Friday night I went out with some friends to celebrate my 21st birthday. We stopped in a few bars, where I brandished my ID with pride only to get funny looks from the bouncers who I guessed thought I was an 18 year old with a fake ID. Apparently, I look a lot younger than I am.
But I was let in without trouble and got to celebrate and get tipsy with some of my favorite people. They had to do a bit of babysitting as I got paranoid about getting blackout drunk. Since I’m so small for my age, I figured one Sex on the Beach was enough to knock me out.
My roommate, who was planning the night for me, had asked if I wanted to go into the gay club at the end of the street. A few weeks ago I would have been beyond excited to finally walk in there, but after the mass shooting in the Pulse nightclub in Orlando, I was afraid.
By virtue of having lived in America for 21 years, I understand that when something like that happens once, it’s going to happen again.
I went back and forth about it and finally agreed that we could at least walk in.
It’s hard to even describe the feeling emanating from that space. The music was loud enough to feel in my chest as we walked in. The dim and colored lights flashed and spun as a myriad of people crammed onto the dance floor. Rad and brightly colored hair styles caught my eye. Bodies letting it all out. Limbs and hands and heads and hair flailing and swinging in the scattered light. Smiles from people feeling free, grimaces of concentration in the heat of the moment. Couples stealing aside to kiss in corners and doorways. Friends gathered around tables and the bar laughing and singing along. And the air so queer I could feel it. There’s a certain taste to it that I just can’t place. A feeling of finally being able to be your true self and knowing everyone else is feeling that too. A long-awaited lack of judgement for how we dress, who we kiss, how we wear our hair and decorate our faces.
When we walked upstairs and I looked down at the dance floor, at all the colors and smears of movement, I got really excited. I’ve never been a fan of parties and public dancing, but this place made me want to jump in and join everyone else. I felt as if I could swing in and start dancing without any self consciousness. Maybe it was the two drinks, but at the very least there was something about the place that made me feel welcome. I’m pretty sure it was the queerness.
But at the same time, looking down at the mass of colorful bodies, I started to wonder.
If someone walked through the door with an assault rifle, who would be the first ones to fall to the ground bleeding?
Who would be the first to run screaming to the back?
Who would be the first to die, and who the last, and how many of us would be taken to the hospital in ambulances, and how many of our names would be written on stars in dark nights of tears?
I couldn’t stay any longer. As soon as we left I felt an ache in my chest–I wanted so much to go back and drink the air that was part of my world.
But I’m never going to forget about Pulse and wonder how long it will be before my friends and family and I can feel safe.