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Three years ago today I woke up to the news of the horrific Pulse Nightclub shooting. I was vacationing at Tybee Island, Georgia with my teenage daughter. I followed the news sobbing as details emerged. I was terrified waiting to hear from my dear friend who lives in Orlando. I knew there was a possibility he had been at Pulse and I felt like I was holding my breath until I heard he was safe.
However, one of his employees wasn’t. Cory James Connell was one of the 49 murdered. He was 21.
I’ve thought of that night often – trying to make sense of it, but that’s just not possible. It shouldn’t have happened. Nothing like this should ever happen.
Last summer I went to the Pulse memorial. I was staying with that friend, my bestie boo, my rock since 9th grade, one of my favorite people on earth. I was getting to know his lovely boyfriend (now fiancé) and friends. I’d just been through an awful year and those two weeks I spent with him last July we’re restorative. He and his friends embraced me and I soaked up their warmth, love, support and joy.
I slept long and hard each day, feeling safe in his space. The evenings were filled with long talks, great food and so much laughter. We went to an Orlando City Soccer Club game and he pointed out the colorful rows of seats. 49 rainbow seats. One for each victim of the Pulse shooting. He and his friends told me Orlando stepped up after the massacre. They said they feel more love and support now.
Bestie quietly told me he wanted me to see the Pulse memorial. I ran over while he was at the gym one evening towards the end of my stay. His home is only about a mile away. I was hit with overwhelming sadness as soon as I got out of the car. I was crying so hard I could hardly breathe.
I walked the path, reading the names of the victims and soaking in the photos of their faces. I saw the spot the shooter entered and opened fire at 2:08 am.
There was a mint green bench with the word “love” on it. I sat and sobbed.
I texted my beautiful friend. “I’m not emotionally prepared for this.” And I wasn’t. But what privilege- a straight, white woman crying about not being prepared to face the sight where 49 people were murdered because of who they love, who they are.
And so my bestie boo comforted me because that’s who he is. He told me the Pulse memorial wall is filled with love and people going to it keeps that love alive. He finished his workout while I continued walking the wall, reading the stories, seeing the photos, pausing on a bench to let sobs shake me every few minutes.
It was one of the most powerful and somber hours of my life. I still haven’t been adequately able to process the Pulse Nightclub shooting or my visit to the memorial.
After a while, bestie simply texted, “Hungry?” A signal it was time to come back to the now. We got dressed up and crawled into an Uber, him sitting in the middle holding hands with me on one side and the man he loves on the other. We had an amazing dinner and then all lounged in their bed giggling while they folded laundry. He told me it meant a lot to him that I went to the memorial. I want to cocoon him in love and protection and support so nothing like this ever happens again. We all need to work together to do that.
There is a going to be a community memorial event at Pulse Nightclub in Orlando tonight. I’m out of state today taking my daughter to her college orientation. If you’re able, I encourage you to go show love and support. If you find yourself in Orlando, make sure to take time to visit the Pulse Memorial. It needs to be seen. We need to bear witness.
What can you do on Pulse Remembrance Day?
- Remember. Talk about it. Share it on your social media.
- If you find yourself saying, thinking or doing things that harm the LGBTQ+ community (or ANY other group) do some work to explore why. Get help. Sort your shit out.
- Donate to the onePULSE Foundation.
- Tell the people who are impacted the most that you love them, that you see them, that you value them.
- Be kind. To all.
We all need to work together to not let hate win.
If you need someone safe to talk to, reach out to me. I’m here.