“I know this is totally unrealistic, but I have a small feeling of paranoia about some sort of shooting.”
I spoke it feeling a little foolish, and with a bit of a nervous laugh. I said it to my friend as we were heading out the door to go to a concert in downtown Orlando, on Saturday evening. Upon hearing about the death of Christina Grimmie after she performed at a concert in Orlando, I was just a tad nervous that I was going to a concert in Orlando, just the night after she was killed. I thought I was being stupid, fearful, and plain paranoid. But I couldn’t shake the feeling, as I was afraid that someone, some hateful person with access to a gun, would get inspired to walk into a concert and murder people.
But then, my friend pointed out that the venue we were going to was far from the other venue, and she also mentioned how downtown is crawling with cops. When we got downtown, I saw an officer outside of the venue and we went through security, so that tiny, nervous little feeling was soothed. I even forgot enough to go out to a couple of bars after the concert, before deciding to leave downtown early, just before midnight.
Never, ever, ever could I have possibly imagined that there actually would be a shooting in Orlando that night. Certainly not a massacre of the worst of its kind in American history. No, it wasn’t at a concert, but it was also in a place designed to bring people together for fun, for friends, for love, and pure joy: Pulse, a gay nightclub.
The Orlando Nightclub Shooting, resulting in at least 50 deaths, and 53 people wounded.
The Orlando shooting.
Orlando. My hometown, the city where I was born and raised. Where I spent my college years, and moved back to after living less than two years away.
I can’t get my mind around it; it is simply unreal. Shock, stunned, helpless. My mind is buzzing, numb. I can’t focus on anything. When I do, I feel sick, and tears come to my eyes, so it’s better not to focus.
Like many who have been affected by acts of terror, I’ve found myself hooked to social media, and to news outlets. I am continuously searching for more updates, for breaking news, for information, trying to make sense of it all. It is with relief that none of my friends were at Pulse, but it is literally nauseating each time I see a friend on Facebook asking for thoughts, and prayers about their relatives, whom they haven’t heard from since the shooting.
But even as I read the headlines, the press releases, and the articles, my eyes skim over the name of my hometown, refusing to believe it actually is Orlando, my Orlando. Each time Obama said Orlando in his speech, it felt absurd that he meant Orlando, Florida, the city where I fell in love in, where I took my first steps as a baby, where I got married, and where I met my best friends.
I feel a disconnect to the rest of the nation, to the rest of the world, because all of my thoughts are centered around Orlando.
But this isn’t about how I was out in Orlando’s downtown, just two hours and a mile away from where the shooting happened, nor is it about how it happened in my hometown.
It isn’t about gun laws, although having access to assault rifles is simply ridiculous, and defies common sense.
This isn’t about extremism, or how being an extremist of any sect is dangerous, and oftentimes hateful.
I’m not even making this about hate, and what hating a person, a group, or a community, can do.
This is about love. That’s all it is. Love is love, and it will always win. Everyone is capable of it, and everyone has a right to it.
This is about how blood bank centers in Orlando literally had lines out the door, down the block, around the corner. How shortly after 12:00, just over seven hours after the hostage situation was over, I was turned away for giving blood, because all blood banks were at capacity, due to the high volume of people showing up, wanting to give blood, to do something, anything to help. This is about how Pulse was co-founded by the sister of a man who died of AIDS; how it was meant to be a safe haven, a place where the LGBTQ community would be welcomed. This is about the men and women who died and were injured in the Pulse nightclub, people who simply wanted to have a fun night.
This is about everyone—from Orlando, Sandy Hook, Brussels, Liberia, New York City, Paris, Sinai, San Bernardino, Oregon, and many more—who have had their lives violently ended, and the families and friends whose lives have been forever altered in the most awful ways. This is about how the world, starting at the individual level, simply needs to accept, and to love one another. Only then can these terrible murders, these massacres, come to an end.