I vomited in the shower today. I threw up because I was homesick for Florida – not because this Indianapolis heat dries out every pore of my body, or because these roads are frustratingly unfamiliar or because I have yet to find a decent Spanish restaurant serving good food, but because my body, my heart, my soul ache to be in Orlando today.

A friend told me that souls are not tethered to physical locations, but I disagree. The blood that runs through my veins follows an Orlando-shaped map. My body, and my heart, were grown, both as a child and an adult, on Orlando’s streets, my family has called Central Florida home since the 1970’s and the people I love most in this world also reside there. It pains me that I am not able to be in Orlando today, holding my loved ones’ hands or standing in line at a blood bank, doing what I can to make sense out of the senseless, out of this tragedy.

Though I didn’t frequent Pulse, I had friends who did. I frequented Orlando’s nightlife scene, spending many a night gallivanting the streets downtown, frolicking and laughing in a haze of alcohol, friends and fun, when I was living full-time in Orlando and when I visit my family and friends there. My friends traverse the city, live it, breathe it and these friends include people of every race, religion, creed, gender and sexual orientation.

Today, I am thankful that my loved ones are safe, but I mourn for those who are not, as I have mourned for the victims of Sandy Hook and Virginia and San Bernardino and Aurora and everywhere that evil has touched.

I mourn for the 50 individuals who laid dead in Pulse nightclub, because though you & me might not know each of them by name, they are all ours. They were all someone’s brother, sister, son, daughter, significant other and they set out Saturday night to dance, to sing, to live and to love, not to be mowed down by senseless hate.

I mourn for the loved ones, waiting outside a hotel, outside ORMC for news of their loved ones, every passing hour increasing their dread that the news will not be good. I mourn for the first responders, who had to secure the scene and had to listen to the ghastly rings of the dead’s cellphones as they identified victims. I mourn for my home, my City, my community which has been labeled “home of the United States’ worst mass shooting in history” because I know that is not what Orlando is.

Orlando is the home of Disney World, the Magic, Orlando City, the Creative City Project, Orange Avenue; of a vibrant, diverse, inclusive community that represents all colors and creeds. Orlando is home to a thriving LGBTQ+ community, to incredibly generous people willing to give their time, money and effort to causes ranging from elementary school children to the masterful local environment, to more people I love than I can count. Orlando must not be known as the home to this violence.

Orlando is home to hundreds who are willing to wait for hours in the suffocating June heat to donate blood, because they couldn’t fathom waking up to the news that they did today, because they didn’t know how else to comprehend this horror, because they cared, because they loved.

Orlando is home to my heart.

I don’t know when this will stop – the violence, the hate, the senseless tragedies, the parents waking up in the middle of the night, fearing their child is dead, but I know it needs too. We need to stand up and name this for what it is – an attack on the LGBTQ+ community, not just an attack on Americans or on good. We need to stop talking about gun control just when it’s trendy, when the smoke is still clearing after another massacre, only to stop when we begin to forget and the scent of death fades. We need to enforce the laws that are in place, and advocate for better ones. We need to tend to our mentally-ill, our marginalized, our weak.

And we need to love. We need to draw our friends and families closer, we need to smile at strangers on the street, we need to sing and dance and live, because our time in this world, is short, no matter how we leave it, and all that matters in the end is how much we loved.

Orlando, I miss you, but I know you will prevail, because more than anywhere else I’ve ever been, I know you are filled with love. Stay strong Orlando, stay strong.

– Reprinted in The Gainesville Sun

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