From 1999 to 2011, I lived in Thornton Park, your tiny downtown idyllic, historic neighborhood. It lent itself to a charmed live and I regretted leaving. But we moved to rural Kentucky to follow the money. Sometimes that’s just how life is.
When I’d arrived in Orlando from Marathon in the Florida Keys in the winter of 1999, I was shocked at the busy-ness of your streets and highways. I’d visited only once in 1989 for a short vacation to Walt Disney World so I didn’t have any experience with what living downtown meant. Initially, I wasn’t sure if I’d stay. While I’d grown up in a city, I didn’t necessarily want to deal with city life after living for a decade in the laid back tropical climate of the Florida Keys. I thought you, Orlando might be a stepping stone. Plus, I had no friends and a demanding job.
But slowly I learned to love you, “The City Beautiful.” My world in Thornton Park and Orlando became charming and idyllic too. I worked in the food industry, where I sold groceries and catered to chefs and restaurateurs eager to feed the tourists who flocked to your beautiful city. I partied and danced in the night clubs, walked around Lake Eola Park, supped in the restaurants. I meet my neighbors, many of them gay. All adorable, loyal and trustworthy, all of the things you cherish in a friendship. I called you home.
Also during that time, I witnessed the redevelopment and growth of Thornton Park thanks in part to a savvy business developer (yep, who is gay) and his partners. I watched Disney grow, and grow, and grow. I watched as other small residential communities, like Winter Park and Baldwin Park, blossom into desirable shopping and eating destinations. Places to be seen. Places to relax, unwind and celebrate.
People flocked to you Orlando for its fun-filled atmosphere and healthy, lovable easy-going people. Add warm weather year round, beaches within an hour’s reach, numerous theme parks, vibrant communities and fresh Florida seafood and well, who wouldn’t want to visit and live there?
But like any tourist destination, that kind of an environment has the potential to attract the wrong types of people. Those people who want to inflict harm. Enact horrendous crimes of violence. Those types of people who have no regard for humanity.
The vicious and fatal attack on June 11, 2016, at Pulse in Orlando sickens me. Saddens me. Angers me. Hurts me. I’m still trying to sort out my feelings which I liken to a can of spilled Pick-Up Stix at the intersection of Orange Avenue and Central Street.
Attacks like this do not conjure fear, though. Attacks like this make me stronger.
Next week, I’m headed your way to hug my dear friends and wander through the neighborhoods I learned to love so well.
I don’t know any of the victims or the survivors personally. But, I do know them as fellow human beings who didn’t deserve what happened to them. I pray the survivors and residents can find peace amidst the hurt and tragedy. I’m thankful for the brave and courageous police, hospitals, doctors, medics, nurses, and volunteers. I know what they saw will stay with them for a lifetime. I know it will stay with me.
We share more than grief Orlando. We also share hope.
I am not done talking about you Orlando. I will find a creative outlet for my feelings. Something to empower and make people feel good. Happy. Hopeful.
My hope is that you Orlando, and the world, will remain strong, vigilant, determined and proud, just like I am.
Sending peace, love, prayers and hugs your way,