The Monday after the Orlando Pulse shooting, my fiancée and I went to the vigil outside the Stonewall Inn in New York City because we didn’t know what else to do. I left work early, my coworkers confused (“Was someone you know there?”) but sympathetic. We drove four and a half hours to the Lincoln tunnel, had at least two sobbing fights about the horror that is city driving, and wondered if we were being selfish or silly for going to all that trouble.
I don’t think we could have done anything else. Sometimes things happen that are so horrible, you can’t do anything but put on a clean shirt and go to the funeral.
As it started to seem like the whole world had agreed that 2016 was the worst! year on record, it was hard to disagree. I was tired. I remembered walking up the sidewalk to the vigil, arm in arm with my fiancée, looking for the friend we were meeting. Thinking: OK, she’ll be the short white femme looking serious. Her hair’s probably still spiky and bleached. Hopefully she’ll see us first and wave.
We found each other and hugged – what do you say? When your grandmother dies, you tell your cousins, “It’s so good to see you again – if only there were better circumstances.” But ‘circumstances’ felt like one hell of a euphemism. I think I remember saying, “I’m so glad you’re safe” over and over again.
We were an angry crowd that night, hard to impress. We hissed when pedestrians crossed over the chalk memorial in the center of the park. We chanted over everyone who tried to talk. It was the kind of anger that can’t be placated, the way that smoke stays in the walls of a house ages after a fire, and on warm days the smell seems to billow out.
In a lot of ways, the whole year felt like that. There would be news of something else awful, and then the rush – now routine – to reach out and check in with each other. I remember saying “I’m so sorry to tell you this,” and having friends and relatives, people who aren’t out to anyone yet and married couples with children, message me to ask, “How are you doing?”
It sucked. We must have loved each other so much to do it.