This past weekend, I was in Orlando doing some shows at the Orlando Indie Comedy Festival. I spent most of the weekend boozing between sets, shooting the shit with my friends and trying to get free tickets to Harry Potter World, and then getting a free ticket from some guy who liked my analogy that Batman is the night, Robin is the mid-afternoon.
Sunday morning, though, I went with my friend Ian, a fellow queer comic, and his husband Payne to the Pulse shooting memorial.
That massacre has affected me — and I believe many of my friends and other members in the community — personally, more than any other national tragedy during my lifetime. Pulse is the largest mass shooting in modern United States history, and it happened just last year. It’s a testament to the arduous times we live in that it feels like it happened five years ago.
We had planned to pay our respects at Pulse for a long while before we planned the trip, so I had a lot of time to think about what it might be like.
I imagined a sacred, silent place of reflection. The air, in my mind, would be muted by the weight of sorrow sowed in the grounds of the club.
In reality, that was the not the case in the slightest.
Pulse is across the street from the largest Wendy’s I have ever seen in my life. Even more striking, if a little less absurd — the memorial is twenty feet away from a number of homes, one of which had children playing in the parking lot.
During our time there, a man pulled up in his car, opened all his doors and started singing along to the Christian radio station belting out of his speakers. He filled in the song breaks with his own sermon — about love and acceptance of Jesus as our savior.
At first I was offended by this display because I assumed it was in some way meant to suggest that the victims of the Pulse shooting were not right with God. But, then I thought maybe this is just the way that this man grieves.
There was even a news crew there. I didn’t ask why they were on this particular day, because when they asked me to be on camera for an interview, I declined.
The memorial consists of three panels, each with the same murals that say things like “Love Orlando.”
Almost every inch is covered with notes from people near and far in support of the city, its victims and the entire LGBTQIA+ community. Many speak of their faith, many speak of the sheer tenacity of the community that was victimized by this tragedy.
Near the end of our visit, a couple came to drop off a large memorial that had a picture of every victim, a list of the names and a number of flowers. It looked like a fat, short podium.
They were there because their son’s best friend was killed in the shooting, and they said they came every couple of weekends to drop off a new piece of remembrance.
The Pulse memorial is not some other world like I thought it would be. The tragedy happened here. It happened less than a year ago. Something similar will probably happen again.
When it does, some of us will still be here to say we loved those lost.