Grieving for Orlando in a Succession of Days
by Addy Gravatte
“50 Dead in Orlando Gay Nightclub” bright on my phone in the middle of the night. it is not enough to wake me.
This is my day off work and I’m sitting on a bright Delaware beach. It is full of other vacationers, including my cousins and her younger daughter. The ocean is wide and open. You can see for miles and eventually, presumably to another land. My eyes shaded and feet wedged in the warm sand, reading through Facebook. The headline from last night spreads itself across my feed in the form of frightened friends from college. The sun absorbs my skin into its heat. My cousins invite me to go into the water. I wonder why they have not mentioned this news consuming my friends in a world far way. Why would they?
Later that night I mention the news to my father. He tells me to keep going, to fight, what else is there to do. I agree out of nothing but heat exhaustion.
When I call my girlfriend as planned, she tells me she doesn’t wanna talk about it. She has been thinking about it all day, and it is so heavy (so heavy). Her family has been celebrating Ramadan, so she is called away to dinner after sundown.
More postings. More information today. More heavy principles. My family left the beach for business at home. I have time. I am alone. My father calls to apologize for his lack of compassion, and I forgive him – I know he doesn’t want to grieve for his daughter’s love. I read and absorb the commentaries. This is the harshest grief for gay latinx. Not me and my sun-burnt skin. I think about my friend in Arkansas, brown and still not out to his father. I think about a girl i went on a date with once who goes to the university of Florida. I look up its distance to Orlando – 115 miles. (She is safe, 1116 miles) Bullets can travel 1.2 miles. I think about how they’re doing.
I talk to my girlfriend again. She gets my care package. She’s safe.
My coworker mentions she doesn’t want to talk about it at work today. I say I don’t either. My tongue starts to hurt from biting it.
I see their faces for the first time. The youngest is 18. A year younger than me.
I go over to my grandfather’s to make us dinner, like I promised on Tuesday night. My parents thank me after for spending time with him because he is alone and yet a social man. Outside on the balcony across the street there is a group of boys who are away on a collegiate vacation. They are around my age and laugh when I come out in housewife tone to take care of my grandfather. My eyes struggle to give them disdain. A few balconies down i see a couple, the man wagging his finger at the girl. Fox News is on. They’re talking about the shootings. They’re saying an Islamic radical was responsible. Never once do i hear the word homophobia spoken. The preacher calls pulse a restaurant. I see the victims’ faces flash up on TV again, faces of potential friends, lovers. and i see the tagline “Imam says homosexuality and drinking are sins” and I see myself in the microwave mirror trying not to cry. Am I going to cry here in my Pop-Pop’s kitchen? out of everywhere I had the chance to cry, I’m going to cry in my pop’s kitchen? NO, I decide, and go out to the balcony to eat when the dinner is ready. The boy on the other balcony is playing “Hallelujah” on his guitar, in the way that white boys with no shame to fear do. Pop-Pop says, “He’s making himself sadder than he has to be” and I agree. Pop tells me he is celebrating the 58th anniversary of his 28 year marriage.
It’s on the way home that i finally break down. I want to crawl into my girlfriend’s arms, but she is far away now. Even saying that to myself pains me, My Girlfriend, because who even let me have her? I start to make metaphors out of the boys on the balcony. They are surrounding me, reminding me of what i’m up against. I feel a need to accept their laughter, to let them be attracted to me, to reciprocate. Do they even consider if i’m attracted to them? What if they think i’m not? What if they see my girlfriend? The couple a few balconies down swims in my mind, an even further more frightening future. A loveless marriage born out of fear. Can I ever live with a wife? My grandfather doesn’t even know. How much does he hate me? I’ve been told not to tell him. no one wanted to talk to me about this and I realize people swallowing their emotions is better than expressing anything real sympathy or understanding of my fear. Is my fear worth less than your controversy? I take a deep breath and cry, cry for the deaths that didn’t even know they were a sacrifice. A sacrifice to what? To a homophobe’s end of a gun and incorrect justifications that it’s not about either homophobia or guns. I have to explain over and over again even to myself that my life is in danger. For a reason that people say i should not be afraid of.
These and years of self-denial and hatred, of accepting but not quite awareness, of hatred and hatred and homophobia are the levy my tears are breaking under. Not ever seeing a happy gay couple live out their days until too old. I’m too young to declare my identity but young enough to die for it, to have my partner die for it, to have my friends die under it. How can I have her and live? How can I have her and live?