It’s 1:40 am. I’m in sweats and an old t-shirt. I almost didn’t go. I tried to convince myself that it would be the same if I went by myself in the morning, after my doctor’s appointment and before work. But my gut told me I was wrong. I made myself stay up and go to my car.
This time of morning the roads are empty, not a soul to be seen, and the blanket of hazy light produced by neon signs and old street lights hovers. I park on a residential street across from Pulse. There is a candle lighting and a moment of silence planned. It’s been six months since the attack. Six months. Once again, time has escaped me.
As I walk from my car across Orange Ave to Pulse my legs seem to turn to stone, dragging slowly behind me. There is a small irrational fear that tells me it won’t be safe – that maybe someone will see this as a perfect opportunity for round two.
“Just drive, you can always drive past it if you changed your mind,” I told myself. I forced myself to follow through on my commitment to attend. There are cameras set up on the street across from Pulse and the reporters are pacing – hungry for interviews. I go to the fence and begin to read the messages scrawled across the canvas – messages of hope and love. A reporter asks me if I knew anyone that was there that night. I tell them no and they move onto juicier prospects.
I turn the corner to go through the opening in the fence, and as I am scanned and patted down by security I’m not paying attention to the process. It’s the first time I’ve seen the doors of Pulse since before the shooting. A lump lodges in my throat. A circle is gathered in front of the building. They’re reading the names, the 49.
Stanley Almodovar III, 23 years old
Amanda L. Alvear, 25 years old
Oscar A. Aracena Montero, 26 years old
Rodolfo Ayala Ayala, 33 years old
Antonio Davon Brown, 29 years old
Darryl Roman Burt II, 29 years old
Angel Candelario-Padro, 28 years old
Juan Chavez Martinez, 25 years old
Luis Daniel Conde, 39 years old
Cory James Connell, 21 years old
Tevin Eugene Crosby, 25 years old
Deonka Deidra Drayton, 32 years old
Simón Adrian Carrillo Fernández, 31 years old
Leroy Valentin Fernandez, 25 years old
Mercedez Marisol Flores, 26 years old
Peter Ommy Gonzalez Cruz, 22 years old
Juan Ramon Guerrero, 22 years old
Paul Terrell Henry, 41 years old
Frank Hernandez, 27 years old
Miguel Angel Honorato, 30 years old
Javier Jorge Reyes, 40 years old
Jason Benjamin Josaphat, 19 years old
Eddie Jamoldroy Justice, 30 years old
Anthony Luis Laureano Disla, 25 years old
Christopher Andrew Leinonen, 32 years old
Alejandro Barrios Martinez, 21 years old
Brenda Marquez McCool, 49 years old
Gilberto R. Silva Menendez, 25 years old
Kimberly Jean Morris, 37 years old
Akyra Monet Murray, 18 years old
Luis Omar Ocasio Capo, 20 years old
Geraldo A. Ortiz Jimenez, 25 years old
Eric Ivan Ortiz-Rivera, 36 years old
Joel Rayon Paniagua, 32 years old
Jean Carlos Mendez Perez, 35 years old
Enrique L. Rios, Jr., 25 years old
Jean Carlos Nieves Rodríguez, 27 years old
Xavier Emmanuel Serrano-Rosado, 35 years old
Christopher Joseph Sanfeliz, 24 years old
Yilmary Rodríguez Solivan, 24 years old
Edward Sotomayor Jr., 34 years old
Shane Evan Tomlinson, 33 years old
Martin Benitez Torres, 33 years old
Jonathan A. Camuy Vega, 24 years old
Juan Pablo Rivera Velázquez, 37 years old
Luis Sergio Vielma, 22 years old
Franky Jimmy DeJesus Velázquez, 50 years old
Luis Daniel Wilson-Leon, 37 years old
Jerald Arthur Wright, 31 years old
I join the circle and stand with my head bowed. 2:02 rolls around and the silence starts, this is it. Six months ago, the first shot rang out at this time. The tears begin. Sobs break out around the circle. Couples hold onto each other as if their partner might dissolve and slip through their fingers. The full moon bounces off the silver paneling on the front of the building. My tears are rolling now, running down my cheeks and diverging onto my lips, I can taste the salt in them. The silence stretches. I look at the door; I imagine them clawing and fighting to get to this side of that door. I imagine their cries and pleas as they hoped for even one more second of life.
It was a fight the 49 lost. The minute comes to a close and members of the Pulse staff light candles on the ground. As the circle disperses we all move to gaze at the candles, they’re lined up in a Pulse line and behind each candle is a rainbow star with a name and age on it. My heart breaks all over again and I weep. This was such a monumental waste. I will only be here for a few more minutes, I am sure of it.
But as I turn away from the candles I bump into of my co-workers. We see each other and say nothing. We just fall into a bear hug. He lost his best friend in the shooting. We cry. He introduces me to his friend, whose twin brother was one of the 49. When he saw me crying, he enveloped me in a hug. I squeezed as tightly as I could – hoping he would feel my sympathy. We don’t let go. It seems to last for hours. When we pull away, I hold my co-workers hand. He doesn’t like being there. He doesn’t know how to process it all. He came for the sake of his friend.
I see another man on crutches with only one leg. My co-worker tells me was there, inside Pulse six months ago. I’m a wreck again. I spend the next hour talking with strangers and loving on my co-worker. The tears never leave my eyes and when at 3:20 am I get back in my car I sob all over again.
So much pain and heartbreak over hate, over caring about someone else’s sexuality. You would think after six months, I could fathom it, that I could apply some logic to it in order to make sense of it all.
But I can’t. It still hurts like hell. It still breaks my heart. It still makes me weep. It still makes me furious. And maybe time will never heal that, whether its 6 months or 6 years, but maybe time allows me the ability to dampen my own grief in order to be there for a friend who barely knows how to express his.
Maybe time allows a certain reflection and acceptance. Maybe. I wish there were something more concrete I could say. No words seem to suffice. So I’ll conclude with this, my prayer for the 49.
God, I pray for the souls of the 49.
I pray you would keep them in your mist. That they would be given peace and love unending.
For the families, I pray you would watch over them. Let them feel your comfort and love.
God, I pray for this country. I pray we can reject hate and fear of something that’s different from us.
God, bring understanding to this world so this will be the last time there is a six months after.