24 hours unsafe in America
I wake up to messages on my phone. Not just Twitter, not just emails. Messages. Missed calls and texts. My eyes are unfocused, white letters blending into a fuzzy line. I roll over and go back to sleep.
“What happened in Orlando?” I ask my partner an hour later when my eyes are able to open, to focus, to comprehend.
“There was a shooting at a bar. A guy took hostages. It was really bad.”
We both have our laptops on our stomachs, scanning the internet for any sort of news. His browser is open to CNN, mine to Facebook. Who do we know? Where were they?
Finally out of bed. Put the clothes in to wash. Are we going to brunch? Neither of us feels like eating.
Fifty dead. Targeted because they were gay. I have goose bumps.
It’s starting to sink in. They were killed,
Move the clothes to the dryer.
I’m folding underwear, and I start to cry. What if that had been us. I am alive only because a crazy person didn’t walk into the bar I went to the night before.
And what if he had? How many funerals would I have to go to? How many friends would I have to bury?
My partner makes us lunch. Pasta salad. He stirs the pasta, fingers long and thin around a wooden spoon. Spindly, graceful in the way they couple with my own. I see them bloodied, torn apart, my blood, his blood, streaking down his knuckles, his wrists. Why?
There are photos on Facebook of people lining up to give blood. Fifty dead, another 50 injured. I try to count the people I know, the men and women of our community. What is Little Rock without 100 members of the LGBTQ community? Is there any community left? I think of my friends, my Facebook feed, my Instagram. What do I have without 100 friends? Am I alive? Am I one of the dead?
We have to clean. We have friends coming for dinner.
I can’t not look at the news. I can’t not feel that they’re reporting my own death.
I have to log off Facebook. There’s just too much. So many people calling this anything but a hate crime. So many people reminding us all to not politicize a tragedy. Why shouldn’t we politicize a hate crime, when my relationships, my marriage, my blood—all are fodder for fundraising and talking points?
I start to get angry. People ask, Where does this hate come from? We teach it in America, hear it blasted out from the people we elect. How many times have my leaders used my love against me? I want to hand America a mirror.
I open a bottle of wine. We have to clean. People are coming.
My cousin posts onto Facebook: “This wasn’t a hate crime,” and he negates me. He negates the time in 10th grade when my mailbox had the word “fag” written on it. He negates the names I used to be called. He negates the punches that I had to miss. He negates the father I had that hated his gay son.
People arrive. They’re early. I didn’t finish
My friend hands me flowers and asks me if I’m OK. She hugs me and holds me, and I want to break, to fall apart, to say no, I am not OK. I want to ask her why my people were slaughtered, why we were hunted, cut down senselessly. I shudder in her arms and tell her I’m OK.
We’re all sitting around the table. Fried chicken and Champagne. I don’t feel like eating.
I smile and drink Champagne.
I’m loading the dishwasher, wondering who my new neighbors are. Do they hate me? Do they own a gun?
We’re in bed now, and I can’t not watch the news. They interview a mother who doesn’t know if her son is dead. I know, and somewhere she does, too. I cry for her and for myself. I cry for every gay friend I’ve ever had because to be hated is hard–so, so hard. To be seen by someone as so evil, so worthless as to deserve death is a punishment no living thing should bear.
TV is off. Computers off. Phones are put away. I wrap my partner is my arms, my hands resting on his chest. I touch him slowly, my fingers searching for bullet holes. Might my fingers find them? Plug them? Hold in the life that I love so much? I see his body broken in our bed, in a club, on the sidewalk. Parts of him torn away by hate.
I can’t stop looking at the news. My phone is the only light in the room. I read every story twice. I know all of their names.
Awake again. I roll over and check his body, still warm, still breathing.
Seth Eli Barlow is a native Arkansan writer based out of Little Rock.