Survivor Misses Pulse Friends

In Jamaica, from bottom left: Dimarie Rodríguez; middle row: Simón Carrillo, Valeria Monroig and brother Jean Carlos Nieves; top row: Rodolfo Ayala and Oscar Aracena. /photo courtesy of Dimarie Rodríguez

José Martínez misses his Pulse friends. The Pulse shooting a year ago extinguished many lives and many friendships – including about a dozen people in Martínez’s circle of friends to be exact, acquaintances and best buddies who routinely met at the club for Latin night.

But the night of June 11, 2016, was special because the gathering had the extra joy of a birthday bash. Just whose birthday Martínez doesn’t recall.

“This person would call that person and that person would call another. If someone couldn’t make it the text would go around: Somebody is missing, somebody is absent,” Martínez explains.

Quedaron Dos, Se Fueron Diez

It was a fluid group of overlapping friends, not all of them well acquainted. They had nicknames and didn’t necessarily know each others’ formal names, he said.

Jean Carlos Nieves

Martínez was invited to the party by Rodolfo Ayala Ayala, with whom he was friends for 11 years. Ayala,  in turn, was good friends with Jean Carlos Nieves, who also attended the party.

According to Damarie Rodríguez, Nieves’ mother, Ayala, Nieves and about 11 others– including Simón Carrillo Fernández and Oscar Aracena Montero, to name a few – were so close they once took a cruise to Jamaica.

All attended the birthday celebration – Rodríguez also doesn’t remember whose birthday it was – and nearly all perished in the Pulse shooting, including Ayala, 31 years old; Nieves, 27; Carrillo, 31; and Aracena, 26.

Quedaron dos, se fueron 10,” Rodríguez said soon after the shooting. Two survived and 10 died. “The saddest thing of all is that they all used to come to the house.”

Dimarie Rodríguez (l), daughter Valeria Monroig and friend at last year’s Spanish-language Pulse vigil. Rodríguez displays a cell phone photo of the last breakfast she shared with son Jean Carlos Nieves. /Maria Padilla

“We were like family,” adds Valeria Monroig, 17, Rodríguez’s daughter and Nieves’ sister.

Ayala and Nieves appeared to be in a hurry to settle down. Each had  bought a home in Osceola County in 2015 – Nieves close to the Orange County line and Ayala deeper into Poinciana.

La vida la vivimos a la carrera,” says Rodríguez, explaining that Nieves survived a coma at age 19. “But God returned him to me for more years.”

That explains why they lived life in the fast lane. “In February [2016] he bought a house and in May he bought a car for Valeria,” Rodríguez says.

Shared Secrets

And as fast friends often do, many in the circle shared secrets, some of which came to light only in death. According to Martínez, two were in heterosexual marriages but their wives didn’t know they enjoyed clubbing at Pulse. The shooting unmasked the secret.

Yo los molestaba. They were married but the wives didn’t know about Pulse,” he said.

Martínez met the wives at the funerals. “I was able to say, ‘I knew your husband. He would go there [Pulse] to have a few drinks, dance and share with friends. Nothing more’, ” Martínez says. One of the wives “hugged and thanked me,” he adds.

Best Buddies

Rodolfo Ayala Ayala

Of all the friends at Pulse that night, the one Martínez misses the most is Ayala, whom Martínez called “El  Bachetero.” They were a couple at first, but soon realized their personalities and tastes clashed, and they were better off as friends.

“He was one of the first persons I met when I came here from Puerto Rico,” he explains.

It was dancing that caught each other’s eyes. “He looked at me to see how I danced and I looked at him to see how he danced.” A female friend of Ayala’s noticed the eye contact and pulled the two together.

“That’s how we started to dance. We were friends ever since. The dancing united us. He had a great personality and a lot of pride.”

That included pride in their dress. The pair coordinated their look when they stepped out each week. “On Saturdays between 12 and 1 p.m. he would start texting. Are you coming? What clothes ae you going to wear? What color are you going to wear? We always coordinated.”

Standing Up for Friends

Today, Martínez stands up for Ayala and his other friends at Pulse vigils and ceremonies, since a few were buried elsewhere and may have little or no family remaining in the Orlando area.

“It’s a sad that no one gets up,” Martínez says, referring to the reciting of victims’ names during public acts. “I don’t go for being a survivor. I go for my friends.”

˜˜Maria Padilla, Editor

Below, in alphabetical order,  is a list of José Martínez’s friends. There may have been others depending on  circle :

  • Oscar Aracena Montero, 26 years old
  • Rodolfo Ayala Ayala, 33
  • Alejandro Barrios Martínez, 21
  • Simón Carrillo Fernández, 31
  • Juan Chávez, 25
  • Luis Conde, 39
  • Miguel Angel Honorato, 30
  • Jean Luis Nieves, 27
  • Luis Omar Ocasio Capó, 20
  • Eric Iván Ortiz-Rivera, 36
  • Joel Rayón Paniagua, 32
  • Juan P. Rivera (Chapi), 37

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