Waking up in the face of a massacre

by David Aloi

Thoughts after the Orlando attacks
You wake Sunday morning to the news of a massacre. You check Facebook and yes, indeed, a massacre. A massacre, you think. That word sounds so ancient, like one saved for old wars or high school history. For Roman armies and Celtic Druids. For Wounded Knee and bloodshed on battlegrounds. You text your friends, your sister, your parents. Are you reading this? What the fuck is going on? The East Coast already knows. The East Coast is already angry. You know about anger but feel now you should know more.

The dead are 49 sons, daughters, brothers. Men, women, and lovers. You think of their hearts and how they are the size of your fist, beating blood and then boom. You look at your fist and it seems small for a heart. You say some of their names out loud into the ether: Luis, Gilberto, Simon. Brenda, Miguel, Juan. You now know their names but feel now you should know more. A dancer, a student, a manager. A mother, a father, a cousin. Members and allies of the gay community, out celebrating openly and proud in a supposed safe space. Pulse, you say, and think of your heartbeat.

You’ve been to countless gay clubs and bars. The first one was Rich’s in downtown San Diego. You were not out yet and told your friends you were going to a book club, even though your shirt was too tight for that sort of gathering. They believed you, you think, and you listened to New Order’s greatest hits as you drove down the 5, feeling as though the world was finally on your side. You drank only root beer the whole night, you met a member of the Coast Guard, you danced by yourself and laughed for no reason. There was no murder. There was no massacre.

You wait anxiously for Obama to make a statement in regards to this massacre. He arrives at the podium and you hear the hushing of the press and the clicking of their cameras. Obama looks sleepy, yellowy, as though he just traveled hundreds of miles by foot to speak the words he’s so tired of speaking. You hear phrases like “terror investigation” and “homegrown extremism.” He mentions “powerful firearms” and “these kinds of weapons.” You wish someone would just give him a glass of water already.

You know about guns but feel now you should know more. What counts as an assault weapon and what counts as semi-automatic. Which weapons are of war and which belong beneath a pillow. What a handgun looks like, a revolver, a pistol. Why the AR-15 is hailed as “America’s Gun” by some and an abomination by others. You know about gun policy but feel now you should know more. You know in some states it’s more difficult to vote than to buy a gun. You know that guns can both save lives and take lives. You know that gun sales have soared in the state of Florida. You know the whole nation is, in some shape or form, in a state of emergency.

Advice on how to proceed is plenty. Attend a vigil downtown, hold a candle to the sky, pray for the dead. Write strong words to your senators, your congressmen, your mayor. Vote the right people in and the wrong people out. Donate your money to LGBTQ advocacy, to GoFundMe, to your community. Donate your blood or find out why if you can’t. Talk about terror and rifles, homophobia and Islamophobia, hate crimes and ISIS. Eat sushi with those you love, keep singing, keep dancing. Hug your gay friends, your Muslim friends, your best friends. Your roommate suggests exercising. Your coworker suggests drinking. Your father is furious. Your mother is weeping. You know about weeping but feel now you should know more.