I was all set to do some silly post about cranberries, but then I remembered what today is. It’s the 16th anniversary of the Oklahoma City Bombing. I don’t know if I’ve ever told this story before on this blog (I searched my own blog, but couldn’t find it) so I’ll tell the story now. It’s funny how I can’t remember what I had for dinner last week, but I can damn sure remember every detail of that day.
I was a 24 year old student teacher at Putnam City High School in April of 1995. I would be graduating in May and was soclose to finishing my college days. First period had just ended and I was standing in the hallway talking with two other teachers when we heard a loud boom. At first I didn’t know what it was, until the older male teacher said “That was an explosion.” We all were concerned for a second, and then someone said, “Oh the chemistry lab must have exploded…hahahaha”. We all laughed it off, thinking a nearby transformer had exploded or something benign like that. We really thought it happened on the school campus because it sounded so close. A couple of minutes later when I was trying to get my class settled, an announcement came over the speaker that there had been an explosion at the Murrah Federal Building. We were all appropriately concerned, but didnt have any details. We went on with class and by the time third period rolled around, details were becoming available. Kids were talking about it and always being the naive one, I said “I hope nobody was hurt” and one of the students (he was a tall blond kid who wanted to be a chef – I’ll never forget that) looked me dead in the eye and said, “You haven’t seen the pictures, have you?” He had a small pocket-size TV with him (yes it was against the rules, but we let it slide) and we all gathered around the little screen to watch the breaking coverage.
Oh. My. God. (that was not an expletive. It was a prayer)
A huge crater was taken out of the building. Wires were hanging loose. Concrete and ash and debris was everywhere. I told myself to hold it together – don’t break down in front of the kids. Then the reporter mentioned that a daycare filled with children was in that building. Yeah, I lost it.
I ran to the bathroom and bawled. I couldn’t imagine anything like that happening in America, let alone the very city I was living in. I was scared.
I dried my tears and cleaned myself up as best I could, then went back to the classroom. As I entered the room, the kids looked at me and about six girls came over to hug me, which made me cry again, and we spent the rest of the hour sitting around, stunned. The rest of the school day was kind of a blur, and I don’t remember how, but I met up with another teacher after school and we decided to donate blood because we felt like we needed to DO SOMETHING. We headed to the Red Cross donation center and waited for 5 hours watching the news, only to be told that they really didn’t need any more blood. So we went headed home.
On the way home, the city was dark and empty. I was driving along the highway when it hit me: I knew the exact moment that all those men, women, and children lost their lives. I heard with my own ears the explosion that killed those people. In an instant, their lives were over, and I felt like I witnessed it. It was almost more than my young naive self could bear. There have only been a couple of times in my life when I have cried that hard (thankfully). I hope I never have to again.
I didn’t know anyone who died in that bombing. I didn’t lose any close friends or loved ones, but those who died were still my people. I’ve never been to the Memorial site because I just can’t go. I’ve heard it’s beautiful there, and maybe someday I will go, but for now, I just can’t do it. I’m not a big fan of the ugly cry, and I can guarantee you that there will be some ugly crying going on the day I decide to go.
I remember being so surprised about the aid and support that poured in from not only the rest of the country, but from all over the world in the days that followed. The feeling of love and kindness that people showed each other after this happened was so uplifting and it made me proud to be an Okie. I’m still proud.
So that’s my story of the OKC bombing. I wasn’t directly involved, yet it still lives with me, and every year on this day I will remember those who were lost, and those who were saved, and those who will never forget.
Edited to add: Lisa at imanokie.com has a really wonderful post about this day as well, and she does a MUCH better job of explaining the events of that day. Really, please go visit her site for me and like she said, say a prayer if you don’t mind.