Wednesday, December 3, 2008

A Birthday

Monday the 1st of December would have been the 32nd birthday of my brother, Matt.  It used to be a day that I would wake up in a good mood and happy and excited to call him and happy to hear his voice and hear about plans for his birthday.   We didn’t get as many chances to talk as we would’ve liked, cell phones weren’t yet available, and I was in a private school with limited time to use the phones, but this day was always one I could count on, to catch up with him and trade life stories.

He was killed 10 years ago before he would’ve turned 22 in 1998.  Everyone was worried for my well being after he was killed, they were worried that I would retreat into myself, but that never really happened until his birthday came around and it dawned on me that I would never be able to have a birthday talk with him again and never get to grow old or ask for advice or just tell him how my day was going.  From that day forward I knew it would be a difficult day for me in the future along with the second week of October. 

I never really thought it would affect me like that.  I thought I was stronger than I actually was.  It was that day that I believe, I began a 10-year construction project.  I did not know it at the time, but as days, weeks, and even months went by, I started to slowly realize that I was building a wall around myself.  I wasn’t sure what the implications or effects of what I was doing would be.  I started to toughen my mind on accident, by thinking about what had happened and replaying everything that I had seen at the funeral and in the media through my mind a 100 times a day it seemed like.  It was a never-ending stream of thoughts that a 17-18 year old should not have to think about, especially during a senior year.  Unfortunately, it was reality for me.  The people I knew probably didn’t notice, but those I didn’t know, I immediately didn’t trust and pushed them to the outside of my thoughts and basically ignored people.

When the time came for me to graduate, I had already built a wall that was so impenetrable that I wouldn’t even let my parents into my thoughts.  It was my way of defending myself against everything possible, which was not a healthy way to live, but it allowed me to survive my years in Laramie during the trials, during the protests at sports games, during class discussions which no one even knew who I was, yet we were discussing my family and my brother right in front of me.  This wall allowed me to get through some very tough years, and it may have even given strength to my friends and peers to see me handle it the way I did.  Thinking back though, it really handicapped me from getting to know more people and building better relationships, it turned me into a solitary person.

I would always trudge through the year and not think about anything anymore, just thinking about my next task and even if I didn’t realize that those days were just around the corner, subconsciously my mind was already at work preparing me and somehow changing my mentality into solid wall again.  For those few days a year I would be impossible to talk to, distrustful of everyone I met, it took a life of its own and eventually I distrusted everyone I didn’t know, always wondering if they knew who I was and taking pity on me, or if they were actually just trying to be friendly. 

Over the last 3 years I’ve been able to deconstruct a little bit and open myself back up to the world a little at a time.  I’ve been able to look back and realize that what I did wasn’t to protect me from the hurtful world around me.  I was actually trying to preserve my relationship with my brother and keep all of my memories and good times to myself for only me to know.  The whole world knew how he died, but I only know how he lived and that was mine for me and no one else.  It was those thoughts that actually helped me survive, but it was also the thought of losing them that built the wall.  I buried all of those good thoughts and memories underneath the bad ones trying to make sure they wouldn’t get out.  Well those memories started to escape and I didn’t realize it until recently.  Those memories are escaping because I’ve hidden them for the last 10 years and now I don’t know how to go back and find them, I’ve focused on so much bad in the world while trying to protect myself, that I was forgetting and pushing all of the good memories deeper and deeper until I had forgotten them. 

It has made me realize that I did what I needed to do in order to survive without my parents around to protect me.  I was forced to quickly mature and grow up in such a short time, that I didn’t know what I was doing.  It was the wrong way to go about it.  I should’ve blocked the bad things with my thoughts and memories that made me happy, I shouldn’t have built a wall, I should have let people into my world and my life and asked for support.  I never thought a birthday would affect me the way it did, but it’s those little things in life that you need to cherish, the family traditions you might think odd.  They may be odd, but it is something you do together.  Weekly phone calls, or lunch/dinner dates, holidays, birthdays, or yearly vacations, something you and your loved ones and friends do that is unique to your relationship.  Cherish them, because life is precious, life is short, and the unexpected can happen in the blink of an eye.  Talk about those memories; share those silly family quirks and traditions that make you laugh.  Don’t hold them in and don’t bury them or they may slip between the cracks and be lost forever.  Always be quick to solve conflicts, and use your family and friends for support, it’s a hard and long life to go through it alone.

