Sunday, July 8, 2012
3 Boys, 2 Buffalos, 1 State
Wyoming: from the Delaware Indian meaning "at the big plains." Wyoming is empty like high-school hallways in summer. There is space everywhere in this square state -- the 9th largest and the least populated in the nation. It's easy to be alone here. In the past week, we have ridden across the northern, top-half of Wyoming. Tomorrow, we will ride out of the state and into South Dakota. Tomorrow, I leave this state of big plains -- a state of fences and flatbeds, of guns and ammo, and of vast miles of uninterrupted farmland, giving way to a town of 50, 500, or 1,000. I have mixed reactions to this territory of cattle herders, bacon cheese burgers, national parks, and guns. I rode by a gun range and ammo shop, and the hotel I rested at one week ago hosted a gun-and-rifle show. My sense is that weapons are just out-of-sight, but always within arm's reach. When I arrived, I learned of Alexandre Frye, a 13-year old from Cheyenne. A precocious kid, he enjoyed the company of adults and loved trains, which he could speak about with great expertise among rail veterans. I've ridden by several trains here, some of the longest trains imaginable, carrying God-knows-what to who-knows-where. I imagine Alex would have answered the what and where of such trains. Quiet, short for his age, and with the demeanor, according to one adult neighbor, of an "old-school gentlemen," Alex was slow to make friends and had become repeatedly bullied in school. He had told his parents he would handle it, that everything was "cool," but his grades were dropping and was staying home to avoid the daily taunts and attacks. In January, Alex shot himself at the tracks of the Union Pacific rails. I pass by trains and think of Alex. The same is true of Wyoming fences and Matthew. Matthew Shepard, an openly-gay college student at the University of Wyoming, was beaten repeatedly by two adult teens, pistol-whipped, tied to a fence, and left comatose and unrevivable by the hospital staff. Matthew's face was unrecognizable, covered with blood, save for the areas wiped clean by his own tears. This was 1998, but for me as for others, such events are indelible warnings of thoughtlessness, cruelty, and neglect. I ride along these road-side fences and think of Matthew. Days ago, I rode into Buffalo, Wyoming. I thought only of my hometown, Buffalo, NY, and of Jamie Rodemeyer, who hanged himself earlier this year after bravely coming out as bisexual. Like Alex, Jamie was in middle school. Like Matthew, Jamie was gay-activist amid a homophobic culture. Jamie attended a school just miles away from my own middle and high school. I feel I know those kids; I feel I know that school. 3 boys separated by vast space and time. Still, I feel that Matthew, Alex, and Jamie are interconnected, casualties of a culture of loud and rude and cruel -- bent on an impulse to degrade at any cost -- from reality TV to political pundits. Ours is a culture of the quick kill -- a hunger game of words, lies, texts, e-mail, and social isolation. The attack-or-be-attacked state-of-mind spreads virus-like, taking its casualties -- the nerds, rebels, throwbacks, anomalies, the gentle-kids. So I am in Wyoming within a year of one boy's death and thinking of another in 1998: in one Buffalo thinking of another, and why I ride and what can be done.