Today it’s been four months since 49 beautiful people were taken away too quickly in Orlando. Which also means it’s been four months since I’ve had the strength to write on my blog. I think I’ve been struggling to find the right words to say and I’ve come to realize that I might never find those words.
Four months ago I woke up in London: it was my first morning there, and I was about to get ready for the day before going to my orientation for my study abroad program. Being five hours ahead of Orlando, the news of the Pulse shooting was still brand new. I saw something about it on Facebook, but the only information was that there was a “Shooting at a nightclub in Orlando”. My first thought was it was a fight outside in the parking lot, so I didn’t pay much attention.
After taking a shower, I was back on my phone and the headlines had changed: at least 20 injured in shooting at a nightclub called Pulse. That’s when my heart stopped.
I lived in Orlando for four years. After only being there for a few weeks, I already knew what Pulse was. I always thought of it as the most popular club in Orlando. The more friends I made in Orlando, the more I realized how many people I knew frequented this place – and sometimes it was every week! It was known as a place to go dance, have fun, and most of all… be yourself without any judgement.
So when I sat in my dorm bed on Sunday morning, it turned into a day of trying to get a hold of every single person I knew. And although I was in London, I had friends in Orlando trying to get a hold of me to see if I’ve heard from “so-n-so”. I had texts coming in, “Have you heard from —-? They’re looking for him on Facebook.” Or, “I’ve been calling —– but they aren’t answering. Have you talked to them today?”
I used to think Facebook having the “mark safe” feature was a waste of time. But suddenly my phone was going off every second with, “2 friends checked in safe in Orlando,” “20 friends checked in safe…”, “200 friends checked in safe…”. I was going through that list like a mad woman.
Two of my friends weren’t responding on this list. As I sat in orientation for my London experience, there were posts on Facebook begging people to share information if they had it about these two people. But then there were my other friends who were missing four, five, six friends or family members…
You never think these kinds of experiences can happen to you. Some of my friends make fun of me for being on edge when I’m in public places or on campus, because I usually try to have an exit plan in case something happens. I’m sure my friends at Pulse thought the same thing… This can’t happen to me… This is my safe place.
My friend Matt finally got news that one of our friends was okay. It was a relief in the chaos of it all. But our other friend, Xavier, was still missing.
The next day I found out the news: Xavier didn’t make it. Xavier.
I worked with Xavier at the Gaylord Palms Hotel in the Dreamworks department. I didn’t hang out with him outside of work, but the people I worked with at Dreamworks became another family of mine. We were all close. We spent so much time together at work goofing off on set, gossiping in the break rooms, and eating as much food as possible at our work buffet. What I loved about Xavier was how passionate he was, especially when he was paired up with his best friend Wilma.
The way Wilma and Xavier worked together on set was contagious. When I got to work with them I knew it was going to be a good day. I felt even more lucky because I also got to work with them at Disney, and they were amazing there, too.
When I became a character performer for Dreamworks I had a few people to look up to, and Xavier was one of them. He was just so good at his job and made me want to be better. He was also this amazing dancer: it was one of his favorite things to do. I was a terrible dancer so I always wished I could be just half as good as he was.
I know it’s cliche, but try to live without regrets. This experience has humbled me into the kind of person that wants my friends to know how much I care about them, how much I love them, and how important they are to me. I don’t want to miss out on any moment with the people I love because you really, really never know when it can be taken away. Don’t stress over the small things. Spread love. Be excellent to each other.
Wilma, I am so sorry you have to go through everything that’s happened in the last four months. I know Xavier’s spirit will live on not just through you but the beautiful son you had together. And whenever you feel alone in this pain, remember that there are countless people who love the three of you that will be there for anything you need.
I really want to give a huge thank you to Universal Studios. Thank you so much for honoring these people not just on your social media, but by putting them in the park forever with the window display, and for the small touch of, “Be Excellent to Each Other” at the end of the Bill & Ted show.
To my friends, I know you’re all still hurting from this. You aren’t alone.
There are days when I think about what happened and I just break down. I try to not be scared when I go places, because I know I should be enjoying my time regardless, but it’s hard not to be sometimes. I went to a concert a few weeks ago and just seeing a rainbow flag made me lose it because I immediately thought of my old home and what all my friends have to go through. It’s not easy to deal with. I don’t really know how to still.
Thank you to the people of Orlando for coming together in a way I never imagined a city being able to do. I’ve never felt more proud to have lived somewhere.
I know I’m at the point of rambling now… so maybe I should cut this short.
I miss you, Xavier.
I love you all.