|Matty plays in the sands of time...
|...and in our hearts!
Matt Makes an Appearance
It was the first really warm day we'd had this spring, or at least the first one which was also my day off. I was
luxuriating in the comfy, plush, blue swivel chair, listening to the tailend of "Take Five" on CBC FM, and I'd
dozed off just as the closing theme was playing. That's the only way I knew it was about five minutes to three in the
afternoon. I didn't get to doze off for more than a few seconds when the doorbell rang.
I was somewhat surprised. The doorbell rarely works at all, and when it does, it goes in and out. The strong,
solid tone rather puzzled me. Pausing to turn the stereo off, I got up and went to the front door. There wasn't
any mistaking the identity of my caller -- all five-foot-two and 102 pounds of him.
"Hi, John. I've come to be interviewed," said Matthew Shepard. "I'm glad you've dropped the formality."
"Oh, okay," I said, racking my brains as to what on earth I was supposed to interview him about, "Just one thing.
If you want to smoke, I'll drag out an ashtray and join you outside. Otherwise, you're certainly welcome inside."
"Hey, I know the house rules. Anyway, I'm not addicted any more. It's why I enjoy smoking more now.
Got any Heineken?"
Matt bounced in. He pre-empted me by grabbing my right hand and shaking it vigorously, saying, "I know you're not
a hugger, so that's okay."
"Alas, Matt. All, I've got is Guinness."
"Oh, it'll do. I liked it well enough, but it was terribly expensive in Switzerland, and nobody in the States seemed
to know how to pull a pint properly."
"This is canned, but I'll do my best with it."
I duly retrieved not just two cans, but the entire eight-pack, as well as two pint mugs. While I was doing that,
Matt had settled into the blue swivel chair, leaving my wooden rocker. Stella, my cat, crouched down on the rug between
us, eyeing Matt with something between curiosity and suspicion.
"She's not used to ghosts, I guess. They get used to it," said Matt.
Indeed, as time went on, Stella did jump into her favourite chair, and curled up on his lap.
Matt was dressed in a tan sports jacket, a not very well-tied white and black tie, white shirt, grey flannel slacks,
and slip-on leather loafers. When I'd first seen him, he smiled broadly, showing he wasn't wearing braces on his teeth.
His haircut and sideburns were exactly as they had looked when Gina van Hoof had photographed him.
|Matt in Contemplation at Alcatraz in January 1998
|(C) 2002, Gina van Hoof, who met Matt at TASIS
"So, you prefer the comfy chair?" I said.
"What is this, the Spanish Inquisition?"
"No one ever expects the Spanish Inquisition! So, you've been memorizing Monty Python skits, have you?
"Memorizing them? I act in them!"
We both laughed. There was no mistaking the smile or the laugh. He did both with his entire being, right
"So," I said. "Why are we having this conversation?"
Matt beamed broadly, "If you're going to keep sounding like my Dad, I might just leave!"
"What do you expect? I'm nearly his age!"
"Which is why you don't have to worry that I'm about to go for you! Anyway, you're not that good-looking."
"No doubt, but, to repeat, why are we having this conversation?"
"Well, I now know what it's like to sound like Al(opex) and Beth (Nameless). I thought it might be fun to
see what'd it be like sounding like you!"
"So, you really want to sound like an eighteenth-century Irish politician?"
"Hey, it'd be a new experience. Henry Grattan says 'Hello', by the way. He says he likes your master's
"I'm glad somebody's read it."
Because I'd turned the radio off when the doorbell rang, I thought I'd ask Matt if there was some music he'd like on.
"No country music, I'm afraid. The closest I've got is a tape called 'The Living Wood'. That is, if you can
still put up with earthly music."
"Oh, sure. Yeah, the music's much better where I am now, but I still like the stuff here okay."
I put the tape on, and we both settled into our chairs.
"So, no earring, Matt?"
"Really? I didn't know. Y'know, this is one thing I can't get used to. When I was alive, I'd worry
so much about my appearance, and how I was dressed. Was I attractive enough? Did I look too faggy? I can't
get used to the idea that I have no control over my appearance. By the way, neither do you.
I simply don't know how I'll appear to people when I visit them. When I visited Aaron Kreifels the second
night I was in the hospital, he came the closest of anybody to seeing me as I am. Put 'seeing' in quotation marks, though.
Because he doesn't dream visually, he met me as a pure spirit. Others see me the way I looked after I was beaten up.
If I do visit anyone, and they visualize me, I have a slightly different appearance than the way they'd imagine me.
After all," he smiled when saying this, "I'd then just be a figment of their imagination, wouldn't I? Although it'd
have to be consistent with the way I looked in real life."
"I guess I should ask whom you do visit."
"Whom'? You must have gone to school or something! Actually, I'm trying to figure that
one out. It's not entirely my choice, and it isn't the choice of the people I visit."
He sighed, and thought for a moment.
"Aaron K was the exception. I call him Aaron K, so you won't confuse him with another Aaron
I met about that time. But I was still bodily alive, and I had a lot more free will than I do now. It depends
on whether I'm meant to deliver a message. I know there's lots of people I'd like to visit whom I can't visit.
There's a lot of people I visit who don't want to see me, and some I wouldn't want to visit if it were my own choice.
Some would like to see me looking differently than the way I do when I do visit them."
"I imagine that would included those who see you as you were after you were bashed."
"Not always. I can think of one lady who understood why I appeared to her that way. You've
"Would that have been Karen?"
"Yes. Remind me. How'd she describe me?"
"She was at a great candlelight vigil for you in Denver at Mile High Stadium, which was entirely
filled with people like her. She saw you, looking as you did after the attack, take the microphone and say, 'I can't
satisfy you people. My strength is all gone.""
"VERY interesting. How'd she interpret it?"
"You were trying to tell everybody that they were expecting too much of you. You couldn't possible
live up to their expectations. Everybody was trying to make more of you than you were. So, was that interpretation
Matt smirked, pulling up the left corner of his mouth, "I couldn't possibly comment, now could I?"
"Well, why not?"
"As I told Al, we can't interfere in your lives. That means we can't tell you what to believe,
what to do, or how to interpret any messages we give you. If we're allowed to pass any messages at all, it has to be
in a way we aren't meddling."
"Which would make for a much shorter interview, wouldn't it?"
"Oh, I'm enjoying the Guinness and much too much to keep it TOO short!"
"Who else sees you as you were after you were beaten up?"
"I've told you of one, and I bet you can guess of at least two others."
"I'm told Aaron Kreifels is one."
Matt looked very serious. I thought I could see the making of a tear in one eye.
"If he saw me in his dreams, he'd feel better. He only sees me when he's awake, and he
sees me as he found me that evening. I love that guy so much. I wish I could reach him some other way.
He did so, so much for me."
I didn't quite want to get into that topic just yet, and kept to the earlier one.
"Surely you don't mean Henderson and McKinney?"
He was equally serious, though no tear.
"All the time. Absolutely. They see me as I looked in Aaron M's truck headlights as they
"You call him Aaron as well?"
"Why not? Didn't I tell Al I forgave them?"
"He said you said a few other things, too."
Again, he smiled a wry sideways grin.
"You going to make me tell the whole story again, aren't you?"
"I'm not sure how we can avoid it."
