Remembering the names from Orlando



Jason Walker  |  Special Contributor
Victims-2I woke up Sunday morning wondering why my professor for the summer course I’m taking waited so long to post this week’s assignments. He only gives us until Thursday evening to complete them and turn them in and now it’s Sunday already and they’re just now there. Damn it! Now I’m going to be in a rush to finish!”

I walked in my bathroom and heard the television in the living room. I guess I left it on all night long. Damn it!

Now my electric bill will be higher this month.

Staring in the mirror at my puffy bloodshot eyes wondering how long it would take to wake up, I heard something about 20 people dead in Orlando. More bad news. Damn it! I don’t even want to know about it.

But, it was too late. I already did know. The whole world already knew.

I try really hard not to get emotionally involved in things that happen to people I don’t know. It’s not that I don’t care about them; it’s that I care too much. And when I let myself get emotionally involved I can’t separate myself, and that doesn’t help anyone.

So, I learned this trick a long time ago where I just turn it off.

But it was too late for that now. I couldn’t turn it off. The details started coming in too fast: Some maniac shot up a gay bar in Orlando. Twenty people were dead and more than 50 were injured. They didn’t know then if the shooter was alive or dead.

So, I sat and watched and listened and before I knew it two hours had passed. And then three. And then four.

And I didn’t really care anymore that my professor was late getting assignments posted for this week.

Then five hours passed and then it wasn’t 20 people dead it was 50 people dead. And I started thinking about the days when I used to go to the bars in Oak Lawn.

I thought about standing on the balcony at JR.’s, talking to friends I’d never met before that night. I thought about standing at the back bar in The Round-Up and pretending to drink beer, which I hate, but it just looks better if you have one in your hand. I remember my first boyfriend convincing me to go to TMC and standing with him upstairs looking down at the dance floor, and I remember him leaning over and kissing me right after he’d taken a drink of his gin-and-tonic and thinking how good it tasted.

Then I thought about those people at Pulse in Orlando that Saturday night, and I wondered how many of them were at a gay bar for the first time. And I wondered if they were as scared and thrilled as I was my first time.

I thought about the ones who were talking to friends they’d never met before that night. I thought about the ones who were pretending to drink beer because it looks better. I thought about boyfriends kissing after drinks of gin-and-tonic and thinking how good it tasted.

Then I started crying.

I wanted to reach out to someone who understood my tears without having to explain anything. I wanted to reach out and hold someone and have them hold me back and tell me that it was OK to feel the way I felt even though I didn’t usually take these things so hard.

I wanted to reach out and hold on for dear life because right then I felt like I was going to fly off the edge of the world.

But there was no one there. I was alone, with no one to reach out to.

And then I realized that was my fault.

It was my fault, because when I had the chance to stand up and be truthful and be proud of who I am, I chose to run away and not speak and turn away from people who loved me and cared for me and tried to help me.

It was my fault because when I heard people saying hateful and hurtful things, I didn’t have the courage to stand up to their hatred with the truth.

It was my fault because while those innocent men and women at Pulse were living their lives and laughing and smiling and loving, I was hiding and hoping no one would remember that one time they heard I was gay.

And then 10 and 12 and 14 hours passed and I was still watching. And I felt ashamed.

It’s not OK anymore. I no longer have the right to remain silent about this.

It’s not OK for me to have memories of a time and of places and of people and of a man who made me incredibly happy, and hold on to them selfishly out of fear instead of sharing them with someone who maybe needs to know that who they are is something good and not something bad.

It’s not OK for me to sit back and listen while people spew hatred and not stand up and say, “No more!”

It’s not OK anymore.

And 24 hours passed. And 48 hours passed. And I’m still thinking about those people at Pulse. And then I realized it’s not OK anymore that this is about me instead of them.

So, I end this with their names. Because it’s not OK anymore.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition June 17, 2016.