How to feel when your bully dies

RIP, Shea Carmen Swan. 21 October, 1992 — 22 October, 2018

Sometimes people are put in tough situations. Can you forgive someone who was mean to you because of their circumstances? GSN editor Joe Morgan discusses this in his personal essay about the time a homeless man yelled a homophobic slur at him.

I was put in a similar situation when I found out my bully died of a drug overdose.

Her name was Shea. A prominent lesbian photographer in NYC’s LGBTI scene, I knew her back in college. We worked on the school paper together, and she made my life miserable.

My memories

One time I wrote a story about what life is like for gay Jews. I spent all summer on it, interviewing gay Jews and rabbis. I was proud with how it turned out. But Shea, who was adopted by a Jewish family, was really upset I didn’t include her perspective. So, as photo editor, she withheld the photo she took to accompany my story. Last minute, too. As we were scrambling to finalize the paper before it went to print, I had to find new artwork for my story.

I’m not the only one Shea bullied, either. A friend of mine, Alex, also worked on the school paper and had a really difficult time with Shea. When a childhood friend of mine transferred to my college and sent a Facebook message introducing herself to Shea, looking to make connections, Shea called me to yell at me about giving out her ‘personal information.’ By ‘personal information,’ she apparently meant her name on Facebook.

The last time I saw Shea was in October 2017. She was taking photos for Go Magazine at the Matthew Shepard Foundation’s 20th anniversary party, which I was also covering for GSN. She took a photo of me and comedian Julia Scotti. I’m not sure if she recognized me.

Shea died on 22 October, 2018 from an overdose. She had just turned 26.

Drug problems

Even in college, I had known Shea had a drug problem. It was something she talked about casually in the school paper’s office. Sometimes, during class, she’d even nod off — something that could be a sign of someone high on heroin. According to NarcoAnon, a heroin user ‘will feel heavy and dopey and may fade in and out of wakefulness.’

As the daughter of a former addict, I sympathize with her plight. Of course I recognize that drug addiction is a disease rather than a choice. But heroin addiction doesn’t necessarily make one a mean person.

Shea’s death

On 23 October, I began seeing posts on Facebook from other people in NYC’s LGBTI community about Shea.

‘Shea had begun to evolve into a more joyful, more loving, increasingly optimistic, focused, and ambitious young woman,’ Go Magazine’s post about Shea said. ‘An even more caring and present friend, an even more loving daughter and granddaughter. An even more creative, supportive, and loving co-worker. I say even more, because to those who loved her or even shared a moment with her, Shea has always been a most giving, loving, unique, and beautiful soul.’

Other posts shared a similar sentiment. But here I was, never having experienced Shea’s kindness myself. I was frustrated and didn’t know how to feel about Shea’s death. Honestly, I still don’t.

I’ve been thinking about writing this essay since she died, but didn’t really know what to say. Shea clearly meant a lot to many people. She had friends, family, a cool job. Some say that since I knew her back in 2014, she became a nicer person. Maybe this was due to her sobriety. Maybe she truly did grow as a person. But I will never know.

When I saw Shea last year, it was like someone punched me in the gut. I was afraid of her, still. But now I wish I had spoken to her and settled our differences once and for all. Who knows? We may have even ended up becoming friends.

In any case, Shea, wherever you are, I hope you find peace and serenity.

RIP, Shea Carmen Swan. 21 October, 1992 — 22 October, 2018.

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