The last time I was able to wish Matt a Happy Birthday was 11 years ago, but I would like to end this by saying Happy 32nd birthday, I love and miss you always.


Henri said...

Bonjour Logan !
Oui, nous aussi nous pensons trés fort à Matthew en ce jour d'anniversaire ! Nous pensons à lui tous les jours car sa photo est accrochée au mur , chez nous ! Mais nous pensons aussi trés fort à vous aussi et nous embrassons trés fort tes parents! Oui, la vie est trés courte et nous ne profitons pas assez des moments de bonheur que nous avons ! Il ne se passe pas un jour sans que je dise à ma fille Blandine combien je l'aime trés fort: c'est un conseil qui me rappelle ta famille, tes parents, Matthew ! En voyant ma fille, je pense souvent à ton frère. Je regrette, comme des milliers de personnes de ne l'avoir pas connu ! J'essaye de chasser la haine autant que je peux de ma vie... et certains jours, ce n'est pas simple ! Nous sommes de tout coeur avec vous et je sais que, peu à peu, tu brisera totalement ce mur autour de toi! Matthew est dans nos pensées et prières trés trés trés souvent! A bientot!
Blandine et Henri (France)

Alecia Ludwick-Jones said...

Sad to see I'm the first to leave a comment on this post. Just found the blog...Matt's birthday did not go unnoticed by me. I hope you'll keep blogging.

Bobby von Furstenberg said...

I know there is nothing anyone can say to alleviate the pain that I'm sure thinking about Matthew's death must bring, but the amazing social change and increase in awareness and tolerance brought about by his death is touching beyond words. Matt's story of living without fear or regret gave me the courage to be honest with myself. This blog, and all of the work you and your family are doing, is a very fitting tribute to Matt's memory. I know I never knew him personally, but I think he would be proud of you all. Thank you SO much for sharing your thoughts with us.

beaudodson said...

Thank you for sharing your story. I am glad to hear that you are able to talk about everything that happened.

I know it is difficult. Hopefully, through sharing, you will be able to touch other peoples lives.


Laura D. said...

Love ya Logan...

Anonymous said...

Logan, I just came back to check on your blog. Every year, Matt's birthday goes on my mainsite. It IS his 32nd birthday, for he was born on that Wednesday in 1976. His death does not change his birthday.
As for your regrets, don't fret over them. You needed that time to grieve, and to sort out your feelings. Matt would give you the time as well. I would have done the same had Matt been my big brother.
When I learned of Matt and his story, I took the view of your father. I felt as if Matt had been my son and snatched away. It was the first time I knew I had paternal instincts.
Although I don't know if you also became an Episcopalian, I am certain that Matt is very happy in the afterlife, and he let me know back in 2000. I met some nice people at Matthew's Place. Some have already gone to see Matt, which I hope to do around 2045.

Kathleen said...

I am an ally. I am an ally that goes out on the limb for GLBT people and often times hears and feels someone sawing the limb. Staying out on the limb is what I will continue to do. I do teacher trainings around the Mid-West. One of my classes is called “That’s so Gay” is not OK. Pointing out to teachers that this phrase is not just trivialized slang, but a barb that can go deep into students’ hearts and souls. It is not just the gay kids that are affected but kids who have gay siblings, parents and friends as well. We cannot let this go on in our classrooms. We must create a safe environment in which all students can learn.

