I Saw You (March For Our Lives Orlando)

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I saw you today; in a crowd of 25,000 on the streets of this city, I call my home.

I saw you amidst the sea of signs – some of my personal favourites being “As a girl, I hope to have as many rights as a gun one day,” “Arms are for hugs” and “I wanna be Emma Gonzales when I grow up.”

On this sunny, perfect, 70 degree weather day, with the palm trees swaying and the oak trees creaking as the Spanish moss floated from their branches – I saw you. Thick, brown curls with big hazel eyes and a caramel tint to your skin. You weren’t much older than 8 or 9. I saw you, the girl who embodies what I always imagine my future daughter will look like. You stood at your family’s side with a simple sign that read “Am I next?”

You’re a child. Thoughts of death, shooters, and bullets should be the furthest thing from your brain. Yet here we are. Here you are. Holding up that sign in a crowd of thousands like your life depended on it. And, that’s the terrifying thing because I can see that to you – it does.

As I walk past you towards the marching crowd now turning down the main drag of downtown Orlando, I see another sign right behind you. It says “I want to read books not obituaries.”

That sign is too held up by a child. I feel my chest tighten and the tears sting my eyes. Neither of you should have to be here. The kids from Marjory Stoneman Douglas shouldn’t have to be responsible for an entire social movement (a.k.a a whole new form of teenage rebellion as one sign said) while they’re still grieving and hurting.

I said it after the tragedy at Pulse nightclub in Orlando, which ripped my heart out, we should have been the last. Pulse should have been the last. The 49 should have been the last lives taken by an assault weapon. Yet here we are, still fighting, still hoping that these politicians can look at us and choose life over the gun lobby.

I’m marching down Orange Ave now; my sign hoisted high, my hair secured in the messiest of buns, the sun beating down on my burnt shoulders and with my friends and father by my side – you have long since disappeared into the crowd.

Though I can’t see you anymore, the image of you holding that sign won’t leave me and I promise you this; you will not be next. Neither will my future daughter – who I hope will look like you – because we will fight for you. The adults like myself, and the generation behind me, the teens, will fight.  By the time, my little girl is your age, and you’re mine sensible gun control laws will be the norm, military-style weapons will never haunt classrooms again, and you can start figuring out how to save the honey bees or anything else you feel the need to stand for.

 

That’s my promise to you. You are not next.

 

 

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Six Months Later (Pulse Reflections)

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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.

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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.

One Week Later (Pulse Reflections)

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As I write this my home country, England, is reeling for another terrorist attack. It was a little over two weeks ago that 22 people lost their lives in Manchester, an a little over a month ago that 3 people were killed in a similar incident on Westminster Bridge. Repeatedly in my life it seems like my two homes seem to mirror each other, and it’s heart wrenching that almost a year after Pulse England would be going through that sort of atrocity. I could go into politics and thoughts about why this is happening, but I’ll keep it simple. All of this stems from hate and fear. The only way to combat that is through love and forgiveness – as incredibly torturous as that feels.

So my dear beloved England, the country that raised me and will also be my home – please love and forgive. Take your time to scream, cry, and grieve, but I promise you the only way to be whole again is to learn to love and forgive. I will not lie and say that I have wholly forgiven. Omar Mateen will always be a villain to me, but I refuse to let his hate and fear infect my community or myself.

I will be praying for you my dear England, with all I have. You are my heart, and I know during this time of what seems to be constant attack you will let your English spirit rise and take care of one another. I have no doubt you will see a better day. I love you.

In that sentiment, I have three posts left in regards to Pulse – this one, 6 months on and 1 year on. That’s how long it’s taken to feel okay, but the wound never truly heals. You just learn to accept it as part of your anatomy.

 

                        ———–

 

Yesterday I stood with 50,000 members of my community around Lake Eola, the heart of our city. We raised candles in honour of the dead, and the sight of those candles flickering around the lake was maybe one of the most beautiful things I’ve ever seen. I will not easily forget that sight.

However, today the US Senate blocked a bill that would prevent people of the terror watch list (like Omar Mateen) from buying guns. Why? Because lobbyists, and the NRA and the second amendment. As I drove home today, listening to the news on NPR, I thought about all the memorials around town. The photos of the dead filtered into my mind as well as the families and friends I saw crumple to the ground in crying heaps at the crisis center across from my apartment building as they read the name of their loved one on that fateful list.

I couldn’t tear the image of them weeping from my mind. I remembered my own tears as I collapsed in the shower the day after. I wept as I thought about the innocent blood shed and how, just four walls from my apartment those family members were having their hearts ripped out and for what?

Because one man hated the gay community so much that he thought it was his duty to kill as many as he could. And today, today I think about how all of this could happen again so easily in another part of the country because of this government. After all, didn’t we say enough after Sandy Hook? We all mourned, cried, and said our prayers were with those parents only to do nothing to actually stop another massacre happen and then it came to my city.

