I was 19 years old when I arrived to orientation at the University of Central Florida. Orlando was the perfect location. It wasn't a small town and it wasn't too far from my home in Miami. The Nicholson School of Communication has a good reputation so I was confident in my choice.
I learned about Pulse from a guy my roommate was dating. I love hip-hop music so he recommended Wednesday nights at Pulse. I went. I loved it.
It was such an eye-opening experience. I saw my first drag show. I saw kids from my classes. They sold $2 Long Island Iced Teas and $3 Blue Long Islands for those of us who splurged.
Pulse was a fun and safe environment. It was always a diverse and young crowd- gay, straight, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, black, Latino, white, Asian, etc. Everyone was there and nobody cared. It was beautiful.
After the shooting - which by the way happened on the club's Latin Night - my mom called me and we talked about the horrible news, she asked me how many exits Pulse had. As I sit here I can't believe I can picture this club, which had been recently remodeled, and try to count the exits from back then.
I can't believe it's the same club where at least 50 people were killed on the early hours of Sunday morning.
The same club whose floors I danced on endlessly is where bodies were found on early Sunday morning.
It's chilling how many times I would call my mom and tell her I was going out to bailar at Pulse. It was Latin night and the song the club used to promote the event was La Gozadera by Marc Anthony and Gente de Zona, one of my favorites. It wouldn't of taken much persuasion to get me there. Where would I have ran to? Would I have also thought it was music? Would I have made it? It was so easy to go to Pulse after a long day at work or a boring day in class.
One day I was in such a rush to get there I ended up totaling my car. We were all ok. The friends who came to help me on the side of the highway were Muslims. They were a wonderful couple who watched out for me like a younger sister.
Orlando was my home for five years until I moved to New York to work for NBC. It opened up my eyes to what the world outside of my Miami bubble - where I grew up - was like. I learned about responsibility, hard work, diversity, and acceptance.
I've always said that after New York, Orlando has been the most racially and culturally diverse place I've ever lived (that includes Miami and Atlanta). I made lifelong friends in Orlando, I fell in love in Orlando, I got my heart broken in Orlando, I had my first news job in Orlando, but most importantly I achieved the American dream in Orlando the moment I graduated from the University of Central Florida.
Here's the thing - Orlando is not just the site of the deadliest mass shooting in the United States. Orlando is The City Beautiful.
Orlando is the city everyone thinks Disney is in (it's actually Kissimmee). Orlando is where the Magic play basketball a stone's throw away from my old apartment. Orlando is where a wonderful Islamic community exists. A community that welcomed me many times during Iftar, or the breaking of the fast during Ramadan, and let me eat their food because I was a broke college kid.
Orlando is the city I owe everything to. Orlando is a piece of my heart that is now cracked but not broken. It will rebuild and still be this incredible and accepting community that embraces everyone. Orlando's Pulse will continue.