"Actually, I don't mind. It doesn't hurt me unless it hurts my friends and family." Then
he sighed, "When it hurts them, of course, it hurts me. Maybe that's why we should talk about it."
He took a long drink of Guinness, saying, "Is there more?"
"Oh, indeed there is."
"Then I think I'll stay awhile," and he leaned back into the chair.
|Matt's picture in a yearbook
It was this way, Although all the beating seemed to last a lifetime and more for me,
the last time...Aaron...struck at me, he seemed to do it in very slow motion. I certainly remember thinking, 'Well,
this is it', and 'Dear God, I'm sorry. Help me.' While I won't say I saw my entire life flash in front of my eyes,
I saw enough that I was very ashamed of.
"It's funny, but it's true. I didn't actually feel that blow. I saw it coming, and I heard my skull cracking,
but I didn't feel it before I passed out.
"As I told Al, even if I were in a coma, I'd be aware of my surroundings at times, and I wouldn't be at other times.
I don't know how long it was either way. It was the first time I had no reckoning of time as you know it, but I do know
that when I first became aware of anything they were long gone.
"Anyway, as I said, I was really surprised that I was still alive, but I knew right away I was dying. I just
knew, that's all. As I later learned, Death wasn't there yet, but I knew he'd be coming. I was just so terribly
afraid of what might happen when I would die. I guess I judged myself awful harshly. I could see all the
mistakes I'd made, but I didn't think too much of the good things I might have done.
"The only prayer I could think of was the Lord's Prayer. When I said it, I couldn't ignore those lines 'Forgive
us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.'
"I know people don't believe I forgave them (Henderson and McKinney). If I though I'd be okay, I don't think I
would have. I could be pretty vindictive."
"Trying to charge that bartender in Cody with rape. It wasn't entirely in bad faith; I really couldn't recall anything
except having a sore jaw. I really did think it was Morocco all over again. I hope he forgives me for that.
I forgave him, no sweat there, but he did me less harm that I tried to do to him. Oh, gosh, was I embarassed.
No, check that, I'm still embarrassed...
"But I guess I'm wandering off topic, huh? Or should I say, 'eh'?"
"No, no, I'm the Canuck. Just carry on!"
Matt became very serious. "I was dying, and I knew it. Funny thing, it changes your opinions A LOT.
I suddenly had to face what was really, really important to me, and I knew I needed forgiving. I realized that I couldn't
be forgiven unless I forgave.
"Don't make me too saintly about this! I hadn't gone further than wanting to forgive them, and -- let me tell
you -- I came close to changing my mind."
"Can you tell me that story?"
"It was when Mom and Dad came to the hospital. Even in my coma, I was awake at times and asleep at others. I
was asleep when they came in. Mom put her arms around me to comfort me. I don't know whether I thought I
was being grabbed in Morocco or being hit in Laramie, but it surely was one or the other. I flinched exactly as if that
were happening to me again, and if I could have screamed, I would have.
"Then, of course, I woke up, and I saw the hurt and the pain they were feeling, and that made me very angry. As
I said, I just about changed my mind then."
"Why didn't you?"
"Although I felt a lot better about myself, I still knew all my imperfections. I'd made a promise, and I knew I
had to keep it."
"Matt, you've said some pretty hard things to Al and Beth about both of them (the assailants)."
"You'll just have to make up your own mind how much was mine, and how much was their imaging me. Just like nobody'll
really believe you about this chat."
"True. So, you visit them."
"Much more than I'd like to, but...well, before I say more, you say you used to be bullied. Do you ever meet
"Why don't you tell me how you feel about it?"
"Er, who's interviewing whom?"
Matt laughed out loud, the lines under his eyes crinkled. "Stop avoiding the question!"
"That surprised me. I don't feel any real animosity towards them. It was a long time ago. I've made
something of my life, and they haven't. So we just so 'Hi' and go on to the next thing."
"How old did you say you were?"
"52 at the end of July."
"And when was the last time you had any real problems with them?"
"When I was 15."
"John, 37 years isn't much compared to infinity!
"I sat through all the trials, and I found I couldn't really get angry any more. I sure got hurt, though, and I
won't deny it. I could see why my family and friends were feeling, and it hurt; it really, really hurt. But I
couldn't get angry. I thought I'd lived my life pretty well, and they (the assailants) weren't going to have much of
"You bet I thought they'd better pay a price. I surely wasn't fooled by their dodges. I just don't understand
why I didn't see through them that one night."
Another heavy sigh.
"Actually, I do now, I hadn't been thinking straight all day, but that's another topic.
"As I say, I'm not a free agent. There's certainly better company, even you, and they're not at all pleased
to see me.
"I think if they did understand the message I'm meant to give them, they wouldn't see me, at least not the way they do
see me now."
"What do you think that message would be?"
"I'm not sure, and I can't tell you anyway. That's something you'd have to work out yourself. But I'll
say this -- Remorse isn't repentance."
"Do you really think they feel any remorse?"
"Oh, sure. Aaron M certainly tries to pretend he doesn't feel any. He thinks if he doesn't play the
tough guy, he'll get killed in no time. It's a front. He's terribly afraid of death, and he's scared of me.
"Russ is an operator. He's a survivor. He makes a show of remorse when it suits him, and he plays the tough
when he has to, but he really just wants to keep his head down and survive. As far as I can tell, he tries to assume
some responsibility, but he lacks courage. He's very aware that what he and Aaron did to me was evil, but I don't thnk
he'd do any more to stop it if it happened again.
"As I was saying, eternity is a long time. I had to forgive them, and I did...eventually. I'd like to see
them make something of themselves."
"What did you think about their getting the death penalty?"
"That I'd have to accept whatever Mon and Dad agreed to, Of course, as far as I could, I tried to leave some hints.
Dad was right. When I was alive, I believed in it, but I only thought of what would happen if one of my friends
were killed. I just never thought about if I were the one being murdered.
"That's a strange one. I was so sure somebody WOULD do me in. Then I met someone who understood me."
"A hint -- I knew him only for four days, and he was so completely different from me in every way. Somehow, he
seemed to be able to see right into my soul. I mean 'Doc' O'Connor."
"The limousine driver?"
"Yes. He said something about that in 'The Laramie Project'. You could look it up. I'm not doing your
homework for you! (Hint: H-O-P-E)
"Also, well, Mom and Dad had to do their best to figure out what I'd want now. That's all the hints I can give
you, and that's all I'm going to say on this topic."
|Billy Clayton, driven to suicide,
Matt Talks about the Fencepost
"Matt, I cut you off about Aaron K."
"That day he wa my very best friend. I guess I should tell you how I felt when they left
"I couldn't begin to describe what an ordeal it was. It wasn't the physical pain. It
was bad, but not as bad as when they were beating me, or when my rescuers tried to move me. When they were beating me,
my head was in so much pain, I couldn't feel anything else. Not the punches, not the kicks. Once they left, I
couldn't move. Because I couldn't move my head, none of the fractures hurt.
"Of course, the bad part was that when my head didn't hurt, I began to notice all the other things.
I'd tried to defend myself when I was in the truck with them, and my arms were all cut and bruised. I surely began to
notice where I'd been kicked in the legs and groin. The rope hurt, too, but not as much as I'd have expected.
