Edgar Gomez | Longreads | June 2017 | 34 minutes (8,473 words)
It was Christmas Day in Orlando, just over six months after the Pulse Nightclub shooting, and my brother, Marco, and I drove through eerie, empty streets looking for anywhere open to eat. Most of the restaurants we passed were closed for the holiday, but still the city celebrated. Flashing neon lights framed a deli window where a mechanical display Santa waved us by with automated merriness. A swarm of inflatable reindeer grazed outside a “New York style” Chinese restaurant. Palm trees dressed as candy canes wrapped with red and white tinsel lined the sides of the road ahead. We were back in town to spend the holiday with our mother, who unexpectedly had to take off to Mexico the night before for a funeral, leaving Marco and me alone and scrambling to make conversation. He’d driven up from Miami. I’d flown in from California. We opted to listen to music instead. Marco steered with his knees, scrolling through playlists on his phone with one hand and smoking a cigarette with his other. He landed on a country song I’d never heard of before. I leaned out my window, away from his smoke, breathing in the spectacle of Christmas in Florida.
This was not my home anymore. I had moved to California in September, just two months earlier, but already the streets outside looked alien, every other light pole crowned with a flimsy-looking evergreen. Elves in swimming trunks were piled in sale bins outside of The Dollar General. I noticed that Marco’s seatbelt was unbuckled. If he were a friend, I would have lectured him about the dangers of driving recklessly, but because he was Marco, I left it alone. At 27, he was only three years older than me, though it was a wide enough age gap that any attempt to talk to each other was clumsy and forced.
When I asked him if he thought I dyed my hair too dark since he last saw me, he asked, “What’s the difference?” I was blond before. My new hair was black. He offered me a cigarette by tapping the carton on his thigh and flicking the lid open under my nose. I shook my head no and went back to staring out of the window, satisfied that we had at least tried to talk. I suggested Anthony’s Pizza, the place downtown with the newly minted mural featuring a flock of 49 doves of assorted colors representing the Pulse victims. No, he said.