I applaud you for stepping out of your shadow and I hope you are feeling a bit of sunshine on your face. The blog you have started is awesome. You will never know how much impact it will have. Just think, if one gay youth, sibling or parent is impacted in a positive way, you have achieved something unmeasurable. Your brother’s death was a travesty but your family has found the strength to embrace Matthew’s death and honored his life. I have had the distinct honor of hearing your mom speak twice. Words cannot express how deeply she touched my soul and has given me the courage to continue do the work I do. I also have a gay son. You and your family have made this place a better world in which he can live. I champion the rights of “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness” not only for my son, who has had love and acceptance from the time he was 16 when we found out he was gay, but for those who do not. I am trying to convert the world one person at a time. That is hard for me, as patience is not my strong suit.

In conclusion, thank you for your courage to share. Your blog will be added to my resource list. With allies like you we can convert the world to be a place where all people are respected for who they are not who they love.

Anonymous said...

Dear Logan,

December first will always be a day that I too will never live down. I learned to push the bad memories out but sometimes we can't help but think of them.

It was shortly after I heard Matthew's story I learned December 1st was his birthday. That day is also my birthday, and on my twelfth a friend of mine killed himself. I never knew Matt, but I feel I would've had alot in common with him.

I truly hope you can reclaim those happy memories, and remember your brother for who he was.

Jackie Dean Jensen

It is the question said...

Hey Logan

I wrote this up recently after visiting the US and remembering your brother. It's too long to post fully, so I've posted an excerpt with the link on my name below to the full entry.

I can only imagine what you went through, and continue to go through as a family.


How do you handle a fundamentalist in the family?
I've just made my first visit to the US west coast. My cousins live just outside LA and it has been ten years since I saw them last.
It was really good to see them, but I left heart sore. R is actually my mom's cousin and a strictly practicing Seventh Day Adventist. Basically that means they follow the bible really strictly including the laws applying to Judaism.
It is easy to disapprove of R and his views. His brand of Christian fundamentalism that includes believing we are in the final days of the world is easy to rebel against and even hate. But if you met him, you’d find him to be the nicest guy. And the way his kids have turned out speak volumes for the upbringing he and his wife have provided. His life has been complicated by violence no one should endure.
It is obvious R has suspicions I might be gay. 35, eligible and single is almost a diagnosis these days. He joked about me headed towards San Francisco. To his credit, he did say it was up to gay people but he didn’t like the way they foisted their lifestyle on others. His kids also played me a song by D’s step-brother. Ray remarked that he had been on “Elton John’s ticket but had a conversion experience.”


I am not religious. I was brought up in a practicing Christian family, and now describe myself as spiritual. The God I grew up with is different to R’s. Jesus went out of his way to be with the outcasts and socially undesirables. Not because they were less worthy or more special – because they were also God’s children. Jesus spared judgment, warning that it was dangerous to judge others with a log in your own eye, i.e. that it is impossible to judge fairly and without imposing our own perceptions and experience. I cannot understand how fundamentalists miss this: that bigotry and judgment is in itself a sin. I vividly remember being in New York on my first visit to the US. I woke up and turned on the hotel room TV to watch CNN news. Matt Shepard, a beautiful gay kid had been murdered in Laramie. As the story became clear, it emerged he had accepted a lift with two guys from a pub in the small town. They had taken him to a remote farm fence, tied him up and beaten him to a pulp. He had spent his dying hours in pain and utterly alone in the freezing night air. I cried tears of horror and compassion as I listened to the emerging facts. I felt cold and estranged from the US. Later I would see the reaction as Matt’s killers went to trial. Christian fundamentalist protesters standing outside the court bearing signs saying, “God hates fags.” I watched the debates on Larry King Live, with fundamentalists spewing hatred and nonsense about the health and other dangers gay people posed to society. I later watched Matt’s story in “The Laramie Project,” a movie about Matt’s life and death. As a closeted, confused bi guy, I could relate to Matt.
I don’t for a minute think R would be holding up a sign outside a courthouse. One morning, he asked me how I felt about the political situation of the world. I responded that I worked really hard and was probably unqualified to offer an opinion on some of the things he had told me (including an apparent example of Obama’s racism). Perhaps it was a cop out. Sometimes I believe you need to step away to get someone to come towards you. R responded, “No, I think we just have different experiences.” I nodded and said sadly, “Exactly. I believe we are fundamentally products of our experiences.” We agreed on that.