6/12/16 – Orlando – Stream of Consciousness

I don’t know what to say. I don’t have anything prophetic in my head. I’m tired, sunburned, stressed, dehydrated. I don’t have the proper perspective on the situation to tell you what I’ve gained, or lost, or learned. I don’t yet know what parts of yesterday I’ll take with me forever. I know that there will be some, and I know that I will lose some, and so for my own sake of posterity, I decided to write about my day.

And I decided to put this on my Cardinals site. Because, for them, I have a unique perspective. On my Facebook, it’s not unique. My Facebook feed is currently filled with sad and mourning Central Floridians. With each name that gets released, another friend cries out in pain at who they’ve lost as the names come closer and closer. My Facebook feed has displaced Central Floridians lamenting leaving, lamenting the distance, wishing they could be here to, I don’t know, feel the connection that’s happening I suppose. And my Facebook is filled with Buzzfeed articles, because DAMN, I know a tragedy happened, but you still have to see this gallery of dogs in sunglasses. You won’t believe #14.

Every social media has some sort of private message functionality, and all of mine are filled with messages. Some I have read. Some I haven’t. Some I’ve only skimmed. Sometimes they help. Sometimes they are too much. Sometimes you have to push them away because the dog needs to take a walk. The world is still spinning. The news has to turn off, and a Tom Petty album has to go on because sometimes you feel like your teetering on the edge of a depression.

Which is silly, right? I wasn’t there. I’m not in the top 1,000,000 people who are victims of this. I’m not a victim at all. I appreciate the messages, but there isn’t a rational reason why I might need them more than you. It’s Orlando. In some cases it feels like it happened in my house. In other cases it feels as distant as France. I deserve your sympathies like Corey Patterson deserves his 2011 World Series ring. Survivors guilt is a thing, to some degree (I think) in every situation. Je suis Paris, and all of that.  Which means that every genuinely nice thing someone has said or done for me over the last 36 hours has been tinged with a bit of guilt. Because I don’t need it. I don’t have a hole in my body. I don’t have a hole in my heart. My life, which is a fabulous, fantastic life, which is something I actually think about every single day, will continue to be fabulous and fantastic. And my tears – and there have been plenty – seem meaningless and petty. This entry seems meaningless and petty. This is hardly a first-hand account of what happened. I’m little more than literally closer to it than you are. It’s like you telling someone in California how it’s different for you. In practicality, it’s not.

I’ve lived in the Orlando area for now 13 years. I don’t technically live in Orlando now, but Orlando is the sort of place where, because of the tourism (which certainly promotes everything as Orlando) everywhere you go is known as Orlando. In that sense there aren’t borders, or dividing lines, or anything like that. My parents tell people I live in Orlando, and it doesn’t faze me in the slightest.

There are a lot of places like this. If you live anywhere near Chicago, as I have, you say Chicago because no one knows the name of your city anyway. But you don’t FEEL Chicago. It’s not a part of your normal life. You don’t take tractors off into the cornfields and pretend that you have any relation to the skyscrapers and city folks down the road.

That’s not Orlando, at all.

In Orlando, everything is dominated by the theme Parks. Between Disney, Universal, and Sea World there are easily 100,000 people working there right now. That’s right now. When you consider the amount of people that used to work there and have since found other jobs, every single person in this city can find some sort of mutual link within minutes. They aren’t normal jobs. You can take tickets at Sea World, then, when Halloween is coming around, you can get a 2nd job working Halloween Horror Nights over at Universal Studios, and when that ends you can work the Tea Cups part time at Disney, and a few months later they’ll train you at a different location with a different group of people. Every single person that I encounter here I can find a mutual acquaintance and share similar stories of past experiences. It’s in us all.

Same with the homosexual population. When I heard the news, my mind didn’t go immediately to my gay friends. It went to anyone and everyone. When I lived in other places, a gay person was almost like a novelty. There simply weren’t many around, and so you simply weren’t exposed to a lot of gay culture, if there is such a thing. That’s not Orlando. Every group has straight people, and every group has gay people. The most religiously conservative people I know have a large group of friends, and more than half of them are gay. Sometimes acceptance requires exposure. Homophobia isn’t a thing here.