I guess I must give Russ some credit. When he tied my hands, he did it in the way tha would be the least painful, and
do the least damage to them, but he tied me up very tightly. I never would have been able to work myself free, and I
certainly couldn't ignore my wrists' hurting.
"The mental anguish wasn't as bad as you'd think, either. The very worst was the the
beginning, when they suddely reveled they weren't my friends at all. After that, everything was sheer, blind terror.
After they were done, the worst was over; whatever was going to happen to me had happened."
Matt fell silent for a moment, taking another long drink.
"I don't know what was worse, the beating, or...well, I relived the time I was raped in Morocco,
too, and that was...it was just as bad."
There was definitely a tear in his left eye.
"Since I died, I've come to know Bill Clayton a lot. He made me understand something that I
didn't understand when I was alive. When Aaron M smashed my skull the last time, he did me a big favour."
"Surely, not, Matt."
"I'd agree with you if I hadn't died. Do you recall what I told Al about suicide?"
"That you'd thought of it all the time after you were raped, and you suddenly realized that when
it would be very easy to die, you knew you didn't want to."
"It would have been very easy. All that night and day, the wind blew. It was my friend.
It had been my closest childhood.friend. I thought I kept hearing voices in it, hearing its talking to me. One
of them seemed to say it'd be okay, everyone would understand, and that it would be easy. I'd just have to let go.
I remember saying -- not physically, of course -- 'No, not yet, not yet'. When I did die, that's just what happened. I
just let go, and it was easy.
"Of course, I'd already taken that blow. Up to then, you'd better believe I tried anything
and everything to make them stop, to leave me alone, to let me live.
"This is where Bill's helped me. Like me, he was raped, and, like me, he became really disturbed
because of it. He had his panic attacks, too. I think he had it worse than I did, but his treatment seemed to
work, while mine didn't. For three years and more, I'd been fighting off suicidal impluses. To the extent I'd
been thinking at all the previous evening, that's what I was doing...before I met them.
"I don't know what would have happened if they hadn't attacked me. I hadn't thought anything
through. Maybe I would have asked them in for tea or coffee. I don't know. When I got into the truck
with them, I felt I'd get through the night okay."
"Some have speculated that you had more than tea or coffee in mind."
"Sex? No, definitely not. Even if I went for that sort of thing -- and let me try
to get this through to you, I did not -- I certainly wasn't in the mood. I just wasn't interested. Even if they'd
been my type, wheich they weren't. You've been depressed, so you'd know."
"Actually, Matt. I still am."
"Yes, but your meds work.
"Anyway, sometime later, when I was at TASIS, Bill was beaten up -- much less badly than
I was, of course -- but even with the enormous help his family and all his mny friends gave him, he couldn't take
it anymore. One night, when he was alone and by himself, he took an overdose.
"I didn't know about any of this about Bill until after I died. As soon as I did know about
him, I realized what most likely would have happened if I hadn't taken that last blow. I can't see how I would been
able to take it any better than he did. He did just what I was already thinking I might do anyway."
"Would that have been worse?"
"Much, much worse. Bill made that awfully clear to me. As soon as he did it,
he knew he'd made a big mistake. he lived long enough to be aware of the frantic efforts his family made to save him,
and all the hurt he caused them. He still feels that hurt, and Bill's family is awfully strong.
"I think if I'd done that to mine, it would have killed even more of my family than my death caused
as it was. What Aaron M did to me was horrible, but that last hit...hard to say it, but it was a blessing. I was
a dead man the instant they began to attack me."
"Maybe we've wandered off the topic."
Matt gazed abstractly out the window as I said that. He continued doing so for some time.
Then he took another drink.
"Yeah, I guess we have.
"I guess I was talking about my mental state. Yeah, believe it or not, I forgave them.
When I did that, I began to feel better. I wasn't afraid any more, maybe for the first time in years. I
surely didn't feel good, though.
"I was more embarrassed than anything else. What's that you keep saying about politicians and
"That you have to read people quickly and accurately."
"You got that right. When I would tread the boards, I learned that quickly. I guess
I began to realize that when I'd go canvassing in political campaigns. I really was good at it. Those two guys
were very poor actors. I had to have been really out of it not to have figured them out. I just felt awfully
"I'd go so far out of my way not to open up, to pretend to be shy, until I'd figured people out.
As I said, I WAS good at it. Even at the Union meeting earlier that evening, I wanted to know what they were like before
going too far. I surely wasn't so careful later on.
"I'd thought so long that somebody would do me in that I didn't waste any energy asking why they'd
done what they did. I figured I knew the answer. Tale of my life...but I couldn't understand why I'd been such
"Uh, I guess I had a second reason to feel very embarassed. I...um...er...I lost control of
some of my , er, bodily functions. Ecch! (common among victims of hanging and electrocution)
"Maybe I could afford to feel that way once I stopped being afraid of dying. It was a
luxury I could enjoy: feeling ashamed and embarrassed."
"Did you feel that way for long?"
"Well, not too long at any one time. I had a few other things to worry about.
"Physically, the worst was the thirst. I felt that first and most,
and it was far and away the most uncomfortable thing I had to tolerate. When Aaron K found
me, I felt I'd die of thirst soon for sure. Maybe I was wrong, but that's what I thought.
"Over the night, it was awfully cold. I really picked up a bad chill, and even though the sun
warmed me up during the day, I still had it. I should mention that the sun's heat was the only sense of time I
had. I could tell when it came up, and I knew it was setting when Aaron found me. I had lots of time
to think I'd spend another night out there, and I really couldn't see myself lasting through it.
"However, I heard some of the people at the hospital say I would have died of exposure overnight.
That may be, but I didn't think so. I thought thirst or exhaustion would do it."
"I think so. What I noticed right away, as soon as I realized I was still alive, was that it
was really hard work to breathe. Right away, I knew my brain was damaged because I couldn't move anything. I
couldn't even close my left eye. It was open until I was rescued. I found out that I had to tell myself to
breathe in and breathe out. I could pass out for a short period of time, because my body would then carry on for a little
while, but it would stop, and I had either to make a conscious effort to breathe, or let go and die.
I guess I was tied up in the only way I could have slumped over as I did, and I slumped over in the
only way I could have stayed breathing. I was lying on my back, well, my arms and back, along
the bottom rail of the fence. My head was propped up by the rail, my left ear on it. Actually, it didn't make
such a bad pillow. Had I fallen in any other way, or had I been tied in any other way, I wouldn't have had any
open air passages.
"My head, you see, was already a bloody mop even before they pulled me out of the truck.
My nose was broken, and my face was just a mask of blood. There was blood down my throat and in my lungs as well.
I couldn't breathe through my nose at all, and when I would breathe through my mouth, it was through dried blood
ever step of the way. Without a concscious effort, my body no longer knew when to inhale or exhale.
"As I told Al, that kept my mind off the pain, and a lot of other anguish. Concentrating on
breathing was very hard work, and it kept me more than occupied."
"Do you think it would have been better to die right away?"
"Gosh, no. It would have been a lot easier to die, as I keep telling you. I mean,
sure, I knew I was dying -- and I've told you about the voice in the wind -- but I wanted to say 'goodbye'. I wasn't
sure anybody would want to say goodbye to me, but I wanted to say goodbye to them. I didn't think so then, but now I
know I still had some work to do. I understand that now, even though I didn't understand it then.
