It feels different now. The hospital entrances are guarded by the Orlando Police Department. Phone calls into ORMC are recorded. Media trucks with their satellite dishes line the entrance. From my father’s 10th floor window we can see Pulse, site of Sunday’s early-morning mass shooting, three short blocks down Orange Avenue. There are barricades at Kaley Street. Beyond that, flashing lights, police, sheriff, FBI ... and the Pulse nightclub. And beyond that, more media trucks and tents. A local news helicopter hovers like a dragonfly.
My eyes follow Orange Avenue three miles further south to our neighborhood where we lived for 23 years. I think about people who might have been at Pulse. We, like everyone else, wait for the victims’ names to be announced. I make phone calls and check Facebook to learn that friends are safe. As time passes, we are horrified to learn that 20 have died in the mass shooting. The number rises to 49.
I sit with my dad for eight days. During that week, the ORMC medical team performs more than 50 surgeries on victims of the shooting. One afternoon I overhear the staff being instructed outside Dad’s room: “At dusk, close the blinds in the patients’ rooms to keep the media from peering in from helicopters.” Judging by the comings and goings of OPD officers and Puerto Rican families gathered in the hallway, I believe the patient next door and two others nearby are Pulse survivors. Out of respect, I don’t ask. But when I pray for Dad, I pray for them, too. And once again, I thank God for this hospital and all those who work here.
Dad tells me about the day I was born. He believes there were two hospitals then. The five-story building on Orange Avenue was called Orange Memorial. The world I was born into was air-conditioned – the white mothers labored in the cool air. Dad recalls looking out over a one-story building with curtains hanging out of open windows. This was the hot and humid world into which black babies were born. Note: According to G. Thompson, director, Wells' Built Museum of African American History, there was a black maternity ward in the Orange Memorial basement. *
Although I grew up in Orlando, I don’t know what it was like to grow up gay in Orlando. In the world of “us” and “them,” LGBT people were “them.” My early education about “them” came from jokes, stereotypes, slurs and misinformation. I clearly remember my first friend who was “out” – Robert K. I was 21. Robert was my trainer and “lead” at Walt Disney World Resort. He was knowledgeable, great at his job, and he made work fun. Thanks to Robert, the line between “us” and “them” began to fade.
Each afternoon we watch the storms move across the horizon. On the day the President and Vice President come to town, a brilliant rainbow arches over Orange Avenue.
When we leave the hospital late each night, “The City Beautiful” is exceedingly so. Buildings are illuminated in rainbow colors or wear huge rainbow banners. People gather at the vigil sites along Orange Avenue, placing flowers, candles, banners, stuffed animals and flags. Forty-nine white crosses appear, each with the name of a victim. Mourners inscribe their messages on the crosses.
On Father’s Day, Dad is still in the hospital. But he will be home a few days later, and in time for his 87th birthday. His life will return to normal, or almost so. Others are not so lucky.
I feel a tremendous loss for each person whose life was destroyed on June 12. I feel an aching sadness for their friends and partners and families. I’m distressed for Orlando, for the LGBTQ community, and for our country and our world. I’m searching for a personal way to respond to what has happened in Orlando. I don’t know what I think yet, but I know what I hold onto, what I’ve always believed — love wins.