“It’s never too late to be who you might have been.” George Elliot
It’s been five years since Aiden Rivera Schaeff took his own life. I will never forget the date: April 22nd, 2010 (Earth Day). I will also never forget that morning when I got the phone call from Aiden’s mother, Cathy. She called and said, “The police think they’ve found Aiden’s body.” I didn’t even know he had been missing. I didn’t understand what she meant by “body,” so the word played over and over in my mind as I hurriedly made my way to their house.
I didn’t know that Aiden had slipped silently out of the house in the early hours that morning before sunrise. I didn’t know that he had sent text messages to countless friends saying he loved them. I didn’t know that we would never see this amazing, artistic, charming, funny, kind, brilliant kid again.
When I pulled up to the house, I saw the police car and immediately knew in my heart that only bad news awaited me. I walked into the house to hear Cathy tearfully mutter, “Patty just identified the body.” Patty and Cathy’s beloved son was gone. Our collective little dude was no more. The Aiden of a 1,000 friends and family members who had loved and supported him had just departed this world. Forever.
I didn’t find out that day how exactly he took his own life. And knowing now I don’t think those details even need a voice. What does need to be acknowledged, though, is that Aiden had been bullied and harassed by his teen peers as he courageously transitioned from female to male. I didn’t know that the hate and pain must have stung a million times more than all the love and kindness in his life.
The day Aiden died is still a day of unsurpassed sadness. That day, I did my best to help comfort his parents. We consoled one another; we straightened up the house; we made difficult phone calls.
The whole experience was surreal. It’s hard to process how someone can be here and then how quickly they can leave. Never again to return in physical form. (Unless you’re Buddhist, or Hindu, or Jewish.) Once someone you love is gone, all we have left are the memories, photos, drawings, videos, journals, clothes — essences of life remembered.
That night I had to fly out to Europe. I wanted to cancel my trip but it was for work, and it had already been postponed by an unexpected appendectomy and then an Angry Volcano in Iceland. In the end, it hurt even more knowing that I had to leave.
I stayed with my bereaved friends for as long as I possibly could before flying out. I called dear friends of theirs and they took over where I had left off. Friends and loved ones showered Cathy and Patty with love.
In some ways because I was overseas later that day, and ultimately, missed Aiden’s funeral, I never really got to say goodbye. At the same time because his life ended so unexpectedly, I never got to give him thanks either.
I never got to thank Aiden for being in my life, or tell him enough just how proud of him I was, or give gratitude to him for being such an inspiration to me and countless others.
Aiden left us all and the world way too soon but he isn’t the only one, and sadly, he won’t be the last. According to the National Center for Transgender Equality, 41% of trans* Americans have also attempted a similar fate. I too have even struggled with throwing in the proverbial towel at various points when life seemed too unbearable.
Now five years after Aiden’s death, however, I have been given a new chance at life. The last thing I never got to tell Aiden was that he gave me the strength to finally transition to a more authentic me. The truth is that in some ways Aiden Rivera Schaeff saved my life. I hope by sharing his story and my own, it will help raise a collective voice for those still out there, especially young people, struggling to just live