When Darnell Moore was a teenager in the late 1980s, living in Camden, N.J., he didn't know he was gay — but he did know he was an outcast.
"At 13 I was a nerd," Moore tells his friend Bryan Epps, during a visit to StoryCorps OutLoud in New York. "I took such great pride in wearing dress pants and button-up shirts, unfortunate white socks like I was a preacher."
"My grandmother would send us to the store, and I hated going to the store because I know that somewhere between my grandmama's house and the store there would be somebody wanting to pick on me for some reason."
One day, Moore was returning from the store in broad daylight and saw a group of boys walking towards him. "I knew that something was going to happen," he says. "As they approached me they called me names — faggot, sissy — and they had a milk carton. I didn't know what it was filled with, but it spilled a bit. And it was gasoline."
Moore's next-door neighbor was one of the boys in the group. "He emptied the gasoline on me," Moore says. "I recall him attempting to light a match and it just wouldn't light. That happened about three times."
Moore's aunt came outside before the boys managed to light the match. "I just remember my aunt dragging me to the local hospital with gasoline in my eyes," Moore says. "And I smelled like that for, like, 24 hours."
But Moore says he wasn't angry — just embarrassed. "I was picked on in front of teachers, in front of adults, on streets, so I was used to it," he says. "And I don't know why it took me until adulthood to actually get in my head that that was literally somebody trying to end my life."
When Epps asks if he knows where those attackers are now, Moore says no.
"I tried to search for the one neighbor in particular who poured the gasoline on me," he says. "And it's so funny, you know, in recalling the story, even while the other guys were punching me, I was only focused on him — because, I think, I've always wanted his friendship. I just never imagined that a kid who knows your name who lives in the same neighborhood with you would want to do something like that."
"I wish I could have asked, 'Why would you want to light me on fire?' What did I do to him to make him want to do that?"
Audio produced for Weekend Edition Sunday by Nadia Reiman.
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