October 2017


19 years, but who’s counting?

Last weekend I was in Chicago, where I caught up with one of my early gay IU friends. We talked about a number of things – including the coming out process and what it was like to come out (whether to ourselves or to others) at Indiana University in the late 1990s.

But the thing that dominate my memories about my early years at IU is Matthew Shepard.

In October 1998, I had been living in Bloomington, Indiana, for a mere month and a half. I was finding my footing on a number of levels: figuring out what I was doing in school, figuring out how to be gay, figuring out my favorite hangout in Bloomington, and the myriad of other things that happens when you move to some place new.

I could go all maudlin and talk about how I felt – sitting in my office (which no longer exists), realizing that somebody had been brutally beaten in Laramie, Wyoming – reading between the lines for the scant information in the online edition of the UW Branding Iron student newspaper and realizing the victim was gay – feeling my world slowly shut down, going home to my one bedroom apartment, where I crawled into its large closet to cry and to feel safe.

Nineteen years later, these memories remain visceral. Palpable. Tangible in a way that few memories from that era remain tangible.

Sitting in my Berlin living room, roughly 4,500 miles from my Bloomington living room, roughly 5,000 miles from where Matthew Shepard was pistol whipped, tied to a fence, and left to die.

Wait, that’s an incomplete sentence: pausing to reflect, as I do each year in early October, and I regress in my emotions, my feelings, my thoughts, back to how I felt in October 1998: helpless, isolated, insulated, vulnerable.

Certainly, I have these moments as a grown-up, grown-up, but these emotions are acute and raw when I reflect upon and remember Matthew Shepard.

Sometimes I wonder if I will ever stop feeling this way when I pause to think about Matthew Shepard. Sometimes I hope that I will. Other times I remember that it is important that I never forget how I felt as the Matthew Shepard story unfolded over the seven long days between the time Matthew Shepard was beaten and tied to a fence on the outskirts of Laramie and when he died at Poudre Valley Hospital in Fort Collins, Colorado.

Matthew “Matt” Wayne Shepard – *December 1, 1976; †October 12, 1998

For historical reference, see 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, 20132014, 2015, 2016, or any of the many times he’s been mentioned on my blog via a search for Matthew Shepard.

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