"That's why I was so happy when Aaron found me. I could feel the sun's setting, and I
just knew it would be very difficult to last another night. I wasn't going to give up -- don't get me wrong --
but with the thirst, the chill, and the hard work trying to breathe..."
Matt shook his head. He then took another drink and looked off into the distance for a bit.
"That's a moment I'll never forget. The noise of Aaron's motorbike
was the first human sound I'd heard since Aaron McKinney's voice. I should have heard noise from the highway, but the
wind drowned it out, and I guess the poor man who'd built the fence came within 150 feet of me a couple of hours
earlier, but I surely didn't hear him. I heard Aaron's bike wheel breaking, and Aaron's monumental...well,
let's just say he was very unhappy. I had this surge of hope when I heard him stop cursing his bike, and gasp in horror.
At once it was horrid, and at once the sweetest music I ever heard. When he gasped, he realized for the first time I
was a living thing. Of course, he tired to get me to respond, and of course I couldn't. How much I wanted to!
How badly I wanted to thank him! He told me if I could hear him, he was leaving to get help.
"I knew I'd won the hardest fight of my life then.
"It didn't seem long before Aaron and the prof got back, or before Reggie Fluty arrived. To
be sure, I had some bad moments. When Reggie first tired to untie me, I stopped breathing. I guess a fragment
of my skull pressed down on my brainstem or something. What would I know? Every time they tried to move me, all
that horrible pain came back. All my head was just a mass of pain, but I knew I was back with people who cared for me,
and knowing that, I could stand it. When Reggie took me into her arms and said, 'Baby boy, I'm so sorry this happened
to you.', I knew it really was going to be okay. The pain I could stand.
"Got another Guiness? I like this stuff."
"Sure, but that might bet us into another topic."
|This virtual manhole in State College only proves
|that things are often not what they seem!
Matt Talks about His Struggles
I went into the kitchen, got another two cans, returned, and poured them out.
"Maybe this next topic's a little offensive."
"Oh, if I get too offended, I'll just go. I don't think you'll do that, though."
"There's some tales people tell about you."
"Don't I know it! I can read the guestbooks and the message boards, and I can hover around
chatrooms. I turn up at more gatherings at Laramie, Casper, and so on than you'd imagine. Even Topeka once
in a while. So, there isn't much I haven't heard."
"Well, now that you're having a second can there, were you an alcoholic?"
"My grandfather and I have talked a lot about that since he rejoined me.
"The honest answer is that I don't know. My grandfather reminds me that the Shepard men were
known as hard drinkers, and I surely did that, no question there."
"Which wouldn't necessarily mean you're an alcoholic."
"So, I'm told, but when I went on that vacation to Cody (actually to Yellowstone), I first began
"I looked at it as one last chance to let go before I'd have to get down to work at the University.
I got myself thrown out of a few bars, or so I'm told. It was then that I began to wonder. Before, when I got
myself thrown out of bars, I always knew it. This time, I couldn't recall whether I had been, and when I got myself
punched out, I knew I really had to face that question. I couldn't recall joining the bartender and his girl when
his shift ended, and I woke the following day in my hotel room with a very sore jaw. I couldn't recall anything
in between at all. Then, of course, I made a first-class ass of myself by filling the blank with memories of the
last time I'd been assaulted, and charging the guy with raping me.
"To say the least, I then had to ask myself a question, or two, or three. Not that it's problem
now. Makes it a lot more enjoyable. Cheers!
"I didn't come up with an answer, and surely didn't reform myself very much at the U of W.
I did find, though, that if I was feeling good, I didn't feel a need to drink. It'd be when things were getting
to me. Maybe if I'd been able to resolve the things that were getting to me, the drink wouldn't have been a problem."
"Do you think you might have been able to do that?"
"John, I don't even know if I would have been alive the following morning if those two hadn't
turned up! I simply don't know. I surely know I wasn't thinking right. I'm not kidding. It really
was that bad."
"Hang onto that thought, Matt. What things were getting to you?"
"I just felt the biggest failure there ever was -- a failure at everything, absolutely everything.
"My sexual orientation was very far from the worst. Maybe because I thought it was so obviously
an explanation for a lot of other things, I worked through that one pretty thoroughly. Simply being gay stopped bothering
me, and maybe the problems I had with relationships would have been just the same if I'd been straight. Not having been
straight, I don't know, of course."
"Should we talk about Lewis?"
"I guess we must. I really said too much when I was alive, and maybe I was unfair to him.
I wasn't the most objective observer.
"I really hoped we'd be married to each other for the rest of our lives, and I was terribly hurt
that it ended badly. I'm the one who walked out, and it seemed right to me that I did, but...it hurt a lot, that's all
I can really say. I had some strong opinions at the time...guess I had a lot of strong opinions about a lot of things.
I didn't mind saying them, either about Lewis or those other things. I really think he's tried hard to make it up to
me since he heard what happened to me, and maybe that's where I should stop.
"But, maybe I was better for it. I came out of it with a much more realistic understanding
of what really makes for a good relationship. If you don't get the other things right, the sex won't do it. For
sure, after that experience, if you started trying to build a relationship with me starting with sex, you'd drive me away.
A lot of guys did.
"I mean, sure, I liked going out on dates, and I enjoyed flirting as much as any guy, straight or
gay. That's one reason I thought I'd better keep being tested for HIV. That goes back to your question about the
drinking. There were too many nights which I couldn't recall what on earth I had done, and maybe I might have crossed
a line I shouldn't have crossed. I surely did at Cody. I thought to myself that if you've been making a pass
at a straight guy in front of his girlfriend, you're pretty badly out of control. I had to conclude I was.
"But it wasn't just the drinking. I have to be honest with you -- I learned on October 7, 1998
that I had to be completely honest with myself. There were the drugs.
"I don't think the marijuana ever did me any harm. It calmed me down, so I think it did me
some good. The meth(amphetamine), though, was really bad stuff. I'd get the high, and for a short while,
boy oh boy, wasn't there anything I couldn't do! Then I'd come down, and the crash was terrible. I'd be even worse
than my usual worst. Of course, if I was doing drugs, I couldn't remember much of what I'd been doing either.
Which is a reason why I can't really tell you whether I was an alcoholic or becoming one. I was doing other things which
were making it worse."
"Your Dad says the drinking wasn't helping with the antidepressants."
"It would have made a difference it they were working, but they weren't, so it didn't matter.
The tranquillizers did work, though, and they weren't affected. That wouldn't be true of the meth, though. It
made everything much worse.
"But relationships? I wasn't going to get into one unless I knew the other things would work. I
also didn't want to be infecting anybody with a sexually transmitted disease. For a gay guy,
I was pretty straight. I just wanted to get married and settle down. I really did take a poor view of sex before,
um, marriage, and an even poorer view of passing AIDS along.
"I'll tell you this, too. I was also totally fed up with being everyone's prospective cute,
little blond bottom."
"So, you would dispute what Al has you say in his interview with you about your time in Colorado?"
(that he wasn't THAT lonely as they portrayed him in "Story")
Matt roared with laughter. "Don't expect me to comment on that one!"
"Look, there were too many nights when I haven't a clue whether I behaved myself. If I was
in control of myself, no, definitely I wasn't sexually active. Maybe I was getting old and didn't need it as much.
