I remember watching the news from the comfort of my over-sized couch, crying while my son obliviously played with building blocks and his pink stuffed puppy. The Supreme Court had legalized same-sex marriage and, as the sunlight shined through our living room curtains, the world I was raising my son in seemed instantly better. I was hopeful about a more diverse, inclusive future; a future my son would be safe in, regardless of the sexual orientation he will eventually identify with; a future that my half-sister and my dear friend (my son's dear uncle) would be safe in and secure in and celebrated by, not discriminated against. While looking back to see if I was watching, my son saw me crying tears of joy and ran to me, kissing the salt from my cheeks. I hugged him and whispered that I loved him, pressing this moment into the back of my mind so I could always remember a time when I was hopeful.
I scraped my mind for that memory June 12, 2016 as I, once again, found myself watching the news and crying as my son obliviously played, this time with his favorite Elmo doll and a deflated-but-cherished balloon. A disheartened reporter was describing what is now known as the Pulse shooting; the deadliest mass shooting in United States history. I am trying to remember the sunlight and the hope and that love is love, while I hear that Omar Marteen targeted Pulse, a well-known gay club in Orlando, killing 49 people and injuring an additional 53. I think about my half-sister and my son's dear uncle and my chest tightens, the way only unabashed and unbridled fear can do. My son, now a year older, once again notices my tears and runs to me, only this time, I don't have a smile to reassure him that my tears are happy ones. They're not. I don't have feelings of hope to wrap him in; I don't have optimistic visions about the future my son is getting closer to experiencing; I don't have much of anything, except the failing memory of a time when inclusion and acceptance and celebrating authenticity seemed to be the law of the land, not the target of hate and violence and senseless cruelty.
As my son kisses the salt from my cheeks, he must have tasted the difference between the tears I shed when marriage equality became part of the American experience, and the tears I can't stop shedding as I hear details of the worst shooting this country has ever see, specifically targeting the LGBT community. He climbs up next to me on the couch, places his small hand on mine and he tells me he loves me as he, too, starts to watch the news. He is too young to understand that 49 people have lost their lives because they chose to be who they are; that 49 families are without a loved one because that loved one chose to love whoever they wanted to and identified outside the gender norms our society has created; that 53 more people are fighting for the life a domestic terrorist flippantly decided they didn't deserve; that a place that offered safety and solidarity for so many, was attacked and, now, no longer safe; that many of the victims were Latin, celebrating a culture I and one day, hopefully, my son, am proud to be a part of. For a moment, I wonder if I should turn the television off or change the channel or, at the very least, stop crying in front of my son. What if I'm scaring him? What if I'm altering his perception of the world in a way that isn't beneficial, but harmful? What if I'm being a bad mother by exposing an otherwise innocent child, to the dangers of the world?
But as quickly as those thoughts entered my mind, they left. If I am going to let my son see me cry when our country does right by the LGBT community, and tries to right the wrongs of a past we cannot, and should not, pretend we didn't force so many to endure, I must let my son see me cry when the reality of our country's intolerance becomes violently apparent.
If I am going to tell my son that his half-aunt and the man who has become his uncle are free to love who they love and that love doesn't make them any less human, I must remind him that not everyone believes that; that not everyone sees them as human beings; that not everyone respects that love.
If I am going to celebrate inclusion and diversity with my son, I must let him see that some people actively fight against it.
If I am going to teach my son that all lives are valuable and all people have the right to love who they love, I must teach my son that there are people who do not value all people and will choose hate in the face of that love.
If I am going to cook Puerto Rican meals and teach my son Spanish and encourage my son to learn about a culture he was born into, I must show him how heartbreaking it is when that culture is attacked and the people he shares that culture with, killed.
If I'm going to show my son that love is worth celebrating, I must show my son that it is worth crying over when it is threatened, too.
As a mother, I pride myself on being strong for my son. I want to be the fortress he runs to when he is scared or unsure or simply in need of understanding and comfort. I want to be his sunlight shining through the curtains when the world seems both hopeful and hopeless; the imprint of better days that I am desperately clinging to right now. Sometimes, that means biting the inside of my cheek in an attempt to hold back tears, because my fears and worries shouldn't be his. Other times, and especially this time, it means crying in front of my son and letting him see that when one person celebrates love, we all do; and when one person attempts to kill that love, we are all affected.
I don't know what the future has in store; for my son, or any one of us. I don't know if my son will, one day, be targeted because of who he loves. I don't know if this country legalizing same sex marriage represented a real change for the LGBT community or us, as a society that claims to be constantly working towards equality and inclusiveness. But I do know that, as the tears continue to fall, and as my son squeezes my hand and tells me, one more time, that he loves me, that I am raising a human being who will hurt when others hurt, and fight for everyone's right to love whoever they choose to love.
I know that I'm reminding my son that we cannot simply throw our hands up and claim victory over inequality, just because a law has passed or a specific part of this country is more inclusive than others.
I know that I'm teaching my son that we cannot stop fighting for others, that we must continue to march towards equality until every single person in this country has the rights that so many take for granted, myself included.
I know that I'm teaching my son that even the most vile, evil and hateful parts of humanity, cannot and will not win over love and acceptance.
I know that I'm teaching my son that it's okay to mourn with and for others, but it's important that you also get up and act. You volunteer at a local Pride parade and you donate money to the victim's families and you vote for political pundits that will pass necessary laws instead of offer up prayers and moments of silence and you stop talking and start listening to the marginalized voices of the LGBT community; the voices that someone tried to silence; the voices that are, now, louder than ever before.
I know that I'm teaching my son to look for the sunshine peaking through the curtains; the sunshine that shows itself when hundreds wait in line to donate blood; the sunshine that shows itself when a stranger saves another man's life; the sunshine that shows itself when two young gay men aren't afraid to walk hand-in-hand after 49 of their brothers and sisters were killed; the sunshine that shows itself in vigils and celebrations of life and the promise that love, really and truly, always wins.
The sunshine that shows itself when a mother and her son sit together on the couch. The sunshine that shows itself when an adult cries, and a toddler wipes away the tears.