by Charlie Kent
The events of early Sunday morning have finally hit me, and they have hit me pretty hard. What began as shock, has morphed through rage, though numbness, and has stirred so many things I have compartmentalized and put far back into the recesses of my mind, a place I don’t like to go, but eventually you have to combat your demons before they combat you, and you loose.
49 people died early Sunday morning, they died as the result of repression, religion, extremism, and rage. They were attacked for being who they are, in the one place where, for many of them,.was the only place they could be themselves, in safety -or so they thought, and one by one, they were picked off in a torrent of metal, explosions, like a monster under their beds, their innocence, their safety, their refuge was lost. Their one place -where they could be themselves, became the very place they would try to escape, the everyday experience of the storm of hate, now in their refuge, taunts turned to bullets, and their world was upended. They lost their lives being themselves in the one place they thought was safe. They were mistaken.
This event goes beyond religious extremism, it goes beyond gun control debate, it goes beyond our perceived notion, of the sinister motivations in a person’s mind, and says more about the state of affairs of people than the event itself.
The refuge many sought in this space, was a result of the many places they didn’t feel safe in some instances. They didn’t feel safe at home, they didn’t feel safe at school, they didn’t feel safe at work, essentially, they didn’t feel safe -period. Their experiences are very real. Some of their experiences are mine, some may be yours, some may be the experiences of your sisters, your brothers, your parents, your co-workers, people you interact with everyday, however, because of their orientation, their experiences don’t matter, their experiences don’t count, their safety -through what some of you feel, egregiously is a lifestyle choice, doesn’t matter. Don’t believe me, read the comments in the articles painting a bleak picture of how lives were cut short, being devalued more through the comments on a screen, created in perceived anonymity, cast out for the world to see. Espousing ignorance for free speech, wrapped in religion for validation, sealed by a like button, and gifted through a share. Benevolence, how far we have come.
Now, imagine being one of these people who escaped the rampage, unscathed, imagine that some of them went home, to work, to school, carrying this burden, only to experience the people that should love them unconditionally, espouse the same hateful blips, jokes, and remarks. No outlet, no refuge. Not at home, not at school, not at work, and in many cases, not at church. Imagine carrying that experience, holding it in the dark, not being able to process, decode, and fix the event of that night. That’s the experience many experience everyday, though not brought down with bullets, they are crippled by fear that their lives are held in a precarious balance because they have no legal protections through marriage, for employment, for housing. Lives held in the balance, because of ignorance, fear, intolerance, and acceptance -all rooted in late Iron Age metaphors, mythologies, traditions rooted in a time where the rising and setting of the sun had to be explained in words no more complex than the action one takes to flip a light switch.
I remember the first time the teasing and the taunting really affected me, 4th Grade, it was the first time I had been in a religious school -after having started in the 3rd Grade, it was also the first time I realized I was different, and that I couldn’t be fixed, it was also the first time I attempted suicide, overdosing on allergy pills, expired pain medication, and cough syrup. 4th Grade, I can’t remember exactly how old I was, but I remember the Sunday night I tried it in the hopes I wouldn’t have to go back to school, or experience the hell, the sheer hell of taunting and torment I would experience on a daily basis for the next 8 years of my education, where three additional attempts at suicide, would eventually lead me to the hospital twice, and at the fifth attempt a stomach pump. Trust me the color of the activated charcoal I had to swallow was as dark as the mood I felt at that time, and something I deal with regularly as an adult -a result of the lingering malaise, depression and mood swings that were rooted in my psyche in my formative years. There would be other attempts, but none came close, it wasn’t about attention it was about finding the only thing to stop the pain. The demons and the ghosts still haunt me to this day, though I manage to muddle through, as, like so many other things in life, I compartmentalize, repress, mask in neuroses, wrap in sarcasm, bathe in bitterness, all while allowing my scars to form over, keeping only a very few connections close and privy to who I am, to experience the raw openness.
Thankfully, I had two of the strongest parents, and a younger brother that cares more than he lets on that provided some of the safety and freedom that these lost souls sought in this club, only to have the walls breached by the very same monsters that afflicted me, cutting them down in some choreographed dance of calculation and cold, tinged with superficial moments of humanity. Their lives were stolen by ignorance and hate, I tried to steal mine, to give me that same solace that many sought on that warm evening almost a week ago, on a balmy night, somewhere between the image and the actuality.
The events of Sunday morning, like the charred aftermath of an atom bomb, resonated the experiences of my youth to what those people probably experienced as sheets of terminal life rained down on them, laughing, smiling, feeling safe in the one place they could unapologetically be themselves. Rage blindsided them, I chose to invite it to dinner.
No one should ever live life in fear, no one should ever think they can’t, no one should ever be made to feel less, to stand at the end of a driveway, while friendly foes shout taunts, hurl insults, and rotten vegetables at them on a dark summer night from the windows of a moving car. No one should be afraid of losing a home or a job because of who they are, no one should be denied the right to start a family, and lastly no one should be afraid to be honest with themselves and others about who they are. That is no way to live life, letting fear win. We have to get over this point in our evolution where we move beyond convention, shed superstition, and put faith in ourselves, our humanity, and actively make this a better future, because at this rate, no one, no entity, no belief is going to do it for us.
Life was stolen on Sunday morning. It reminded me of how I tried to take my life to make peace with the pain I dealt with and deal with now, I thought of the last smiles, and remembered being a bright eyed 1970’s three year old sitting on gold sculpted carpet in a bi-level home on a cul-de-sac in suburbia, the glow of a cathode ray tube bathing me, as loving parents looked on, and remembered the last time in my life when I felt happy, I felt secure, and I felt safe, thinking it would last forever, how many of those same people felt Sunday morning, never to wake up on Monday ever again, hoping their last thoughts, before the event no matter how superficial gave them some semblance of safety, happiness, and security life and innocence were stolen.
The wounds, the events, Sunday morning, have hit me, now I cry, now I grieve, now I accept me, and now I will work with others to be proud of me, so that their deaths won’t be for naught, so that the brevity of their lives will add length to mine and others, I won’t need a parade, I won’t need, party, because like so many other trends in the digital age, I am Orlando everyday, and unbeknownst to many others Orlando touches their lives sometimes directly sometimes indirectly. I am Orlando, you are Orlando, we are Orlando, and the moment we give into fear, those lost lives are truly lost, are truly forgotten to be thrown away with the spent candles, platitudes, hash tags, rubber bracelets, and gift with purchase t-shirts only to be repackaged and marketed when the next tragedy occurs.
Orlando will live because they can’t. Those lives, those smiles, those people, lives lost while living will leave one thing with me, We still have a tomorrow, they don’t, and we won’t live in fear, because when they woke up that Saturday morning, planning their days, they weren’t fearing that night either. I will live, because fear won’t win.