Evan Fagin has his body painted to help form a human rainbow at the event "Orlando Strong Body Paint" at the Other Bar on June 17 in Orlando. (Amanda Voisard/For the Washington Post)

As the first horrible week in Orlando came to a close, Evan Fagin was feeling what other LGBT friends were also feeling: a muggy sadness that felt like it maybe hadn't even gotten to its worst yet, even while the rest of the country slid on. There were fewer and fewer news trucks parked near the nightclub where 49 people had been killed the weekend before. The top stories on the national morning shows were no longer about the shootings. And now in Orlando, the beautiful drag queens and merengue-dancing girls and slender-chested boys, and all the fragile young people like Evan were left alone to stumble through the first Saturday night without Pulse and with pieces missing.

"We'll go to STP," said Evan's friend Jennica McCleary, naming their favorite taco bar when she came by the restaurant where he worked on Saturday afternoon. "Some people are gathering there. We'll go to the vigil at 7 and then STP at 9. How does that sound?"

"Some people are going to the soccer game," Evan offered.

"Vigil, and soccer game, and STP?"

"But I'm trying to have a drink with Heather, too. She texted to see if I wanted to have a drink, and I want to. Because she's been too scared to leave her house."

"Okay," said Jennica, 35, reworking the plan in her mind and seeing what else could be fit in. She had moved to New York three months ago but booked the first ticket back home when she learned about the shooting. Evan, 30, picked her up at the airport and she set them up on a schedule of purposeful mourning, which had so far held back the heaviest parts of grief.

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On Monday there had been a vigil. Wednesday was two fundraisers. On Thursday afternoon they assembled care packages for the victims' families, and on Thursday night they offered to clean the house of the woman who was organizing donation drives so that the woman could focus on more important things. Everywhere Evan went there were comfort dogs.

On Friday he and Jennica, who is straight, had gone to get Pulse tattoos: Jagged lines traced the shape of a heartbeat, because the proceeds at the parlor that day benefited the club. Then they changed into their bathing suits and went down the block to another event. Forty-nine people were assigned colors of the rainbow flag and then were painted from hair to toe, for a big banner photograph that would be sent to the survivors in the hospital. Evan was red. Jennica was yellow. The 27-year-old fuchsia man a few rows down from Evan had worked at Pulse, he told the people around him, but until the morning after the massacre his relatives thought he was a waiter at TGI Fridays.

Still in body paint, Evan and Jennica went to another fundraiser at a burlesque club, and they saw friends and it all felt happy, and then they watched as one dancer, who had also worked at Pulse, came onstage to a David Bowie song, stripped down to her pasties and a G-string, and immediately burst into sobs.

They ran into the same people everywhere, old acquaintances from Universal Studios where they'd first met and shared a tight circle of friends. People wore the same T-shirts with the same slogans: "One Pulse," "Orlando Strong." And they kept going and going, from fundraiser to fundraiser to vigil until 3 a.m. every night, because Evan thought moving felt better than thinking.

Thinking about the drag queen whose picture they recognized among the 49 dead, the one who had once congratulated them for winning a Halloween costume contest at a bar. Thinking about the performer whose shows they loved and who was now gone.

Was the new Saturday normal seeing police roving through their favorite bars, employing bag searches and metal detectors in places that had once felt as familiar as their living rooms?

Was it normal that at the fundraisers held by the area's other two main gay clubs, it felt exactly like going to the gay clubs on any other night of the week, except that periodically people would spot each other across the room and fall into each other's arms and then collapse together to the floor?

"I can't figure tonight out until I finish my shift," Evan said to Jennica at the restaurant, giving her a brief hug and putting off thinking about Saturday plans for a few minutes more.


The group BASE Orlando coordinated a human rainbow on Friday that was composed of the same number of volunteers as victims of the Pulse nightclub shooting. (Amanda Voisard/For The Washington Post)

Mandi Ilene, the co-creator of BASE Orlando, is enveloped by a human rainbow at the event that she helped organize in Orlando. (Amanda Voisard/For The Washington Post)

To be gay in Orlando meant being a Disney makeup artist who taught everyone how to have perfect eyebrows. Or it meant being a graduate student in nonprofit management and wanting to give back to the local community. Or it meant, in Evan's case, being the second son in a close-knit Puerto Rican family from New Jersey, the son who had told his minister father nearly a decade ago that he was maybe gay and at least bisexual, and then never discussed it with him again.

He wondered sometimes whether his parents had actually forgotten about the conversation. Evan had spent six years performing on a cruise ship when a friend told him that Orlando was an easy place for a singer to make a career. So he'd come to Florida and shortly after, he'd come to Pulse, which was the other thing that being gay in Orlando meant.

It was the first gay bar Evan had ever been to in town. Fridays often meant going to Southern Nights, one of the other three big gay nightclubs in the city. Sundays were Parliament House, a kitschy gay resort complex. But Saturdays usually meant Latin nights at Pulse, where Evan and his friends avoided one of the bathrooms because it always seemed to be out of order, and avoided the roped-off bottle service area because they were too broke. It was butch girls putting on their buttoned-up best and Latino dance instructors with liquid hips.

