Anyone who knows me knows that one of the things that I struggle with is never really having been from anywhere in particular. I was moved about all my life, usually halfway through the current school year. As a result, when people ask where I’m from, I have to prepare for a short 5 minute geography lesson and then try and come up with an explanation as to why, if I’m not an Army Brat, and if my parents didn’t work for a huge corporation, did I move so frequently?
Six years ago we literally had nowhere to live. My parents and I wound up in a motel room for the better part of a month, followed by living in a crappy apartment which wasn’t even safe for renting. I worked for the Mouse after failing to find a job for three months, and was quickly thrown in with a bunch of other weirdos and misfits.
Now that I’m halfway through my 30th year on this planet, I’m feeling old. I was born in ’86, I’ve lived through, at least in part, four different decades. I’ve seen countless atrocities on the news, begged for my mother to turn off the 5th day of coverage of 9/11, to which I was greeted with being “insensitive”. Of course, no one realized how prevalent anxiety and depression are in both sides of the family, and the constant footage of smoldering buildings was becoming too much for someone who had just recently began high school.
Even then, that awful attack was surreal, as if it had happened not just to a different country, but a different planet. The day of, typical high school children made jokes about the pilot being drunk, or it was the Canadian Mafia or something stupid. Mind you, we didn’t know it was a true act of terror until later, to which everyone collectively felt as rotten as they should.
As a young child I watched coverage of the Oklahoma City Bombing, but I was far too young to understand. I just remember pictures of men being flashed on screen, juxtaposed with burning buildings and crying mothers.
Columbine left me numb. Being in school and seeing what is possible by your school mates, the bad kids, the ones always blasting angry music and kicking puppies. It felt more like a nightmare. To see something similar happen at Sandy Hook, and then to hear that it was all a conspiracy, it didn’t happen, while grieving mothers and fathers trembled with pictures of their lost children; it didn’t feel real.
But the one tragedy that felt all too real happened a little more than a year ago. I tried formulating some feeling, some reaction yesterday on its anniversary proper. And yet, the words would not come. The thoughts would not form beyond a general feeling of malaise. I tried distracting myself with Facebook, which was all too eager to remind me of what had happened in the same feature that shows me dumb photos I posted ages ago.
My sister lived just a few miles away at the time. And I was reminded how easily it could have been her. I have many people who identify as having several different sexualities, friends of friends being active in the community, former coworkers, etc. And I was one of the lucky ones, having to sit back and see the posts wash in about how no one had heard from X and guys, I have just been told that I lost another.
And I found myself feeling just as numb as I did that day. The same feelings of hopelessness, of still not belonging anywhere. John Stewart had once said during the Bush/Gore election that the nation’s stupidity drains down into Florida, and a quick follow of the #FloridaMan tag all but proves this true. Orlando is more or less the Island of Misfit Toys, and to think that if you can’t be yourself here, where can you?
Then the quote kept rolling in. “Love is love is love,” a beautiful sentiment that I just can’t adopt because of an abusive ex who wore it long before as a battle cry, a way to earn carte blanc to do as she pleased. It was at this point it became obvious to me that as people, we are always quick to balance Love and Hate as polar opposites, when in actuality, they are more like twins. Two sides to the same coin, a different ends to a mean. The road to a happy ending, or a living hell. Just as many people do horrendous things in the name of Love, as they do in the name of Hate.
I refuse to remember the name of the man who felt enough hatred towards himself that he felt the need to lash out and end the lives of so many. But that’s exactly where the driving force came from; a feeling of not only being unable to be himself, but a deep seated loathing of his true self. I am not justifying this travesty at all, and my only regret is he was not able to stand trial for his crimes, to look the survivors and their families in their eyes and try and come up with a reason as to why this was okay.
Things didn’t go better as I had found an old photo booklet she had given me, to which I deposited directly into the trash (“Where she belongs,” I muttered). I had hoped going to my favorite class at the gym would cheer me up, but Ty, my instructor, was struggling as well. He had told us just a week ago that he had lost a few friends, and another member of our very gym. He had frequented the place himself, and the pain was still raw.
Despite all of the terrible things that I have seen, Pulse hit the hardest. It truly felt close to home, not just because it was in my own backyard, but that it could happen somewhere that, at least on the surface, feels a bit more accepting. Far enough away from the Deep South, and enough of an old hippie influence from the constant influx of old New Englanders, Orlando felt safe. Sure, you still had homeless addicts eating people and alligators living in swimming pools. But you could at least not worry about what others thought because if they live here, chances are they’re as weird as you are.
To see someone not being able to accept themselves to the point where they felt the need to do what they did hurt. It hurt the community, it hurt everyone who lost someone, and it hurt those just trying to find their place in the world. So yeah, it was difficult to form my thoughts. It still is, as is evident by my rambling. I guess I’m just shaken that this truly could have happened to anyone in the area.
All I can say is how amazed I am that the people in the community responded the way that they did. The way that they still are. It gives me hope that we don’t have to put our masks back on. That we’re going to continue in spite of this, and just maybe come out a little stronger. I think people seem a little kinder, or maybe it’s just wishful thinking.
Ghandi has always been falsely attributed to saying “Be the change you want to see in the world”. And although he didn’t actually say this, it’s still something I try to abide by. What I do know is that when you don’t seem to fit in anywhere else, Central Florida is the closest thing to home. If it’s your home, just try to keep it that way; lend a hand, lend a smile, lend a hug. Just try to leave it a little better place than how you found it.