Chad Michael Smedley awoke Sunday morning in his east Houma bedroom, with his lab mix dog Bella beside him. When he lifted his head, Bella gave him a lick on the chin. He told her go back to sleep. Chad had plans to meet friends in Grand Isle, but decided to rest a little longer. At 10:30 a.m., he awoke again, much later than he intended. His mother had sent a text asking him to return a borrowed propane cylinder, which was a good thing given the lateness.
Chad looked at his phone, saw some curious postings on Facebook, and then checked some other things, to make sense of them.
And then it all hit home.
“Oh my God,” he remembers saying out loud.
The death toll by that time was up to 50 at Pulse Orlando, a nightclub that is now a painful landmark of modern day history. It is also a part of Chad’s personal history, a place he frequented from 2006-10 while living in Orlando. The club held good memories. Friends were made, Chad got more acquainted with his inner self, and he even took to its dance floor.
“I’m someone who didn’t dance very much,” said Chad.
But Pulse was different, and brought out good things.
He visited the club with a boyfriend last year, noting that the place had been nicely renovated since he’d been there last.
The arguments will continue for weeks to come about the nature of Omar Mateen’s attack. Was it “Islamic terrorism,” as some insist it be categorized? Was it ISIS-inspired or ISIS-ordered? Was it a hate crime? The inspired versus ordered question will be answered by experts in due time. That Mateen was a follower of Islam, and that he announced to police on the telephone allegiance to the Islamic State terrorists, appear as fact. So does his choice of venue.
For this event, the law of parallel truths rules. The attack no doubt was fueled by Mateen’s radicalization. The attack was no doubt a hate crime. These particular victims, being who they were, perhaps made it a little easier for Mateen to turn hatred into action. The theories do not cancel each other out. The latter may be inconvenient for some, who may find their chronic opposition to civil rights for gay people derailed by accepting it.
President Barack Obama noted in his address to the nation Sunday morning the attendant heartbreak “for all our friends – our fellow Americans – who are lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender.”
“The shooter targeted a nightclub where people came together to be with friends, to dance and to sing, and to live,” President Obama said. “The place where they were attacked is more than a nightclub – it is a place of solidarity and empowerment where people have come together to raise awareness, to speak their minds, and to advocate for their civil rights.”
Chad has never voted for Obama, and is not a fan. But on this matter, he says the President got it right. He is not impressed with Gov. John Bel Edwards’ statement issued Sunday, which offered no condolences to people like himself.
“It was a hate crime against a specific group and he should have offered his condolences,” Chad said.
Memories of fog machines and twinkling lights and a steady beat of well-spun music whirled Sunday through the mind of Chad, who called off the Grand Isle trip. He called two good friends in Orlando that he stays in touch with, Michael and Tony. When Michael answered the phone, Chad cried.
“I am in heartbreak and disbelief and I still can’t believe that really happened there, and I have been walking around feeling like a ghost,” said Chad, who acknowledges that he now feels less safe than ever, which is precisely what people who commit hate crimes and other acts of terror want. “I know I live here in Houma, but that place, it was part of my life.”
He had planned to celebrate his 33rd birthday in Orlando. Now he’s not so sure. After making some other calls and taking care of a few other things, Chad returned the propane bottle to his mother and spent some time with her, talking and crying. After returning home, he watched the movie “Charlotte’s Web” on TV.
“Everything else had violence and I didn’t want to see violence and I didn’t want to see the news,” he said. “I didn’t want to see anything about this anymore. How much can you say about it until they get some more facts?” •
Senior Staff Writer