As a result, it’s somewhat jarring to hear about the Pulse being called a gay club. I mean, yeah, it’s a gay club. That’s the target audience. But really, it’s just a club. Because when you are hanging out with 10 different people in Orlando, and you’re looking for some place to go, that’s a natural one to choose. I’ve been many times. And I never, ever thought of it as a “look at all the gay people!” because there were always plenty of straight girls, and there were also plenty of straight guys. And yeah, I’d prefer the music at say, the now defunct Rock and Roll Beach Club, but the pure mixture of people really wasn’t anything noticeably different than any other day in life, or any other club you might go to down here.

Hey, I’m 34. Things have changed. It’s been at least 4 years since I’ve been to Pulse, maybe more. I don’t know any bartenders. I couldn’t tell you one regular patron. We’ve all gotten older. We’ve all settled down a bit. We aren’t college morons anymore. I was in bed that night around 9, watching the end of the Cardinals game, wishing I was already asleep. I’m a quiet, reserved guy. I don’t drink. I know that there wasn’t anybody in my life who heard about this attack and was worried that I might be up at 2AM going clubbing. I didn’t get one call or text about my safety. People weren’t worried about me.

But that’s the thing. I’m sure I have been there at 2AM. It was a Saturday night. You never know who is going to be there the 1 or 2 times a year they might have a day like that. It’s not a gay club. It’s just a club, and I didn’t have just a handful of stereotyped folks I might have lost. It could have been anyone.

I’m a news junkie. I track the news all day, every day. There is hardly a world event that you’ll know about before me. That’s not apparent on my account, where I try as hard as I can to avoid social and political issues. I have a poly-sci degree, and with that you learn a simple truth: No one has a freaking clue what they are talking about, but everyone THINKS they do. It often puts me in the strange situation of agreeing with someone’s conclusion, but knowing that the logic they use to reach that conclusion is total senseless crap. You learn not to engage with it as best you can.

This was very tested yesterday.

Of course I heard the news from someone else, out of state, no association with Orlando. Whenever there is huge, massive news, I have somehow made myself the last to know. I immediately jumped on the Internet to look for information. I was looking for victims, for survivors, for news. I wanted any sort of actual information I could get.

I would find nuggets of information in between people sitting in their kitchen in Idaho telling people if they think this is the fault of Muslims, then they are part of the problem. Then there were others tweeting from Oklahoma that if you think guns are to blame, then you are the problem and on and on. It was terribly disheartening. I certainly have my opinions. This certainly happens with every attack. I just never noticed it before. I was always separated from it.

Yesterday, it burned. I remembered 9/11. I remembered how everything seemed unified. I remember a sense of pride. The internet did not give that to me yesterday. Yesterday an evil individual killed a lot of innocent people. In some ways, it’s an intimate thing. An evil person. 100 victims. Their families. And me, sifting for news, sifting for updates, and you telling me your political opinion. I felt as though the hole of the world was forgetting the very basics here. There were people we could all lend sympathies to, and there was a person we could all be against. Instead, we chose to fight with each other. I hated it.

I’m a news junkie, but I couldn’t take it anymore. I found a place to donate blood, and I stood outside from about 12:30 until about 7:00 PM, and while I was there I saw humanity like I’ve never seen before.

We all had a part to play, it seemed. In line I heard people tell stories about those they had not heard back from. I saw people as they got the news. I talked to complete strangers as we shared umbrellas. I talked to people who witnessed the police activity. A woman told me she’d never seen anything like it. I nodded. We were at that point where one more word would have set us over the edge. We talked, met everyone. We all had a link. We all knew the same people. We’d all worked at the same places at one time or another. We all had stories, like distant family you never knew existed. That’s Orlando.

We all marveled at our community. They gave priorities to certain blood types. Those that didn’t fit in went to grocery stores. They bought bottled water and pushed carts up and down to the blood lines running hundreds deep. The man in charge of the blood bus looked at the line and mumbled to himself. “This is incredible. I’ve never seen anything like it.” The same sentence with a different meaning almost sent me over the edge again. And again as I typed it.

