I think Laramie gets a bad rap from the Matthew Shepard case, yet one that is also understandable and has an element of truth. I haven't been there much at all since 1977 – I think maybe three times, and it has undoubtedly changed a lot over the years.
The Laramie schools of my day were filled with animosity between "farmers" and "hippies," but the people I knew (especially the adults) tended to be honest, hard-working people. Yes, they had a code that they lived by, and by that code I would have been a real freak had I allowed myself to be recognized for it. Yet I also find much to respect and honor in that code and those people. I think there was also a strain of tolerance that went deep. The people there didn't like others dictating their lives, and they had, mostly, a real "live and let live" attitude. The adults would have thought I was a freak, but most of them would have shrugged their shoulders and said something like, "To each his own."
Meanwhile, the land etched itself into my soul. When I think of Laramie, I think much more of the land than the people, because the land dominated the people. In my mind, I mostly see Laramie as a thin dark line far across the prairie, in the shadow of the Laramie Range, from a rocky outcrop on Jelm Mountain – my backyard playground from the age of about 10 to 16. I think of the antelope flashing their white butts and dashing away. Mule deer bucks fighting over a doe. The wind howling across the plains and covering them in a moving blanket of snow three feet high during ground blizzards. The incredible feast of stars on a moonless winter night. Laramie is 7500 feet high, close to 8000 where I grew up, and the stars there are incredible. The Milky Way was my companion, a white path across the sky, and not the pathetic pale splotch it is around here.
The truth is, I was a lonely child. My cat and my horse were my best companions, my best friends. With them, it didn't matter who I was – or what. It didn't even matter that I didn't know. I was certainly alienated from the people around me. When we moved in 1977, I never had one person I was tempted to write, except the old rancher who taught me woodworking in 4-H. Certainly no friends of my own age. I didn't make friendships, didn't even know what they were.
As I write this, I realize that perhaps the social aspect is crueler than I understood, or understand today. I think for me, Laramie is a place, and not the people who reside there. And it's a place I love deeply. So I have this deep ambivalence. Laramie, for me, was a social hell, and a spiritual paradise.