Shaun David Hutchinson’s new novel, The Five Stages of Andrew Brawley, is about a boy struggling with grief and guilt, who finds hope through his love for another boy.
I was 19 when I attempted suicide. I took 60 Tylenol, chased them with a can of flat orange soda, put on my headphones, and prepared myself to die.
Coming out wasn’t particularly painful for me. My mom’s best friend was gay, my brother is gay and had already come out, my friends had either already guessed or didn’t care when I told them. But I still felt alone. Unwanted, unloved, and undeserving of love. I was petrified to live in a world that saw me as a freak. I did my best to deal with those feelings. I cut myself frequently and punched a lot of walls. But eventually, I couldn’t see a path forward. I was so lonely and filled with self-loathing, and I only saw one option.
Obviously, I didn’t die. I survived….barely. But surviving didn’t magically fix my problems. I still didn’t believe myself worthy of being loved. Still felt desperately alone. I still believed I would spend the rest of my life living in a world filled with people who despised me. Until something magical did happen.
A movie called Beautiful Thing was playing at my local movie theater. I’d never heard of it, but it was based on a play of the same name by Jonathan Harvey. All I knew about it at the time was that it was a movie about a couple of gay kids in South East London. I dragged my best friend to go see it with me and sat mesmerized through the entire thing. I watched as two boys from working class families fell in love—set to the music of Mama Cass—and I think in the 89 minutes I spent in the theater, I fell a little in love with them too.
I’m pretty sure I saw that movie a dozen times in the theater. I bought the soundtrack and blasted Mama Cass in my car with the windows down. It was the first movie featuring gay characters that I’d ever seen. And they were in love and happy and hopeful. I can still recall that last scene of Jamie and Ste dancing out in the open for everyone to see while Mama Cass sang “Dream a Little Dream of Me,” and how it filled me with hope.
The doctors and nurses and my mom may have saved my life, but that movie saved my soul. I didn’t just see myself in the story of those boys, I saw my possible future. A future where I was loved and where I deserved to be loved.
And so here I am 16 years later. I’ve written a book about two boys, both of whom believe they don’t deserve to be loved, but who somehow find a way to love each other anyway. I wrote this story because it’s a story I was desperate to tell, but I also think I wrote it because maybe there’s a kid out there who feels the way I felt when I was 19—lonely and hopeless and unloved. And maybe that kid will find my book the way I found Beautiful Thing and see themselves in Drew or Rusty or Trevor or Lexi and realize that they’re not alone. That’s what I hope anyway. Because everyone deserves to be happy. Everyone deserves to be loved.
Shaun David Hutchinson loves superheroes, underdogs, and bad disaster movies. He’s the author of The Deathday Letter, fml, and The Five Stages of Andrew Brawley. He currently lives with his partner and chubby dog Chewie in South Florida where you can sometimes catch him driving the back roads, windows down, singing along to Mama Cass.
The Five Stages of Andrew Brawley is now available.