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Nine Hundred Miles from Orlando

The experience of being away from your city after the United States' largest mass shooting

stonewall orlando

The West Village, in New York, the day after the tragedy in Orlando (Ph. Maurita Cardone)

My friends and I had gone to the club several times... I would just sit in my bed with tears flowing down my face thinking of the possibility that I could have been at Pulse that night if I had gone home. I can’t imagine what my mother would feel if it was through this tragedy that she found out my sexuality

As a very emotional and affectionate person, I am extremely attached to my family and friends, so the past year was fairly difficult living in Italy distant from them. Although I missed my family tremendously, I needed to continue my studies through the summer which prevented me from coming home like the thousands of college students who do. As much as I love New York City and all the freedom and experience it has given me already, I am still alone in the concrete jungle away from my loved ones.

Usually when I am feeling a little lonely a phone call to a couple of friends and family usually help me deal with the distance, but when I woke up Sunday morning on June 12th there was nothing a phone call could do. There was a shooting in a gay club in my hometown Orlando, Florida. At first I didn’t think it was real and didn’t quite process the tragedy, but soon enough I realized that it was real—there was a shooting in my backyard.

Although I was not born in Orlando, I was raised there, made long lasting friendships there, and thoroughly enjoyed the beautiful city. It was particularly hard for me to deal with this event. As someone who is part of the LGBTQ+ community and has several friends within the community I was hurt, and the worst part was that I wasn’t there in my city to help. I was 900 miles away studying for my pre-calculus midterm I had in a couple of hours.

Even days after the shooting I still couldn’t process the event. My friends and I had gone to the club several times, but as soon as one of my friends posted on Facebook, a picture of us at Pulse one-year prior to the exact day of the shooting, I broke down. I texted all my friends and loved one’s to make sure that they were ok, and thankfully they were. I still didn’t understand that this happened in my town. You never imagine tragic events will happen in your own town until it does. So I just sat in my room for hours crying and tried to process this tragedy. All I could do was refresh my Facebook and Twitter feeds trying to get more and more information about the incident. I would just sit in my bed with tears flowing down my face thinking of the possibility that I could have been there that night if I had gone home, but I was here in New York instead. I thought about all the parents receiving news about their children and I cried harder. As someone who is still not out to their parents, I can’t imagine what my mother would feel if it was through this tragedy that she found out my sexuality. Although society is a lot more accepting today, it is still hard for members of the queer community to come out, and gay clubs like Pulse are our safe havens, where we can be ourselves and meet others who know and understand our struggles. I received several texts that night from friends asking how I was doing, but I just couldn’t respond. I hadn’t processed everything yet.  I kept asking myself how could someone invade a safe space like a gay club and shoot innocent human beings who were just there to have an amazing time.

As the largest mass shooting in United States history, I don’t need anymore proof to say that there must be gun control.  There have been hundreds of shootings in the United States in the past year, but how many more shootings need to happen before the government takes control and fixes this? The entire world was affected by this tragic event and will forever remember it and the lives of all forty-nine victims.  #OrlandoStrong

*Felipe Gomes is an NYU student minoring in Italian and is a summer intern at La Voce di New York

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