
“We have someone who applied for the open tech position, but I wanted to see if you were comfortable working with them first before I gave my final answer.” The manager said.
The group was made up of one tall white man and four girls mostly in their twenties and thirties. The manager explained that the applicant is transgender and is changing from a woman to a man. Then they asked if they were comfortable working with a person like that.
“Ya I don’t think I can do that,” the man replied.
“That’s too weird for me,” a blonde who should be working at Victoria’s Secret said.
The rest of the staff shook their heads agreeing with everyone else and that was the moment Nic lost his chance of working in a place he spent two years studying for. I knew they were talking about him. He had applied for the job and had his fingers crossed he could stay on the same campus with the people he already knew. I never said anything that day. I never told Nic about the illegal conversation that took place discriminating against him for a job. I figured he wouldn’t want to work with a bunch of assholes anyway. What pissed me off the most was the fact that for years the hospital had an advertising campaign, classes on diversity, and set goals to hire people of different backgrounds to be a leading example of the future workplace of America. In the dark closet of the hospital things happened and the bigots hid behind their mask and carefully crafted words.
Nic finally landed a job out of town, for the same hospital, but a different building. We lost track after that, promising to grab a beer together sometime. Months later, I came into work and my boos approached me in the hall. I could tell she was upset but looked like she was more worried about me.
“Did you hear about Nic?” she asked. I knew right away it was bad, whatever the news was I wasn’t going to like it.
“No, what happened to Nic?”
“He killed himself yesterday. He was found in his apartment.”
Tears swelled up in my eyes and I shook my head not wanting to believe it. Last I knew he had a girlfriend he really liked, friends he regularly hung out with, and was enjoying the new job.
“how did he do it?” I don’t know why I needed to know but I did.
“Hung himself.”
I don’t know who found him but it was estimated he was there all night and found sometime in the morning when he didn’t show up for work. My boss offered to send me home knowing that I had known Nic for years, but I didn’t want to be alone.
The funeral was held in Chicago where he was from. The parents had a catholic ceremony, I imagined Nic turning over in the coffin telling everyone to kiss his ass. A picture from high school was used for the obituary and the headstone was labeled with Nicole instead of Nic. The person I knew wasn’t only dead but it was like they had never existed at all. I couldn’t go the funeral for several reasons. It wasn’t about time off or not wanting to make the trip, the people who knew Nic weren’t in Chicago, those people were mourning the loss of someone that had not existed for years. Hell, I wouldn’t have been able to go if I wanted to. When my Great Grandmother died, I wasn’t allowed the day off because she wasn’t immediate family. I guess the hospital didn’t understand how family trees work.
The weeks that followed I thought about Nic often, feeling guilty for never grabbing that beer with him or checking to see how he was doing. I wasn’t much of a friend and I regret that to this day. Whenever I play a jazz record or listen to the late-night Jazz on NPR, I think of Nic. It was one thing we had in common in high school, listening to the new music we discovered that nobody else had an interest in. I didn’t stay in the radiology area for long after that. While I could say what had happened there was a rare occurrence, it’s not. I miss my friend and I wish I didn’t take things like this to learn what really matters in life. Do me a favor and call that friend you haven’t heard from in a while. They maybe wanting to hear from you.