It’s disgusting. And then these politicians, like Marco Rubio, will be sure to visit the memorials to say their ‘prayers’ are with us yet they block bills that could prevent these horrors. So now another city, another community could go through this and that knowledge devastates me.

 

 

Five Days Later a.k.a 10 Reasons to Get My First Tattoo for Pulse

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#1 – The cost of the tattoo is donated to the One Orlando fund.

#2 – The pain I feel under the needle will serve as a reminder of the pain the victims and their families are going through. And as I feel that short term pain I will remember how blessed I am to not be suffering their fate.

#3 – The pulse line etched into my skin will remind me that every day I wake up with a pulse is a blessing.

#4 – The rainbow will remind me not to judge or be biased towards someone or a group of people because they live differently from me.

#5 – The rainbow will remind me to be brave and dedicated enough to live my authentic life.

#6 – The rainbow will remind me that love is love is love is love.

#7 – It will remind me of how I feel in this moment. It will remind me that there needs to be change in this country and I can be a part of that.

#8 – When, and if, my kids ask about the tattoo on my ribs I can tell them about this week. I can tell them that there is great evil in this world, but there is also great good. And beyond that simple fact, every day we wake up with a pulse we have a choice to choose love. I look forward to telling my children that they have that choice.

#9 –  “You realize, don’t you, that you are the temple of God, and God himself is present in you? No one will get by with vandalizing God’s temple, you can be sure of that. God’s temple is scared – and you, remember, are the temple.” – 1 Corinthians 3:16-17

This scripture is the one most church kids hear as the argument against tattoos. ‘Your body is a temple’ is drilled into your brain to cover a whole manner of sins. Yet as I’ve prayed about this decision I’ve come to the conclusion that this scripture essentially boils down to respecting your body and using it to honor God. Well, If God is love and that is his main attribute I am striving to emulate – then this tattoo, which to me will be a permanent reminder to choose love, will in turn be a permanent reminder to choose Him.

#10 – Choosing to get this tattoo at this time will remind me of how capable Orlando and the world is to come together and choose love.

 

                Those are my reasons, and I don’t think I’ll ever regret this decision (a year on and I love my tattoo). Besides, if this time has proved anything it’s that we never know when our time is done. And when it is our bodies will fade into nothing, so it might as well stand for love while it’s here.

Four Days After (Pulse Reflections)

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I think I am okay. That is until on the way home from a long shift construction on the I-4 inadvertently sends me right past Pulse’s front door. The sirens still blare in the distance and the FBI trucks are still sprinkled down Orange Ave. Another detour pushes me past the memorial at Orlando Health. Victims of the terror still lay in beds within the hospital walls fighting for their lives. Only a day ago I stood outside the Dr Phillips Center at a memorial and listened to the names of the 49 dead called from a list to be followed by 49 rings of church bells. 49 sounds like a lot of names and it is, but when each one was being read slowly and carefully it felt like an infinite number. And each ring of the bell felt like squeezing a lemon on deep cuts that couldn’t be seen.

I held a candle up in the dark, after the role call and after the bell tolls, in silence and solidarity. I thought that was enough. That I was okay. I thought my crying fit in the shower was the last one. However at 1am as I drive past Orlando Health and see all the candles lit by the Emergency entrance I see something else. By those candles an elderly woman is on her knees praying. I can see the sag in her back and the whiteness of her knuckles. And upon seeing her, despite telling myself I am okay, the sobs erupt from my chest. And as I slam my hand into the cold, leather ridges of my steering wheel I know I’ve been lying to myself.

I’m not okay.

 

Dear Manchester

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As Orlando comes up on the anniversary of the Pulse shooting, an event that shattered the hearts of so many in this city only to have us unify to piece those hearts back together through community and love, what’s happening in Manchester is eerily similar. I know how much you are all hurting right now, for those who died your lives were taken too soon, for those that survived the questions, pain and guilt of surviving is overwhelming and for the residents of the city you wonder how this could ever happen in your home.

Let me tell you this, your home will never be the same: don’t expect it to be. You will feel the aftershocks of this tragedy, emotionally, politically and literally for weeks and months to come. You will walk past that arena and feel your heart break all over again. You will see the world move on and feel angry that they do not feel the devastation you are feeling. Your city will forever be marked by this.

However, my dear Manchester – my dear mother country – remember this; because of this horror, you will become more capable of love, of compassion, of kindness and of connection then you ever thought possible.

You’re already doing it, with free taxis, hotels, homeless heroes, food and blood given to the recovering kids. But more than this when you see someone hurting you will be there. You will hug strangers and listen to their stories. You will pray and cry like you never have before. Your love, displayed in the smallest of actions, will silence the hate that was intended.

Remember those you lost. Love for them. Live to honour them. Everyday, take them with you and be the future that was taken from them.

You will never be the same. Orlando has never been the same, yet our community has never been stronger. I promise you will heal, you will grow and you will love. And as you do, those you lost will live on forever.