||[07 Oct 2003|05:21pm]
I got this off of tolerance.org
OCTOBER MOURNING: Remembering Matthew
By Brian Willoughby | Senior Writer/Editor, Tolerance.org
Oct. 7, 2003 -- On a cold morning in October, down a road I'd never traveled, I held an unexpected vigil for someone I never knew.
One year ago this month, I drove cross-country for the first time in my life. Five days on the road, just me and two kenneled cats in the back of the station wagon.
Leaving behind 18 years of West Coast daily newspaper journalism, I drove away from Washington state, leaping into a new career with the Southern Poverty Law Center in Montgomery, Ala.
I thought of it as the American dream, the ability to reroot, reinvent one's life.
Excited about the drive, I knew I'd have moments of awe as I crossed the Continental Divide, the Great Plains, the mighty Mississippi.
But I didn't expect this.
The Road to Laramie
I arrived in Laramie at dusk, snow blowing sideways across I-80. I'd dropped out of Rock Springs, passed the Continental Divide sign, watched the sun set in my rear-view mirror as the cats began to yowl from the back, signaling hunger.
The landscape was lonelier than I'd imagined. Rocky ground, roots fighting for purchase.
I pulled off the Interstate and chose the first motel, an Econo Lodge.
"No pets," the desk clerk said.
I explained that it was too cold to leave the cats in the car overnight, then held out a $20 bill as a bribe.
"Take the room at the end of the building," he said, handing me the key. "Leave before it gets light. Don't let anyone see them."
I did as I was told.
The snow stopped falling overnight. I gassed up and took Highway 287 south to Fort Collins, a less-traveled road that would cut about 40 miles off the driving distance.
I was alone on the road. Fewer than six cars passed me, heading north, as I moved south. Dawn broke, a golden light bathing the snowy hills. The cloud cover arched overhead like a temple. It would have been beautiful, had I not been crying.
When I plotted the trip on paper and knew I'd likely be overnight in Laramie, I thought of Matthew Shepard. Because I always think of Matthew Shepard when I think of Laramie. It's Oklahoma City. It's Skokie. It's Selma and Birmingham. Hate becomes a map, and some landmarks stand out longer, stronger than others.
But I wasn't thinking of Matthew Shepard the night before, with my outlaw cats in the Econo Lodge. Hadn't given him a second thought.
It was the fence posts. They haunted me the next morning, moving by the car in metronome precision, carefully spaced, the edge of life for livestock, the end of life for Matthew.
It was not Snowy Mountain View Road, the road on which Matthew was found; I've never been on that road. But it was the same landscape, the same barren beauty, the same kind of fenceline where he had been tied and beaten. He would die in a hospital five days later, never regaining consciousness.
So I watched the posts that morning, one after another, marking the distance I traveled, stretching into miles yet to come.
Bonnie Raitt was on the tape deck, singing about an angel from Montgomery. A good friend had made the tape, to help pass the hours on the trip. There were two versions of "Angel," a studio version and a live version. The live version was rawer, with ragged edges, and I kept hitting rewind, playing it over and over, singing along on a long stretch of road.
Just give me one thing one thing I can hold on to
To believe in this livin' is just a hard way to go
I drove until just after dusk that day, through Denver, down the eastern slope of the Rockies, into Kansas, along ramrod-straight I-70. I almost stopped for the night in Manhattan, but I pushed on to Topeka.
I stayed in a motel with a "Pets Welcome!" sign, ate a greasy piece of pizza from a gas station across the street and wondered about the nation's continental divide.
Not the one I'd driven across just a day earlier.
The other one, the one that starts with Matthew Shepard and ends with Topeka's own Fred Phelps. I won't honor him with his title, the Rev.; he doesn't deserve such reverence.
You know Fred, founder of godhatesfags.com. A guy who spews venom and calls it Bible verse. A guy who makes a mockery of true faith. A guy who has a so-called "Gospel Memorial to Matthew Shepard" on his Web site that reads, "Matthew Shepard has been in hell for 1,821 days."
It took me just a moment, at 65 or 70 miles per hour, to sweep past the Rocky Mountain Continental Divide.
We, as a nation, can't muster the same speed when it comes to eliminating the divide that makes gay, lesbian and transgender people the object of hate and scorn, the divide that relegates them to second-class citizenry, the divide that tacitly allows homophobic thugs to beat a young man to death.
It's been five years since Matthew Shepard was murdered, a year since I held an unexpected memorial service for him in my car, passing by. How much longer must we wait to heal that divide?
That road was a lonely place for me. But I had a new job waiting at the far end, a loving family who would join me, a world of hope to get me down that snowy road. And I had Bonnie Raitt, singing about an angel from the place I would soon be living.
Matthew had the loving family, the hope, a future unfolding against a horizon as wide as the Rockies. But he also had a sexual identity that some find reason to hate. So he perished against that fencepost, abandoned and alone.
I hope — after the beating, after the hate had been spent, during those 18 hours before he was discovered — I hope Matthew Shepard found music in his head, some voice, like Bonnie's, that helps you down the toughest roads. And I hope that voice was singing about a different angel, one just being born, from Laramie.