It was a little more than three months ago that I woke to the deafening noise around 5 a.m. on a Sunday morning. I wasn't supposed to look at my phone, my husband, Tony, said as he gathered his wares and made his way to work at a real job where you actually don't stare at your phone. My phone screamed at me. I mean, as a journalist, I basically am a phone, so I found the nearest mirror, looked into it, and cried.
That's what happens sometimes. That's what happened on June 12.
But this, of course, is not about me. This is about forty-nine people who died; about fifty-three people who were wounded (the last of whom was released from the hospital in early September). It's also about power, societal structures, government, and, indeed, grieving.
Orlando, my home, is a different city now. What seemed like a cultural uptick was instantly deflated by one man, one man I won't name here, but you know him. He's the man who shot more than three hundred bullets and ruined families and crushed the local businesses to the tune of $6.5 million and turned Orlando into the Circus World it closed decades ago. (Circus World was the theme park where Elton John got married on a roller coaster, but who cares?)
I have a lot of feelings about how the media covered the Pulse tragedy, largely because I was right there in the Florida heat, in that circus, on that closed-off street, and I was right there on a lot of giant flatscreen televisions pulling Sunday morning faces, because that's all I had. For every Ari Shapiro, there's a comb-over tragedy from a major network, and he just wants to go home. As Tony poignantly asked on social media: What would happen when the dust cleared? Who are we now? Where are we now? (Thanks, David Bowie).
We are in a world where mass shootings—any shootings—bring spikes in gun sales and just a few more laugh lines to the National Rifle Association's president Wayne LaPierre's bloodied face. On the day of the shooting, gun permit requests jumped more than 100 percent—just like they did after Newtown, just like they did after San Bernardino.
"As House Democrats called for tougher gun laws, an Orlando gun store owner rolled his eyes," a local TV network reported. You know who else's eyes were rolling? First, those poor forty-nine people who took the brunt of an AR-15-style weapon (sales are huge now!) and no longer had control of their eyes; second, the fifty-three people who have been coping in seemingly insurmountable ways; third, those of us with a heart.
For anyone who disagrees, for anyone who wants to dismiss the Pulse massacre as anything other than a crime of hate against the LGBTQ community, the Latin community, there's a big eye-roll for you here, too. It's coming from me, somebody who is here, who is still dealing with this tragedy on a daily basis.
Over the past three months, I have seen so much kindness in the faces of strangers as they peer over the rotting flowers and dripping poster board at Pulse's makeshift memorial. I have watched as Hillary Clinton cried, carrying a bouquet of white flowers through that memorial, and as her husband, Bill, clandestinely did the same. It wasn't about media attention. It was the gulf that exists in all of us; it was our latest national tragedy. It still hurts.
It also hurts that it's being exploited by NRA sucklings like Florida governor Rick Scott and Senator Marco Rubio in manners that even I can't wrap my head around. Because if you saw those crying faces in person—Barbara Poma, owner of Pulse; Christine Leionen, mother of a victim; and the list goes on for longer than your heart could take—then you would know that this is a turning point in America, and that, indeed, it's a tipping point in gay America.
Just as the political tides try to switch narratives and war-wash the Pulse massacre as something with ISIS on top, just then, just now, is when we need to own up to what happened on June 12. Our culture—our entire culture—has run into a cloud. It was only one year ago that many of us were questioning whether the gay political movement had any resonance anymore. Were we all just eating wedding cake and having expensive weddings (because, you know, we're all wealthy)? Everybody's cute and everybody's happy? Most of us knew better, but we watched, we waited—and then, boom.
Orlando will survive the Pulse massacre, the hate crime that needs to be called as much. Orlando has some really amazing people in it—some great journalists, too—all of whom want the best for this community. Orlando, however, is wounded.
A few weeks ago, I personally received an eight-foot banner from the people of Newtown signed by hundreds. I wept. Oh, how I wept. But Newtown is still on the map. And, even with our distractions and amusements being sullied by an unimaginable, horrific event—an event that reminds us that we need to be vigilant even in these allegedly accepting times—so are we. And we will keep going. The wounds will keep healing. The news will keep coming. And we will not roll our eyes at it.
This article appeared in print with the headline "Scars Linger"