People bought umbrellas and handed them out, for those of us baking in the sun. I held one over a couple for hours. My arm never got tired. That’s indicative of nothing. I’m just still surprised that I, literally, never got tired of holding that umbrella. Grandma’s can lift cars to save their children, and I guess I can dependably hold an umbrella. We all have our strengths.

It was a somber line, and it was a hot line, and it was a tearful line, and for me this was my part. I started telling jokes, telling stories. I started getting games played. I started doing anything I could to make the time pass without us dwelling on it.

I don’t think I started doing it for other people, I think I just couldn’t take the darkness anymore, but soon I literally had crowds. I’m not making this up. I was recruited for a job for someone who needs people that can improv. This was my tiny, tiny part. While 1st responders were walking by bodies with never to be answered cell phones ringing off the hook displaying “mom calling,” I was telling people that instead of bottles of water, I hoped the next person brought us some Pogs.  It’s dumb, but it escaped reality for a moment. A nurse hugged me and thanked me for making her laugh.

And I hated it. I hated that a nurse, working for 12 hours, thanking me in tears for making her laugh. I hated standing in a line while people hauled supplies to me and thanked me for giving blood while they did physical labor to support me. I stood in line, and I told jokes, and eventually I sat back in a bed while someone else took blood from me. It was as far from giving effort as one possibly could do, and I did not want anyone to thank me. Especially when they were doing more. The brain shouldn’t react that way. The brain should be thankful; the brain should acknowledge that hey – I could’ve stayed silent – I could’ve not come at all. That’s the logic of it. But survivor’s guilt is a bitch. I can’t imagine what it’s like to be any closer, to have real survivor’s guilt. The brain can be such poison.

This line though, it was amazing. It went from silent and sobbing, to an event. Regular citizens and local businesses brought us fruit, granola bars, pizza, wings, steak, ice cream, water bottles, squirt bottles, coupons galore. One little girl was pulling a wagon filled with ice water, and she was begging people. “PLEASE take the water. This is so heavy!” and we would laugh. And she would say “WHY ARE PEOPLE LAUGHING AT ME?” Youth is an amazing thing. People parked their cars, and left them running and played us music. People played touch football. People stood in the streets in the Orlando heat for most of their Sunday. Whatever could be done to keep people there, whatever could be done to keep the spirits positive. People need that blood, and they need that blood now. And hundreds of people could have waited there all night.

The police chief came and started personally handing out pizza, thanking all of us. It was ridiculous. We should be thanking him. I watched a woman the entire time. From the 1st water bottles from Wal-Mart, to the ad-hoc buffet from a steakhouse, and she worked her butt off organizing everything. In the end, there were more supplies than people, and so we loaded them all into a trailer to go to another site. During a pause I asked the woman how long she had worked for One Blood.

“I don’t.”

That one hit me pretty hard.

When I was done, when it was time to leave, I put on the radio. It was, of course, 100% of the news. I realized that living in Orlando meant that this was going to be the entirety of my news for a long, long time. Escape will always be temporary. I called someone for dinner. I got off the phone, and I cried and I cried. And I saw them, and I hugged them, and it may have been the longest hug of my life. And if you’ve never had a hug like that, I pity you. There are some moments where you truly appreciate the people in your life. That was one of them.

I was exhausted. I am exhausted. I thought about writing, but I couldn’t physically do it. I couldn’t reflect back properly. I know I still can’t. I know this is a rambling mess. I knew at some point, for my own healing, I’d need to write it down. I just couldn’t yet. But the names keep being released, and we keep seeing who we’ve lost, and more and more names are direct losses of people that I care about. So I wrote, so I could release, so I can help more that need it. Because this pain isn’t going away. This pain will hover over my community, my family, for a long, long time.

My community has shown that they are ready to do anything for anyone. They’ve shown what it is to be a part of Orlando and, after 6/12/2016, I doubt I’ll ever be rid of the feeling that I will always need to do more to deserve this outpouring of love.

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