My dates were pretty chaste ones. As to flirting, geez, do you straights go to bed with every woman you make eyes at?
Whaddya think we gays are, sex maniacs, or something?"
"There's enough straights who are."
"Well, if I was in control of myself, I surely wasn't. No screwing around after I left Lewis.
Actually, I don't think there was much when I WASN'T in control of myself. For sure, I wouldn't been able to do much.
Except as I've learned since I died -- and I'm not telling -- I have no memory of it.
"Can't deny that I had my doubts. Thought I'd better keep the testing up. Well, let me
be a little more honest than that. I really was afraid I might have crossed a line, got infected, and I was terribly
afraid I'd infect somebody else.
"This was the one thing which was working for me when I was done in. Things were working
really well with Brian."
"Brian Go-?" I started to say.
"Could I ask you not to say his last name? I know it's been published -- and all -- but he's
hurting terribly., and he needs his own space. He really was a good friend to me, and didn't push me any faster
than I wanted to go. We didn't get to meet each other physically until I was in the hospital for the last time.
From his point of view, he thinks he got to see me, but I didn't get to see him. I can't tell him that I did see
him there, that it meant so much to me, and it made me happy I was still alive to know he was there. That's why
I wanted to win the battle when I was tied to the fence."
"But otherwise, you were saying you felt like a total failure."
"Oh, yes, yes, yes, yes. Not always, and not about everything, but close enough to it.
Enough to have told you that, I guess.
"I mean, when I was with my friends, my real friends, I'd feel good. I could make them feel
good, and they made me feel good. It was the only cure for depression which worked for me. It's why I spent
so much time with people. I thought if I made friends -- real friends -- it would keep me going. In
some ways, I was getting a foretaste of Heaven."
"Well, you believe in it, don't you? I'm not supposed to be contradicting your beliefs.
"And I did know I was good at some things. I wasn't as good in drama as I first thought
I was, but I wasn't too bad. I certainly was good in politics. It was one of my real passions in
life, and maybe because it was the one thing at which I did feel sure of myself. If you got me into a political
argument, I surely was no shrinking violet.
"I can't understand why political science wasn't easier for me."
"Maybe because politics and political science aren't the same thing?"
Matt leaned back in the chair, looking upwards for a minute. "You got me there. Mayve
that was it..
"Anyway, in everything else, I really did feel like a big failure. Even if I were a normal
size for my age, my body just wouldn't do what I wanted it to do. I'd exercise and practice and train, and I'd
still be dead last in everything -- always, inevitbley, invariably dead last in any physical contest.
"And I wasn't any better in school, really. A lot of the time, Mom and Dad thought I was just
being lazy. Well, maybe they didn't, but I thought they did. I just couldn't bear down and concentrate on my schoolwork.
I got put through a lot of testing, and they decided I had Attention Deficit Disorder. In my last few years, after I
was at TASIS , and after I was raped, I began to understand why."
"TASIS (The American School in Switzerland) was the boarding school in Switzerland which you attended
"Right. I loved it. I guess it was the first time I had people my own age who were interested
in the same things, and who could challenge me. It made me more interested in classes, and I thought I was beginning
to turn things around. Then came the class trip to Morocco, I was gang raped, and I got a crash course about depression
and what it does to you -- big time.
"I guess I'd always had some tendency towards being depressed, although I thought things were okay
with me. When I knew I wasn't okay, I learned right away what depression does to your ability to focus and your judgement.
I guess they never were quite as much under control as I'd thought. Outside of school, hey, no probs. I didn't
really have to work at anything. Socializing and having fun came easily to me, so nobody -- least of all me -- through
depression could explain anything.
"After Morocco, I found I'd always be able to see the worst possbile outcome, and I'd take it
for granted that the worst outcome was the only possible one. I'd then panic, trying to do anything to avoid a fate
I assumed would happen for sure. Of course, that would just make it worse.
"That's come out in so many ways. If I hurt somebody, and I could be hurtful, I'd be sure they'd
never forgive me. I'd often start thinking I'd hurt somebody when I hadn't. When I had my worst days,
I guess I really didn't think I was ever worthy of being forgiven. Those wre the days when I really felt if I killed
myself, nobody would notice or care, until my extravagant bills weren't paid. Because I was so unhappy with myself,
I really would take it out on anybody who touched a sore point. You see? Doing exactly the things guaranteed to
make it worse!
"That's why I began skipping classes again, and drinking too much, and doing drugs. I always
seemed to be such an outsider, and I didn't want to be. If everyone else was doing meth, or smoking a toke, I didn't
want to be on the outside, not part of the gang. Of course, I'd fall further behind in class. I was overwhelmed
with the sheer amount of stuff they threw at me every day. I'd panic because I was sure I could never master enough
to get by, and I'd flee. Then I'd just feel worse, and the only thing which could pull me out was being with friends.
"Anyway, that's one good thing about going to UW; I did have friends. It would have been
a lot worse anywhere else. I don't think I would have lasted even as long as I did had I'd gone somewhere else.
It was the closest to home I could find.
"Well, that's all I ever talked about with my therapist -- my belief that I was blowing my academic
year -- and we never did get beyond that one topic."
He fell silent again for a few seconds, and took another drink.
"I guess that had a lot to do with my dying, but it's also why my last few days of life were so beautiful."
|Matt graduated at TASIS in 1995.
Matt Talks about His Last Days of Life
"Which would you like to talk about first?"
"My days in the hospital.
"Once they loaded me into the ambulance, I was on life-support systmes, and I knew I wouldn't have to fight to keep
breathing. Of course, every time they moved me, the pain was terrific, but I found I could stand it. As I told
you, that really surprised me. I was being cared for, and I didn't have to worry any more, so I took it better
than I could ever have believed I could.
"Then I'd been up for 36 hours straight, and working pretty heard for eighteen of them. What else would I do?
"At some point that night, I knew Tina and Phil Labrie were there, that Walter Boulden had come, and that my uncles and
aunts were there as well I think I just would wake up for an instant when I heard a new voice, and then go back to sleep
again. I don't know what I was dreaming of, but they were happy ones.
"I don't know when I next became aware of anything, but when I did, I felt more peaceful and happy than I'd felt in years.
I guess they'd cleaned me up well. Actually, I've never seen how I looked when they found me. The sheets
were cool and clean, and did I ever appreciate them. I didn't even notice all the tubes! I did notice my visitors,
and...how do I describe this?
"On the one hand, I could see how much they were hurting. On the other, I was so pleased, so pleased to hear them.
I knew this was 'farewell', but I was happy we were going to get that chance.
"I could hear them tell me that Mom, Dad, and Logan were coming. I heard them talk about the enormous number of
calls and flowers that were beginning to arrive.
"At the same time, I was so happy and so sad.
"For the first time in my life, I really began to think I hadn't done too badly with my life after all, that I had mattered,
that I hadn't just been a waste of oxygen. But I also began to feel I was going to be carrying expectations that I couldn't
possibly live up to. I was just one guy, trying his best, and I was very uncomfortable with the idea that people were
making me into some kind of hero. I knew there were other parts of me, and I was afraid people would
hate me when they found out just how many faults I really had.
"But I'll tell you, I didn't feel too strongly that way then.
