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When I Think About Pulse, I Think About Numbers

Pulse by the Numbers: Memory and Healing Three Years Later

Trying to make sense of a senseless tragedy.

Three years have passed since the June 12, 2016, attack on Pulse Nightclub. We have made it 1,096 days since that morning, and yet the memory still stings like an infected wound. I've thought about the attack every single day since that morning, reflecting on it at least 1,096 times since day one.

Immediately after the attack, I noticed news outlets' intense focus on numbers: 320 people inside. 49 killed. 53 injured. 30 hostages. 3 hours of standoff. 2:02 am to 5:14 am. And just like that, an incident that defied both explanation and comprehension had been deconstructed into its most basic digestible components: facts and figures.

Soon enough, I, too, caught myself thinking about Pulse by its numbers: I knew the shooting had occurred just 70 miles down Interstate 4 from me. I knew that my home lay an entire 47 miles closer to Pulse than the 117 miles the killer had driven to commit his crime. I struggled to understand this number, unable to make sense of it.

Likewise, the "4,500 square feet of club space" mentioned in some articles was, on paper, cavernous compared to the Pulse I remembered. In just three hours, the Pulse I knew had been coldly dissected into numbers and made completely unfamiliar.

I remember waking up that morning at 7 am and reading the headline "20 DEAD" in a shooting that had ended just one hour and 46 minutes earlier. Regrettably, I remember accepting that 20 deaths was a "normal" number for our world, that 20 was a somehow understandable figure -- a calculable loss that tracked with casualty statistics of other shootings at the time. Cold numbers.

But I lost it when the Orlando Police Chief revised his estimation from "not 20 but 50."

Fifty. Could you imagine that? Fifty people just like me.

Many other numbers didn't make it into mainstream news reports. If these other facts and figures had made national headlines, we might all think about Pulse differently. For example, 90 percent of the victims were Latino, of whom a full 50 percent were Puerto Rican. Four Dominicans and three Mexicans were also murdered, and three Colombians were critically injured in this attack. Where were these numbers when we needed to feel them, when we needed to match them to the images we were seeing?

Latinos comprise over 25 percent of Orlando's population, and we are more likely to identify as LGBTQ than any other racial group. The overwhelming majority of those slain at Pulse were part of our community too. So why was our loss permitted to go underreported? ?Donde estaba nuestra voz?

With 49 murdered in a three-hour timespan, Pulse remains the single deadliest incident of violence against LGBTQ people and their allies ever committed.

And yet, queer people of color are 1.82 times more likely to experience physical violence than queer white people. We make up only about 42 percent of the LGBTQ community, and yet, a full 73 percent of all LGBTQ homicides are committed against us. Ignoring these numbers is killing us.

These are the numbers we needed to see then, and we still do now.

Pulse spent 476 days as the worst shooting in modern U.S. history. It was, of course, only a matter of 476 days for a deadlier shooting to occur in a country so thoroughly afflicted by this brand of violence.

Numbers, as unflinchingly sterile as they are, can also provide a means to heal.

Three years after Pulse, I want to remember the aerial footage of 10,000 Floridians lined up in the sweltering streets of Orlando, fanning off beads of sweat in the scorching summer sun as they waited to offer blood -- their own biologies -- to the victims of the night before. The temperature that day peaked at 90@F, with a heat index pushing toward 100@F, and yet the endless line of blood donors remained in place long after the sun had set. Staff at OneBlood's main office kept their facility open until 3:00 a.m. and still had to turn donors away. These are the innumerable heroes I choose to remember.

I want to remember the thousands of mourning faces I saw at an impromptu candlelight vigil that night in Ybor City, the hundreds of flickering candles piled together in the middle of a parking lot. Strength is in numbers, and in that moment I felt hopeful because I couldn't keep count of how strong we were together that night.

I want to remember the 27.4 million dollars raised by OneOrlando and the 7,854,290 dollars raised for the Pulse Victim's Fund by 119,523 people -- an average of 66 dollars per person. I want to remember that most folks don't have 66 dollars to give but over 100,000 people gave it anyway.

I want to remember the numbers that reveal unmatched heroism that night. I recall the story of Akyra Murray, the young woman who initially escaped the chaos but, who, at only 18 years of age, made the courageous decision to reenter the scene in search of her friend. Akyra found her friend, but she never made it out herself. She had just graduated high school ranked third in her class.

I want to remember Imran Yousef, the former Marine who, at 24 years of age, tore open a patio fence and helped an estimated 70 people escape the gunshots. I want to remember the unnamed hero who died blocking bullets from at least two survivors behind him. I want to remember Brenda Marquez McCool, a mother of 11 children who loved her son so much she died saving him.

I want to remember the 5,300 pints of blood donated in central Florida on June 12 alone and the 28,000 pints donated throughout the week. And in one victim's particular case, rather than hate the individual who caused his pain, I want to remember the surgical team and the 214 donors whose blood helped save his life.

One single person hurt this man, but over 214 of us saved him.

Despite our incredible losses, I believe we are winning.

Nicholas E. Machuca (@machucador_) is an activist, environmentalist, university educator, and grant writer in Tampa, Fla. He often works with LGBTQ rights organization Equality Florida and will contribute to its "Honor Them with Action" campaign to memorialize the Pulse victims through service events.

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