13 October 2008

Thoughts about Wyoming

With the ten year anniversary of the hate crime that took Matthew Shepard’s life, I am thinking about Wyoming. As are so many us.

Have you been to Wyoming? Have you driven through the state or visited Yellowstone? I’ve done both in the last decade.

My daughter and I took a road trip through the upper Western states when she was transitioning from middle school to high school. She had gone to an “alternative” middle school, run by hippie-ish types that encouraged self expression, among other things. Part of her self expression was her pink, orange and purple hair. As we left Yellowstone, driving through western Wyoming, she got a scarf out of her bag to cover her hair. I asked her why and she said, “They kill people for being different here. I don’t want any of them to see my hair.” What’s a mother to say to that?

This spring my girlfriend and I flew out to Michigan to collect my daughter’s car and drive it back to Portland. On day two, as we approached the Wyoming state line, we got into an argument. We spent a couple of hours in stony silence. As we drove through Laramie we both started crying. “Why are we doing this to each other?” we cried. “We have to be strong together to fight against the assholes of this world.” We felt very strongly the sorrow, fear and shame that linger in Laramie; or at least linger in our minds when we think about Laramie. We couldn’t stop there, even though we needed gas. We couldn’t set foot on that ground, spend money in their town, even look away from the highway. Every fence reminded us. We pressed on through the town and filled the tank away to the west, in Rawlins. We were on edge through the whole state, and Utah wasn’t much better. We didn’t really breathe easily until we were cruising through the Gorge on the outskirts of Portland. So. Glad. To. Be. Home.

And, Wyoming? I don’t hate the place. I don’t hate the people. I don’t want to increase the balance of animosity in the world; I want to reduce it. I don’t feel safe in vast areas in the middle of the US, and I resent the fact that I feel I must be on guard when traveling in those places. But I am determined to give everyone a fair shake, an unbiased hearing before I make up my mind. There are probably wonderful things about Wyoming and I would be happy to hear about them. True, I’ll never live there, but I would like to travel through it or visit without fear.