When Gil and I arrived in Orlando my uncle drove by the Pulse Nightclub memorial set up a few streets away from where the tragedy happened a month ago. My aunt asked him to stop so we can see it. She had not been able to give her respects and decided now to be a good time. My husband and I exchanged doubtful looks. A part of me did want to give my condolences in some way to the 49 victims, but the other part of me felt like I would not be able to handle what I was about to see.
Reluctantly we stepped out of the car and took in the temporary memorial. 49 white crosses were in a row with the victims name, age, and head shot. Messages, national flags, paintings, flowers, balloons, stuffed animals, and other memorabilia were left at each one. Sharpie pens laid on the sidewalk where anyone could leave a message of hope or prayer. Gay and Puerto Rican flags flew at half mast by a tree.
As we walked on we noticed more tributes for the victims. Wooden stars had been painted and hung on the railing surrounding the lake with a message of hope and love. More flags were hung up and several pieces of art portraying tolerance. People cried and prayed while we looked on. The 9/11 memorial felt nothing like this. Here is a community that was shaken to the core by an act of terrorism. The shooter did not understand the meaning of tolerance, and many questions will still be need to be answered for the families of these 49 souls.
My heart felt heavy seeing how most of the victims were in there twenties. Life was just beginning for them. I saw the photo of the mother who gave her life for her son, and the recent high school graduate. Lin Manuel Miranda’s lyrics from Hamilton came to mind: “Who Lives, Who Dies, Who Tells Your Story?” How will these individuals stories be told considering they all have the same ending? Reality hit me seeing those 49 crosses in person. Life can be taken away from us in an instant. What will we be remembered for? These angels were enjoying life the night everything was cut short from them. Its not fair.
We returned to the car and passed Pulse Nightclub. The entrance was covered by more flowers, flags, banners, balloons, photos, and candles. It was swamped with people so my aunt decided not to stop. As we continued to drive through Orlando we saw banners in every street that proclaimed “Orlando Strong.” That message was in every local business, restaurant, and attraction billboard. A giant ribbon with the colors of the rainbow displayed itself in their City Hall. I had never seen a community come together like this, and it was beautiful.
Photos: Rosa Elena Oliveras