"I knew I just had to thank Aaron K, and that night, I did something I'd never done before: I left my body. At
first, I was really afraid, because I thought I might not be able to come back, and I wasn't ready to die yet. But I
did go and visit him as he was dreaming, to try and thank him and do what I could to comfort him. I wish I'd done a
better job of it. He's still in pretty bad shape.
"After that, if I wasn't sleeping, I found I could leave my body. For the remaining three days, I'd try to sit
in the room with my visitors and comfort them. I knew I was going to be all right, and I couldn't be hurt any more.
But they could be, and it wasn't clear to me that they'd be all right.
"Mom and Dad arrived on Friday, and I've already told you the story of their arrival. That was the first day I
think I ever understood Dad. We weren't ever good at communicating with each other, and didn't do well at saying what
we really felt for each other. I always loved Dad, and I always respected him, but I was always a little afraid of him,
and sometimes quite a lot afraid of him. I felt he expected great things of me, and I felt I always fell far short of
what he though I could do. I could give both him and Mom some really hard times. I could be quite a little brat.
"When he came in, and took my hand, and I saw he hoped I could react to his touch, I first began to understand how he
felt about me, how much he'd tried to understand me, how he'd tried to leave me enough space that I would find my
way in my own way in my own way, and try to be nobody other than myself. Mom. I always felt, I did understand, and I
knew she did understand me. That's even when I had my doubts.
"I can't tell you how proud I am of them.
"Brian had come from Denver the night before, as we'd originally planned, and he stayed until he had to go back to work
on Sunday. Many others came to see me, people who'd always been good to me. I hadn't thought I'd been all that
good to them, and it meant a lot to me to see that I'd been wrong about that.
"But I really missed Logan. I'd heard he was coming with Mom and Dad, and I pretty much figured it out that he
was in Fort Collins. I guess he didn't want to see me in any way than the way he'd known me. He finally came on
Sunday, and when he did, I felt I'd accomplished everything I was meant to do. As Logan and Mom were holding my hands
late Sunday night, I heard them begin to talk about how long they should keep me on life-support systems. My parish
priest was there Saturday night to give me the last rites, so I felt I was ready as I was ever going to get. I
just let go and died. It was very easy. For me, it was like going to sleep, but just knowing and feeling
everything in me was closing down. I actually could feel my blood pressure falling, then the ultimate out of body experience!"
With the last few sentences, Matt had been smiling at the memory. He resumed a serious look.
"I missed part of the story. Of course, I was aware of all the vigils and everything. As I said, I really
began to feel the weight of being a public figure. I couldn't live; I couldn't recover. I wasn't going to
do anything but disappoint an awful lot of people, and I didn't know whether they'd ever accept me as I had been, rather
than what they wanted me to be.
"I feel a lot better about it now. It was very hard for my family to become public figures themselves.
It was hard for them to try and tell the whole truth about me as best as they could, but they were right to do it. Oddly,
it becomes easier for people to do things for me, and for them, and the many friends I made before and after I died...that
they know about all my sides, as well as much as anybody can. That includes me. I'm still learning a lot myself.
That doesn't stop just because you die."
"Matt, if I could change the topic to something less important, what about the sex and the Lambourghini?"
Matt roared with laughter at that one. "Hey, you've let that tape run out! Why don't you flip it over?
I'm not done yet!
"Beth Whatsit sure has a powerful imagination!
"Sex is a little bit difficult if you don't have a body! Well, I guess I still have one, even if it's a pile of
ashes, which will eventually feed a few worms, and specializes in pushin up daisies. I guess, since I was a Chrisitian
in life, I expect I'll get it back eventually...in a better form, I'm told. But...well, there isn't any way to describe
what it's like. My new existence is so completely different that nobody in my old one could understand it...or describe
"Again, I can't interfere with your own beliefs, so you'll have to use your imagination. Have a look at some of
those Bibilical texts you've heard about, and read a few of the greater mystical writers. Both of your household of
faith and others. You'll have to work it out yourself, but all you'll get is a direction or a hint. It's beyond
you. If you experience it, you'd have to die. You'll understand eventually."
He sat back, taking a contented swallow, and then began to laugh again.
"The Lambourghini! He, he he. Y'know I could easily have had any number of sugar daddies in life, let me
tell you. I deliberately took some paths which were highly unlikely to lead to Lambourghinis Of course, if I needed
one to be perfectly happy, I'd had one, but I get around pretty fast without one."
He took another hard pull at the Guinness.
"Let me try it this way. I've already said I had a foretaste of Heaven when I was happy with good friends.
That's part of it.
"Sex? Why don't you ask your married friends? It is another kind of foretaste of Heaven. I'm afraid,
though, that it can be a foretaste of another place. I guess I had both in life. It depends how you use it.
"I really can't say more."
"Since you've mentioned another place, there's some who say you're there."
"Like Freddy? I mean, Mr Phelps?
"I actually spend quite a lot of time with him and his flock. A great deal more than he'd really like, but he DOES
insist on calling me.
"Hey, you've read 'The Laramie Project'. What did that Baptist minister say about me?"
"That he hoped that even if it was in the last instant of life, you reflected on your life, and opened yourself up to
"That's pretty much the way I feel about them. They're very unhappy people, very unhappy. They seem to think
it's their obligation to make everybody share their unhappiness. They really don't know what they're doing to themselves.
"As things are, as he sees them, he's right; where I am he would be as utterly and perfectly unhappy as I am happy.
Because he'd be unhappy, he'd be sure everybody else would be. It works both ways, because where he'd would wish to
be, you and I and nearly everybody would be miserable.
"That even applies to temperatures. He would think I'm dwelling in flames. Hey, what's that you Catholics
call the Holy Ghost in that second verse of 'Veni Creator Spiritus'?"
"The font of life and fire of love, and sweet annointing from above."
"Well, I see to read something about tongues of fire in the Book of Acts on Pentacost: 'The fire of Love',
That's good, really good.
"From his point of view, I guess I am in the midst of flames. He just doesn't know their meaning. But to
me, he is in such a cold as you could not imagine. Much colder than the that night I spent outside...a really, deadly
cold. Maybe your man Dante got the closest when he described the lowest level of a certain place. Of course, he
wouldn't see it that way.
"He came to me, not me to him, and he won't let go of me. At the same time, he can't stand the sight of me.
That's not my wish. No, the Baptist minister said it pretty well how I felt."
"Well, Matt. We've avoided the events which led up to your being on the fence."
Again, that glorious smile.
"That'll cost you another Guinness. As you were saying to She Whose Name Must Never Be Mentioned, you're not getting
off that easily! Besdies, I'm enjoying the music too much!"
|Aaron Kreifels never got over the trauma.
|He's become a public figure as an addict.
How Matt Got on the Fencepost
I went to the kitchen, retrieved anothe two cans, and poured them out.
"As you see," said Matt. "I'm learning to be Irish! Can't stop talking. Before I forget, your Mom says 'Hi'. She also tells
you to sew a few buttons on your shirts."
"Um...yeah, I guess I should. Just how badly do you want to talk about this?"
"Believe me, I don't mind. Maybe it's an old story by now, but, what the heck?
"I really wasn't having a good day. Well, maybe it started out okay, until I got a good stiff dose of reality.
