Vacation. It’s a magical word. I mean, what else can alleviate stress, recharge batteries, ignite new interests, and engender new experiences all just by stepping into your life? Well, actually, all just by spending hundreds of dollars on travel expenses and hours of time in airports and on airplanes? Not much else, I tell ya, so yeah. Vacation. It’s magical, I say.
Even if you do spend at least part of that vacation in the swamp that is Florida.
Now, let me say that I have spent 16 of my 35 years living in California, where humidity above 15% and temperatures above 75 degrees, are cataclysmic. If either of those thresholds is reached, entire cities shut down. Municipal services are lost. It’s biblical, I swear.
So when I step off the plane in Orlando and into 95% humidity and temperatures pushing 100 degrees, I suddenly realized where Dante must have gotten his inspiration for the Seventh Ring of Hell.
Seriously, how do people live in that??
But live in it, they do, including my younger sister, my mom, and my adorable 4-year-old nephew, which is why my husband J and I made the cross-country trek to the great peninsula the First Nation peoples used to call “Land of Heat-So-Oppressive-it-Feels-Like-an-Elephant-is-Sitting-on-You.”
Okay, okay, the Alachua and the Weeden Island cultures of Central Florida never said that, but I’m standing by it.
And in spite of the fact I couldn’t walk two blocks down the street without laying down in a yard and begging for mercy from the crushing humidity, I did have a great time. My nephew, especially, recharged my downtrodden spirits; of course, there is nothing like a child’s giggles and squeals of laughter to make you feel a little bit brighter inside. And family outings to the nearby park meant opportunities to see wildlife, including all different kinds of birds… and turtles! Adorable turtles!
But one stop on our trip had an unexpected effect. Pulse Nightclub. My sister, my dad (who was also visiting from California), J, and I all stopped by to pay our respects to the 49 victims of this – yet another – senseless tragedy, and we added our offering to the makeshift memorial set up outside the club’s shattered front.
Too many acts of violence. Too many times, I look at my cell phone and see updates from CNN about another attack taking place somewhere. Too many people have lost their lives because of one person’s hate. Too many places that should be refuges of safety and sanctuary – schools, churches, movie theaters, nightclubs – are now places of fear, terror, and tragedy.
It breaks my heart every time I read about another mass shooting or terror attack. But the shooting at Pulse affected me more deeply than others. I know part of it was the stories coming out in the days after the tragedy – victims in the bathroom sending terrified texts to their loved ones; victims pushing loved ones out of the way in desperate attempts to save their lives, but losing their own in the process; survivors huddling together and doing everything they could to save the stranger next to them… But it also took me a while to figure out: part of my connection to the Pulse tragedy stems from my own relationship with “gay clubs.”
As a young 20s-something living in the Gay Mecca of the western hemisphere – aka San Francisco, California – I spent a lot of Friday and Saturday nights partying at nightclubs in that famous, prominently gay district, the Castro. In fact, my favorite nightclub in the city was Badlands, a San Francisco version of Pulse. Even though I identify as a heterosexual female, I loved the gay clubs because they were always so welcoming, inviting, and friendly. I felt safe at Badlands. I know the sexual predatory hunt was taking place in the bathrooms and dark corners just like any other nightclub anywhere else, but as a definite non-target in those predator / prey interactions, I was always treated by my fellow partyers like family. Like I was a little sister with a bunch of big brothers looking out for me.
And in that environment, I could be me. I didn’t have to dress in skin-tight outfits with heels that could double as machetes. Or make sure my hair and make-up outshone the flashing strobe lights. The guys that went to Badlands were not going to pursue me, so hey! Jeans, sneakers, and hair in a ponytail was just fine. Then I could laugh, have fun, and dance as wildly as I wanted, and not have feet I would want to hack off with my machete heels at the end of the night. And, more importantly, the guys I shared the dance floor with would still love me like their little sister.
So from the moments I first heard about Pulse, I knew I wanted to do *something* to honor the victims. And when we arrived at the nightclub, and I saw the memorials people from all around the world had left, I was inspired to create my own tribute.
I am pretty shy about sharing my drawings. But I had to share this one. Because not only did the process of drawing all 49 origami cranes help me focus – and find a relief in the practice of drawing – it also helped me say, in my own way, the victims of that terrible tragedy will never be forgotten. That while I haven’t set foot inside a nightclub for a solid 5 years, I will never forget those big brothers that always made me feel like I was home.