On this day in 2010, Cecil Fulfer was murdered in his home at Holly Lake Ranch in Wood County, East Texas. He was stabbed in the chest. No arrests have ever been made. I’d known Cecil since elementary school and through junior high and high school. We were never what I would call extremely close friends, but I feel a deep bond with all my classmates– especially the ones that I remember from my six formative years at Walnut Hill Elementary.
Cecil was popular in high school, a cheerleader and very active in the youth group at Northway Baptist Church. Not exactly a macho guy, but never strikingly effeminate, he bleached his hair blonde. There were a few subtle tells– for example he had always run and thrown like a girl even in elementary school. Still, a lot of the girls had huge crushes on him, but I don’t remember him ever really dating or going steady with anyone.
Cecil and I were in Concert Choir, and also a more elite musical group called Rebelution. A silly name, I know, but in those days we were the Thomas Jefferson Rebels, before we were forced to adopt the more politically correct mascot, the Patriots. Our senior year we were in the High School musical, Hello Dolly. I was Horace Vandergelder, the male lead and he was Ambrose Kemper, a supporting character who is the starving artist love interest of Vandergelder’s weepy niece, Ermengarde.
After high school, I never really sang again except for a little karaoke, but Cecil went on to make a living in the theater.
I had reconnected with him at a luncheon in Dallas honoring Jack Cannon, the Concert Choir Director at Thomas Jefferson High School. We chatted a bit and I told him that I lived in Tyler. He said that he was staying with his sister near Hawkins and that we should get together sometime. I had to leave a bit early to come home, and I made it a point to hand business cards to most of my old classmates who were in attendance.
I gave one to Cecil. At Jack’s luncheon, we couldn’t help but notice that something was not right in Cecil’s life. It was painfully obvious that he was involved in some kind of substance abuse. He was higher than Amy Winehouse, Anna Nicole Smith, Ted Kennedy, and Boris Yeltsin all rolled into one.
Months later, Cecil called me and wanted to know If I’d like to meet for lunch. We met at On The Border in Tyler. He arrived glassy eyed and obviously high on something, and during the course of our lunch, he had three margaritas. I told him about what I’d been doing and showed him pictures of Lisa and our boys. We had a grand time reminiscing about school days and old friends. He was funny, but a little melancholy. At one point he looked at me and said, “Wayne, you know I’m gay, right?” I said that we all had surmised as much for a long time and that it didn’t make any difference to me. “I think of you as an old friend, Cecil. Your sexuality is never going to change that.”
Once he’d come out to me he seemed more relaxed for a while. Maybe my acceptance put him at ease, or maybe it was the margaritas. We talked about other friends from school who were gay. In the 1970’s most homosexuals stayed in the closet. I’m sure that some of them never realize they were even in the closet until later in life. According to Cecil, most of them were swept away in the AIDS epidemic. Two of them, counting Cecil were murder victims.
We laughed and enjoyed our time together for at least two hours, and then the melancholy deepened and seemed to overwhelm him. Here was a gay man in his early fifties, looking back on his life and wondering what might have been. It was like having a once beautiful actress who found herself sidelined by middle age pour out her heart and soul to you complaining that the roles have dried up, the scripts have stopped coming, and the phone never rings anymore. I listened and tried to encourage him, at the same time trying to fathom the kind of pain he was dealing with. We all wrestle with sin in our lives, but not all of us accept the Grace that is available.
As we were about to leave I told him that I didn’t think he should drive. He mentioned that his “friend” was waiting for him in the car and would drive him home. “He’s been out there all this time! Why didn’t you have him come in with you?” He looked at the floor and shrugged. I could tell he had been worried that I would have judged him had his friend joined us. “Cecil, I know that you know the Gospel. And I know that my role is not to judge anyone.”
The last time I spoke with Cecil I was at a dinner party and my cell phone rang. He was near hysterics, still under the influence of whatever he was using to self-medicate. He’d talked to our friend, Nancy Stokes Goodwin (another alum from Walnut Hill Elementary who had lived a few doors down the street from the Fulfers. She played Dolly!) Her breast cancer had returned and had metastasized in her spine. Her prognosis was bad. She was dying, and he was inconsolable. I explained to him that Nancy was going to be fine– that she was saved by Grace and once her temporary assignment here on earth was over she would know no pain, suffering, or heartache. It seemed to be of no comfort to him.
I immediately called Nancy. She was her usual positive, upbeat self. She had a way of making peace with everything in life that most of us lack. She said she’d try and talk to Cecil. Sadly, that was the last time I spoke with either of them.
When Cecil was murdered, it was pretty big news in Holly Lake Ranch. Murder is pretty rare there. I was out of town and think I learned the news in an e-mail. Of course, the coverage in Tyler was relatively scant. What coverage there was, was not very flattering to the victim. The picture they used was a mug shot taken when Cecil was busted on a public intoxication charge.
I wonder if anyone will ever be arrested and tried for Cecil’s murder. Sadly, I also wonder if his case was never a priority for the Wood County Sherrif’s Department because he was a sad old gay man with substance abuse problems. I think of him often, and wish I could have helped him. We do what we can do.