"I went to class and remembered I had a French exam the next day. I had a major panic attack.. I hadn't done
any studying at all in that course, and I suddenly realized I wasn't at all prepared.
"It was Walter's birthday..."
"Walter Boulden, right?"
"Right. We were supposed to go out for dinner and a movie. By the way, before you or anybody else gets any
wrong ideas, Walter was a second father to me. He'd been a great friend since I was 15, and I found I could talk
to him about being gay, and so on, without being afraid, until I finally felt able to tell my own family. He was
the one who persuaded me to try the University of Wyoming. I hope he doesn't think that was a mistake. It wasn't.
I wouldn't have been any safer anywhere else.
"When I had other down days, I could go to Walter's office or apartment, and just sit, and pull myself together.
As you'll see, I didn't feel able to do that on that particular day.
"As soon as classes were over, I phoned him to cancel our date, telling him I had to study. Walter was really good
about it, but I didn't feel that way. I assumed he'd be hurt and offended becasue I'd jamtarted on him. Then I
began to be sure he was angry at me. Then I started thinking he'd never forgive me. It didn't take me very long
before I thought I'd completely and hopelessly lost him as a friend.
"I now know that I wasn't thinking right2. I didn't know that then, and, even to the extent that I did understand
that I wasn't okay, I didn't really understand how far out I really was.
"Anyway, I tried to study. I think it was then that I shut my cellphone off, but I'm not sure. It was hopeless.
Of course, I was too far behind, and nothing would go in. If you'd said 'Bonjour' to me, I'd have frozen right there."
"So, it wouldn't have helped had a large gentleman materialized several hours later, speaking German?" (definitely in
a parallel universe)
"Gosh, no, not the way I was feeling then. I doubt that I could have figured out 'Guten Tag'!
"Things got worse and worse. I just knew, just knew I'd fail that exam...and just as certain, I'd fail everything
else. I'd be thrown out of the university for sure, and I'd lose all the friends I was making. My family would
certainly hate and disown me. All I did was cost them piles of money, of which I was spending far too much. I'd
never have the chance to be at school with Logan again, and I'd be back to being a telemarketer (a job I really got to hate)
the rest of my life, and on, and on, and on I went like that.
"I didn't dare phone Walter, or go to his place, because I was sure I'd mortally offended him. I thought all
my relatives would be just as angry as I was sure Mom and Dad would be one they'd heard. I thought everybody at school
would be studying, and not want to be bothered, and so it went. Then I went on to thinking what a hopeless failure I
"It was when I began thinking it'd be easier to overdose on my tranquilizers (such as Klonoprin), and nobody would mind
or care, or even notice,...that I realized that if I didn't get out FAST, I just might try overdosing.
"I still don't understand why I didn't turn on my cellphone, or call any number of people. I can only think that
I was sure that anybody who knew me would have nothing to do with me -- but that's a guess. If you'd asked me on
the day itself, I sure couldn't have told you why.
"So I went to a lounge called 'The Library'. I met a couple of girls I hadn't known before, and we got to talking
for a while. I began to feel better. I thought the girls and I could take Doc O'Connor's limousine to another
lounge, but he had a meeting of a club he was involved with, and asked me to call back. I should have, just because
I could talk to him, which is what I needed. Anyway, you can certainly see how far exams were on my my mind by then,
and a lot of other things, too. I completely forgot I'd promised to phone him back.
"The girls had to study, and they called it a night. I was feeling a little better, and I remembered the LGBT Union
was meeting that night, and it would soon start. Well, I still knew I was good at one thing, and that was politics.
So I knew I'd be right to go there. They were pretty surprised to see me. I'd told Jim Osborne that I wouldn't
"He was the president of the club?"
"Yeah, right. I still felt shaky, and I didnt know a number of the people there, so I was pretty quiet. Jim
talked a little bit about the need we all had to look after our personal safety. Didn't register too well with me, did
it? I guess not much was registering with me. We talked about Gay Awareness Week, and I began coming out a little.
I mean out of myself, of course, not the closet!"
He smiled at that last comment.
"When the meeting ended, we went for coffee. I really, really wanted to stay with the people there, but they all
had to study., and I couldn't persuade anybody to go out for a drink with me. One of the girls gave me a ride home.
"I didn't stay there long. What I did do, I got right. Stella's purring; she must approve of my remembering
to feed the cat. I noticed it was getting a little chilly, so I put on a sports coat. I guess those are the only
two things I got right all day.
"I can't think of why I didn't take my cellphone, or why it was still off. It was charged up. If I had been
thinking at all properly, there were any number of people who'd be glad to hear from me, and my grandfather was trying to
call me, anyway. Doc O'Connor was expecting a call from me, but then I wasn't thinking properly, if I was thinking
at all. All I could think of was that I was afraid of being by myself. I don't know what I was afraid of; I just
knew it couldn't be good. I was having another panic attack.
:"'The Library' lounge had been pretty empty, so I wouldn't go back there. As it turns out, maybe it wouldn't have
mattered. Aaron McKinney and Russell Henderson were there when I went out. They didn't get to 'The Fireside' until
quite a bit later. I guess they were going to get me no matter what I did, other than staying home, of course.
"I thought I'd try 'The Fireside' because a lot of students also hung out there, and I liked the staff. I'd become
a bit of a regular there.
"It was pretty empty, too. At least of people I could talk to. There were about 25 people in the karaoke
section, but I couldn't recognized anybody there, and I wasn't in a singing and dancing mood. There was one guy at a
table by himself in the lounge area, and I asked him if I could join him. He said it was okay, but we didn't have much
to talk about. For some reason, I thought he might be gay. I quickly learned that he wasn't, but not before I'd
made him a little uncomfortable. That surely didn't do much for my ego. I should have recognized that my gaydar
wasn't working too well, Of course, not too much else was.
"So, we sat there in silence for some time, and then I went up to the bar. I'd seen the bartender, Matt Galloway,
before, and we talked a little. He's a good guy, but he was very busy washing and cleaning up. I began to settle
down, and began to feel more secure. The karaoke crowd was going home a little early, and my engineering friend looked
as if he was going to leave soon, before I had a chance to make up to him.
"I don't recall seeing Russ and Aaron M coming into the bar. I did see they were playing pool somewhere along the
way. The place was emptying out, and they were quickly becoming the only other customers. I saw them go into the
men's washroom together, stay for 10-15 minutes, and come out together. So I felt sure they were a gay couple.
Shows what I know, doesn't it?
"Soon after, Russ came up to the bar, where I was sitting, and introduced himself. He said he and Aaron were from
California and wanted to know what was good in Laramie. Well, Matt was working hard at the bar, and it was a chance
to talk to somebody AT LAST. The engineering student came up to pay his bill, and while saying 'good night' to him,
I added something about the night getting better for both of us. He seemed to take this pretty well. Then Russ
was bringing Aaron over, and asking me to meet him."
Matt was now gazing very, very hard into his glass.
"Maybe it would have been better if I had been drunk. I was feeling the effects, no doubt about it, but I wasn't drunk.
If I had been, I would likely have gotten louder and noisier, and maybe I might have said something which would have
spoiled their act...but I wasn't. I was just calming down, and feeling relaxed."
He shook his head.
"They weren't very good actors. I still don't know why I didn't figure them out. I still don't understand."