It was a place Evan had just been a few days before the shooting. He and some friends had gone out for Taco Tuesday, then gone to Pulse. They got there at 1 a.m. and stayed until last call at 1:50. "I don't remember anything else about that night," he said. He wished he did, but it was just a regular Tuesday.

[Profiles of the lives lost in Orlando]

It was a place Evan was supposed to go last Saturday, the night of the shooting. He tried not to think about that. Some friends suggested going, but it was the end of Evan's first day at his new restaurant job, and he was tired, so he went home instead.

And then came the 2 a.m. texts — "Are you okay?" "Were you there?" — and then came the Sunday morning calls, and then came the week of trying to find meaning out of senselessness.

It was his father, the same father who had never acknowledged Evan's sexuality, who first acknowledged what the slaughter in Pulse meant. "It could have been you in there," Evan remembered his father telling him when they talked on the phone Sunday morning. "What if I never got to talk to you or hold you again?"

"We have to find ways to make a positive," he and Jennica said to each other on Friday afternoon.

"I've never been more proud of my community," Evan said on Friday evening.

"Try and smile," said a woman who went by the name Blue Star, the tart-tongued lesbian host of the burlesque fundraiser, to her Friday night audience. "And if you can't smile, then [expletive] dance." Keep going, she told them, and so Evan did.


From left, Mathieu Carter (known by her stage name, Hera Sthetique), Blue Star and Lola Selsky embrace during amateur night at the Venue on Friday. The establishment opened its doors that evening for the first time since the Pulse nightclub shooting. (Amanda Voisard/For The Washington Post)

Tears stream down the face of Pistol as she performs during the second act of amateur night with the Ladies of the Peek-a-Boo Lounge. A portion of the event's proceedings was donated to the Pulse Employee Recovery Fund. (Amanda Voisard/For The Washington Post)

"So we'll stop at the house so you can get pants," Evan said to Jennica on Saturday after his shift ended as the two, along with their friend Heather Romot, finalized their plans for the night. "And then we'll drive to the parking garage."

"And then we'll get the shuttle to the stadium," Jennica confirmed. "And we'll stop at the 7/11 to get shirts."

The soccer game was another purposeful act: ticket-purchasers had been assigned rainbow colors based on section so that the stadium would be lit up like a pride flag. Evan, Jennica and Heather needed to wear purple clothes. At the stadium they ran into other friends in other colored shirts. In the middle of the game there was a break for a video tribute to the victims.

"Where are you going next?" Evan asked one woman he ran into. "Are you coming to STP, or the memorial?"

"I'm not 100 percent there yet," said the woman, explaining that she'd found it hard to go out at all.

After the game, the shuttle line was so long that Evan decided to walk the mile back to the parking garage where his car was. He passed Stonewall, a gay bar that looked full of people. He passed Ember, a straight club that had regular gay nights, and it looked full, too.

"I feel like I have to be out, to be strong," he said as he walked. "I wanted to prove that I could, because if I didn't, what if I'd stayed in my house and never left?" It seemed important, to show that his community would not be defeated, he said, and finished walking to his car to drive to the taco bar where there were friends waiting that he hadn't seen since long before the attack.

Members of the human rainbow pay their respects to the victims at Pulse. (Amanda Voisard/For The Washington Post)

It was Saturday, and they were out. They'd kept going. Evan sat down at a table. His friend Jonathan Vargas stood next to him. Evan's friend Rusty Smith sat down on his other side. They talked for a while about Pulse. Some of them still hadn't been to any of the memorials. None of them had been to Pulse. Nobody had. The streets around it were all blocked off, and the walls had been bulldozed by the SWAT team trying to get inside to save the survivors.

After a little while, Rusty spoke up, quietly. "We were almost there," he said. He and his boyfriend had planned to go to Pulse that night, he said, but for no particular reason, they didn't.

Me too, Jonathan said. Saturday would have been a regular Pulse night for him, too, but that night he couldn't make it.

Evan nodded, but soon, all at once and without being able to control it, the nodding had turning into sobbing. "A week ago at this exact time, we were all almost going to Pulse, but we didn't." he said, and cried. "And you could have not been here, and you could have not been here and I could not be here, but we're all here."

"A good thing will come of this. It has to come of this," Jonathan said, wrapping his arms around his friend.

"But we've been in that bathroom," Evan said. "We've been on that patio. We've been by that stage." He wiped his face with the heels of his hand. He knew that there were other people who had actually been there, or lost close friends, and his grief was minimal compared to theirs. "I don't deserve to get this upset. I'm sorry."

"Shhhh," another friend whispered, leaning into Evan's chest. "Shhhh."

"It was still our spot," Jonathan said softly. "We knew what this place was. It was still ours. It was."

Evan nodded but was crying too hard to answer. It was a little before 2 a.m. It was exactly one week since the shooting had begun. Now, in this different place that wasn't Pulse, the lights flickered for last call. The first Saturday was over, and the friends held each other for a few more minutes before going home.