In a still and quiet night, Laramie is sleeping. The bars have closed, the homeless have vanished and the city is left to gophers and armadillos painting the night with a melody so benign that CDs are made of it and sold to you at Target.
Laramie is a college town and since the University of Wyoming has not started fall classes the town is desolate. We watched the sun fall waiting for someone to open the door of the mosque. The brother who greeted us was patient and left us a large meal to break our fast. His wife and daughter awaited him at home, so he rushed back to them after dropping off the food.
The Muslim community in Laramie is small. There are close to ten to fifteen families. The congregants that make up the majority of the community are international students studying from Libya and Saudi Arabia. The community got together and bought a run-down church and converted it into a mosque. Even now, the remnants of the stained glasses have been kept, paying an homage to its past.
After breaking our fast, I walked the streets to find Laramie.
The stillness can move you. The pitch dark can scare you. The Divine will demand to be remembered. The cold weather will test you and the wind that blows will ask – if you can accept the city for what it is and not what you want it to be. It will ask you to look past the bleak history that taints the empty streets and closed bars. It will plead you to move on from the tragic killing of Matthew Shepard and find something deeper.
But how can one look over such a tragic killing? In 1988, two men were giving Matthew Shepard a ride home, when they instead took him to a field and tied him to a fence. They broke his skull, cut his right ear and left him bleeding. His body was found 18 hours later by a cyclist. His killers confessed in court that they killed Shepard because of his sexual orientation.
Knowing this, how do you walk around a desolate, empty predominantly white folk town without prejudice? So when a man slows down his truck or when someone stares at you from their porch– how can you not be paranoid?
I have found a subtle side of America that is triumphed in abstract rock formations and desolate street corners. In broken shopping strip malls and 24hr Adult Stores. There is simplicity cemented in the mindless concrete and Laramie celebrates it. To understand it, you must meet her on her terms. You must find Happy Jack Summit, a majestic mountain summit or indulge in the echoes from the freight trains passing by downtown. At night, Laramie sleeps, but it is still breathing.