I woke up late on Sunday morning. Sleeping until 9AM normally doesn’t happen for me very often but I had taken some friends that were visiting Orlando to the Magic Kingdom and John and I didn’t get home until late. I picked up my phone to check the time and saw that my brother had called me and left a text that said, “Call me please.” I knew something was wrong.
I tiptoed past a sleeping John and across our apartment into my home office. I sat down and called my brother not really knowing what to expect. I was still somewhat half asleep when I heard him say, “There was a shooting in Orlando.”
Hands shaking, I struggled to put my phone on speaker so I could text friends and use Facebook to find out if they were okay. “Stupid phone! Why is the speaker button not working?!” I fumbled with my phone while my brother assured me, “I already checked all of our mutual friends and everyone is safe. I also checked your friends who I could access on Facebook and they are safe.” I managed to get my speakerphone to work properly and then checked on the remaining people who were closest to me that he could not find out about.
They were all safe.
I had not realized how tense my entire body was until that moment when I felt relief wash over it. Then my eyes filled with tears. When my brother told me the current number of confirmed deaths and injuries, I knew that there was no way either one of us would not have a friend, former classmate, or co-worker who wasn’t effected by this in someway. From there, the numbers rose and I knew that I would have at least one friend who lost a loved one. My heart shattered for the victims of this senseless act and filled with rage for this attack against the city and communities that I love.
As is stands I have one friend waiting to hear on the status of a friend who is currently in the hospital, four friends who have lost a friend, and one close family friend who I grew up with lost two family members.
I spent most of Sunday crying in my pajamas, trying to confirm the safety of everyone in my extended friend groups, and trying my best to say encouraging words to those who were still waiting to hear from their loved ones who were at Pulse the night before. Most of them did not get confirmation until the early hours of Monday morning.
I still have not allowed my mind to picture the scene. I can’t. I won’t.
Not at Pulse. Not in a place that was supposed to safe. Not where my friends were frequently celebrating life.
The next few weeks will be spent helping my friends who have suffered personal losses, helping the city in any way I can, attending memorials and vigils, raising money for the families of the victims, lifting up the LGBT and Latin communities, and showing the world that Orlando is an amazing place to be born and raised.
My mind still hasn’t completely wrapped itself around all of the events that have happened in the last few days but I know that my community is #OrlandoStrong and we will not allow this to break us. Hate will not win. We will take care of each other, we will love each other, and we will celebrate each other.
If you call Orlando home and you are looking for a way to help, click here. If you are not local but would still like to contribute, please consider donating directly to my friend’s family or to Equality Florida.