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.