I usually send a message your way on the 7th, but I know you'll forgive my tardiness; I've been sick with a cold. I've been thinking about you a lot lately; I always do this time of year. I still miss you, even after all these years. I miss seeing your smile on campus and getting a chance to talk to you about your Poli Sci class or the paper that's stressing you out. I miss the sparkle in your eye as we talk about the upcoming events for Gay Awareness Week. Did you know that it's now a whole month? I was just getting to know you when you left. I had hopes that you'd become an officer for the student group; you sure seemed to have leadership skills, personality, and enthusiasm.
So much has changed since then, and yet, at the same time, so much hasn't. Part of me wants to apologize for the things that haven't. I wish we had stronger laws today - I don't know that it would have made a difference or changed the outcome, but at least it would make a statement that what happened is not okay to us as a society. I wish that the government took people like us more seriously - or at least treated us as people. That you could hold any job for which you're qualified, live in any place you can afford, and visit your loved one in any hospital. Most of all, I wish you were still here. I'm sure there's more we could have done to make these things happen sooner, but I also know there's only so much we can do at once. And I know that they WILL happen.
I'm also proud of what we have done, though. Policies here HAVE changed, and we've come a long way since you were here. We've got a resource center now, and you should see how many students hang out there during the day. We go talk to a lot of classes every semester, and so many programs are firmly established now. What you must think of where we are. I often wonder how much of that we owe, at least in part, to you. I don't really have an answer, and I know it's not as simple as cause/effect relationships. Time and progress move on with or without us, but I know deep in my soul that you're a part of all this. Somehow, that knowledge helps a bit, though perhaps that's just mental defenses trying to rationalize and protect from pain.
It seems like someone is always asking me about you. Wanting to know more. Trying to understand. I hope I'm doing you justice; I worry about that all the time. I can only wonder what you'd say about something, how you'd react to this news or that event. I'm sorry that so many people have said such horrible things about you, but I also know that's nothing new to either of us. I'm sorry so many people have tried to twist the way you left - make it seem more justified...or somehow blame you. I've tried to give people the full story, but I can't force folks to listen and I can't stop rumors and misinformation from flying wildly. I've tried to do what I think is right, and what I think would represent you and your ideals. We both know I'm not alone - there are thousands of folks out there doing great work. How amazing is your mom?! She never ceases to amaze me.
It's not always easy. I admit that I get tired at times, and sometimes I just don't want to relive the horror, shock, and pain. When that happens, I try to think of your smile, your laugh, and the fact that you're not around to speak up for yourself. I know it's not my fault or my job, but I feel like someone ought to speak on your behalf. To tell people your story in the hopes that someone might be spared what you endured. That their hearts will be softened or lifted, and that hope and understanding will fill that space. That they'll be a little bit more like you. I know you weren't perfect, but I still look up to you. I won't get the chance to see what you could have done, but I hope that what I do makes you proud...and that you'll let me know somehow that your amazing smile is still here with me.
I miss you, Matt.
(In memorium, Matthew Shepard: Dec 1, 1976 - Oct 12, 1998)