He looked at the glass again for a while, before saying anything more.
"The next halfhour was about the only time of the day when I really began to feel good. They said they were gay,
and they asked whether I was. Well, that's something I never denied if I was asked....not in all my life. They
said more about being from California, and not knowing the area. I at once began to think of places and contacts which
might interest them. They seemed very interested. Mind you, that meant that they didn't have to say much.
When they did, Russ did most of the talking.
"Eventually, I suggested that we could meet the following day, and I'd show them around town. They seemed to think
this was a good idea. I'd noticed it had been getting chilly, and it was a pretty long walk home, so I asked if they'd
mind giving me a ride. Of couse, they agreed.
"You do that all the time in Wyoming. Even if you don't know somebody, you will before long. I wasn't being
quite as reckless as you might think.
"For the next five minutes, I was feeling happy. I'd made two new friends, and would be helping them out the following
day. They went out ahead of me, while I borrowed a cigarette from the DJ there."
A long heavy sigh
"I never did get to smoke that cigarette."
"Matt, how badly do you want to go any further?"
"I don't mind at all. Actually, from my point of view, there isn't much to tell."
|Billy Jack Gaither, killed in Alabama in 1999
|because he was gay!
"We'd gone some distance when I noticed Russ wasn't turning where he should have. We were all
jammed in pretty tightly, and I guess I lifted my right hand to give him a direction. Aaron suddenly screamed somthing
about keeping my hand off his crotch, and that they weren't gay, and I was being jacked. He hit me with that gun for
the first time. I was too shocked to move, so he hit me because I wasn't moving. Then he hit me because I
was too slow getting my wallet out, and then because there was only $20 in it, and then it'd be something else.
"I have no idea how many times he hit me with the gun. I wasn't counting. He says five
or six times, and the pathologist who examined me afterwards thinks he hit me at least 21 times. Either could be true
for all I know. For me, the first moment was the very worst. I tried to shield myself, tried to fight him off,
tried anything I could do to persuade him to stop. They'd know better what I said than I do. I was terrified,
shocked, and hurt, and I couldn't believe the pain. I never thought there was so much pain in this world.
"They tell me that I had six different skull fractures. I suffered five of them when I
was in the truck.
"I can't recall anything about the drive into the countryside, and I didn't know where I was
until much later. Once they began attacking me, the trip seemed to go on forever, but when they stopped the truck, I
was wishing they'd go on. I didn't know what they were going to do with me, but I knew it couldn't be good. When
they tried to drag me out, I grabbed ahold of whatever I could to try and stay in. I guess I left a lot of me in the
truck, and I took a pretty good chunk of the floor covering out with me.
"I tried to run, but I was never a very fast runner anyway. Besides, I was bleeding very
badly, not really able to see well, and in shock. Russ caught me right away. He held me, and Aaron punched me,
telling me not to try that again. I didn't feel any of the punches; my head was hurting so much.
"When Russ let me go, I just fell on a heap on the ground, begging them to stop and leave me alone. I
didn't put up any resistance when they carried me to the fence, or while Russ tied my hands to the post. Aaron kicked
me in the legs and groin while Russ was doing it, and he took my shoes off.
"When he did that, I flashed back to the time I was raped in Morocco. I was sure they were
doing that to me all over again. I began screaming then, just screaming, until Aaron asked if I could read their license
"Matt, what DID happen?"
"Once Russ finished tying me up, he got the first good look at me since the attack began. I
heard him gasp at what he saw. He pulled Aaron off, saying I couldn't take any more. Aaron turned around and hit
him, I think with the gun, but I'm not sure. Russ went back to the truck. If I hadn't thought so before, I
was now sure I was going to be killed.
"But Aaron stopped for an instant. Then he told me to turn my head so I couldn't read the truck's
license plate. I couldn't do much with my head but just let it hang. Moving it at all was incrdibly painful.
Then he asked if I could read it.
"I made a lot of bad mistakes all day, so it makes sense that I'd make another bad one. Billy
Jack Gaithers tells me that he did exactly what I then did.
"Actually, I couldn't read it, although I could tell it was a Wyoming plate. I don't know what
I actually said, but I know what I intended to say. I thought I could bargain with them. I meant to say
I knew they weren't from California, but if they'd leave me alone, I wouldn't tell anyone....not exactly the best idea I'd
had in my life.
"It's hard to explain. There's so many things nobody will ever know because I don't know myself.
I have no idea why I reacted that way. It was the first thing that came into my mind.
"Of course, you know the rest of the story."
"Not the happiest note to end on."
"It's certainly not the way I'd hoped I'd be remembered. Walter was right. I certainly
did become a great celebrity, but at far too high a price...and yet...
"My last few days, however bittersweet, were happy ones. I finally felt that my life had
been worth living, that the world was a better place for my having been in it. You Catholics might say that my sufferings
went a long way towards paying some pretty heavy debts I owed. It was only then that I understood how much people loved
me, and how much I mattered to them. Maybe that was the only way I could have found that out.
"And I didn't know the road which I didn't take. I don't know if I'd even have lived as
long as I did if I hadn't met those two guys. As I said, I've learned a lot from Bill Clayton.
"If I had lived, I might have done a lot of things worth regretting. I had my faults.
I cant tell you whether I would have overcome them, or they would have overcome me. Every once in a while, I think I
feel my halo slipping!"
Matt was smiling again.
"Well, actually I do know, but I still couldn't tell you. That would be meddling.
"I've really enjoyed this visit. Loved the Guinness, loved the music. I've had worse
company, but I must go."
"Any parting thought?"
"Yes, I just hope people learn to value their lives, and make the most of them. The best way
to honor my life is to live your own well. Hey, I know there's one piece you really like. Why don't you play it
for me before I go?"
"Which piece, Matt?"
"That recitative and chorus from Handel's 'The Triumph of Time and Truth': his own farewll
to the world, knowing he wouldn't be able to write any more music in this world, your world."
I pulled out the LP and played it. We both sat through it, reflecting on the words:
"Hear the call of truth and duty,
And to folly bid adieu,
Ere to dust is changed thy beauty,
Change thy heart and good pursue."
"I'll say hello to George Frideric for you, also to Cardinal Pamphili."
Matt carefully got out of the chair, taking care not to disturb Stella, who was happily slumbering
away. I got up to see him to the door. I put my arms around his shoulder and gave him what I hoped was a
brotherly or fatherly hug.
He smiled brightly and broadly; it again seemed with every part of his being.
"You didn't have to do that, but I really appreciate that. I get many more of those, even from
straight guys now. But there's no need to see me out. Once you let me in, doors are no barrier any more."
"Until next time?" I asked.
"Oh, absolutely, but in your dreams."
I woke up with a start: Quite a dream.
I turned the stereo back on (When did I turn it off?). The theme music for "Disc Drive" told
me it was three minutes after three. I hadn't been sleeping for more than eight minutes.
I did wonder how I'd managed to get from the blue swivel chair to the wooden rocker, played two sides
of a cassette, consumed six cans of Guinness out of two different glasses, put an LP on, and turn the stereo off again, all
the the space of eight minutes. Stella, who was happily sleeping on quite a warm spot on the blue swivel chari didn't
seem interested in enlightening me....
|Matt in a dorm at TASIS
|He looks scared!