Life after PULSE for Norman Casiano has been an uphill battle of the mind, body, and spirit. Many of us know what happened on the night of June 12, 2016, but what we don’t know is what exactly happened after? What is life like now for a survivor? Each one has a unique story, but Norman’s is one of healing through artistic expression— a gift that pieces us together as a soul group on this planet.
Numbness and nerve pain are an everyday aspect of Norman’s life, but his heart and eyes are pure. In a sense, my friend was born again into his authentic version. He’s a tall and lanky 27 year old man. His prominent nose and glassy quick eyes pierce you with a sharp energy. He has a sense of humor and a tinge of queen in his aura, but that’s what makes him Norman. He’ll stand there and snap, look you up and down, click his tongue, and compliment you while flipping his hair in the improvisational wind. Some nights he’s quiet, introspective, and overwhelmed by society’s stupidity. He is the epitome of a Cancer– extroverted, but tender on the inside.
I’ve personally know Norman since I was in middle school. The thing was, we never actually spoke to each other. I just remember him being this loud popular kid with a head full of thick hair and a hoop in his earlobe.He was always an active teen and smart ass. I say that with love, but I know he would agree. We’d share glances from across the hall, kind of like– “hey, I recognize you”. It was a sort of recognition I don’t think we understood at the time, we were just too young. It wasn’t until years later as adults that our relationship solidified. After high school he attended Le Cordon Bleu and went off to work at various restaurants throughout Central Florida, such as Wheat Berry in Longwood, FL. During our interview he discussed how cooking was the life blood of the Casiano family. “My family has exposed me to cooking and being in the kitchen since I was really little. I always remember helping my grandmother in the kitchen for thanksgiving and going to work with my dad at the restaurant he worked at, so you could say that my family is my biggest influence for sure.”
I remember one day when I had visited his family his father told me how much he loved working as a chef. He expressed that it was almost always a competition between different cooks—who could keep their white apron the cleanest by the end of the night. You had to have a big personality to work in the kitchen. There was cussing and sneering at your comrades, getting down and dirty with your family away from home. In the end, you couldn’t take anything personal or get too overly stressed. His father said this while his hands mimed his passionate energy, almost as if they were talking for themselves. You could tell he was a cook by just looking at him. His animated mannerism, his trendy style, and his infectious personality. He was quick-tempered but the funniest, most caring father I have ever met. I remember growing up around him thinking he was just like my father—strict as hell, but he did it for all the right reasons.
Norman shared that working as a chef was stressful it’s not something he readily misses. However, there are certain aspects that he does miss: “I think I miss is having everything right there. Like to have so many different fresh ingredients all in one place at your disposal. I can’t really do that at home. I have plenty but it’s what I use to make my regular meals not my fancy chef style eats.” Of course, I wondered what some of his “fancy chef style eats” were?
He enjoys cooking everything for the most part, like pastries and Spanish food, but his favorite is Italian food–from scratch.
“I love cooking just about anything, Italian, Spanish, anything. It’s just hard for me to be in the field with everything that happened, but I almost feel like—I don’t know— cooking and going to school there really helped me with my other creative outlets. After PULSE, I wasn’t even able to stand for a while, so I got into drag and art a lot more. I had always liked makeup and art, but it was like the act of cooking was out of the question for a little while. I had to find another outlet. That was with makeup, drag, and painting. If it weren’t for cooking you know, and growing up around it, I don’t know what I would have done.”
After everything that happened I went and visited him at his parents house. He had a small and cramped room that felt homey, comfortable, but most importantly, peaceful. Every crevice of that room was filled with crystals, tapestries, candles, books, incense, posters, cards, gifts, balloons, and art. You could feel something larger than you and lovable in there. He goes by pseudonym king_pyramid on Instagram echoing sentiments to his spiritual Egyptian past. He feels a kinship with Pharaoh’s and the esoteric beliefs of the ancients. Sacred Geometry runs through his genes as the structural integrity of a pyramid gives him strength. While recovering at home he had painted an all-seeing eye on a square canvas one night. Sitting in bed while Nag Champa incense surrounded him he etched himself in every brush stroke putting his being onto canvas– A piece of himself translated into color– a talisman for luck.
Since the bullet caused numbness and nerve pain it was hard for him to stand or sit for prolong number of hours. He’d sit on his bed, propped up right and start creating a canvas on his face—different characters to live vicariously through as his emotions went through the different stages of grief. “Some things are still hard, but the creative aspect that I learned through cooking has helped me in other ways for sure.” I knew that I had struck a chord with Norman during our interview. He looked out into the distance thinking of times that have passed. It was a different life back then, going from kitchen to kitchen and not really knowing what you wanted to do with the career you worked towards– it was hard. Personally, I always associated him as “my fun friend”, but there has always been a depth to him that has grown with age. As time has passed he’s now able to walk better and lead a somewhat normal life. He dances the night away in safety at Southern Nights under the glow of lasers and thumping music. This is when his alter egos comes out to play.
On a hot October day Norman led the crowd in Orlando’s Pride Parade upon a Solidarity float. He was dressed to impressed with a curly wig and skin tight body suit celebrating the sentiment Lin-Manuel Miranda shared in his sonnet during the 2016 Tony Awards:
We lived through times when hate and fear seemed stronger;
We rise and fall and light from dying embers, remembrances that hope and love last longer
And love is love is love is love is love is love is love is love;
Cannot be killed or swept aside…
Now fill the world with music, love and pride.
Norman is the chasm between light and darkness in our world of hate and love. We will never know what he may feel in his heart after the pain of it all. Without the artistic expression he learned through cooking, he’d be suffering. His aura exudes confidence while he brings people together by celebrating authenticity and hope. He is a gifted makeup artist, cook, friend, and overall human being. No one can say why things happen the way they do, but as the Sufi Mystic Rumi said: “Where there is ruin, there is hope for a treasure.”