Wednesday, April 19, 1995
Long Beach, California
I’d been up for about an hour, and was busily typing away in the bedroom. My thoughts were centered in the world of the screenplay I was struggling to give birth to that morning. Gary, my boyfriend at the time, had been playing video games in the living room, but had run out of cigarettes. He’d popped his head in the bedroom to see if I needed any, and grouchily I’d replied in the affirmative. Quit bugging me while I’m writing was what was actually going through my head.
Ten minutes later, I heard him running pell-mell up the wooden stairs outside that led to our front door. What the hell is he DOING??? He never runs like that; why is he driving me bonkers today? I heard the video game switched off, and the television began broadcasting some newsworthy bit into the other room. It was only about twenty minutes after eleven---what had happened now? Well, my concentration on my writing had been broken, so I figured I might as well get up and see what had made Gary react this way.
Ambling into the living room, I remember the first image on the screen clearly. I thought: “Oh, great. Some building blew up in L.A.” Words like bomb and explosion filtered into my consciousness. I asked Gary what the hell was going on, and was angrily shushed. Looking over at him, I saw finally that he was sitting on the couch, phone in hand, repeatedly dialing one number.
“Who are you calling?”
“Gary, who the hell are you---“
“My parents! Shut up!”
Whatever. Figuring he was calling them to let them know he was okay for some reason, I looked back at the shot of the mangled building on the television. Five seconds later, I felt my hair stand on end, for the simple words had appeared on the bottom of the screen:
What the hell…No. No way. That’s not Oklahoma City, I thought even as my perception widened and I began to recognize other buildings surrounding the destruction. For long minutes, I kept telling myself that the television station had made a mistake. They’d put the wrong slide up for some reason.
What the hell had happened in my hometown???
Finally, Gary gave the phone a rest. He couldn’t get through, and I asked again what was going on.
He’d been at the little store down the street, where Mr. Kim was watching his little television intently. As Gary had paid for the cigarettes, he’d asked what was happening. Mr. Kim told him a building had exploded, and Gary heard the reporter say a sentence with “Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building” in it. He’d had one thought right then: that was the building where his older brother, Steve, worked. Gary was trying not to panic because he couldn’t get through to his parents’ house---Steve’s office was right in the middle of all that mess.
We watched everything unfold in stunned silence.
Gary finally got through to his parents’ house. Steve was just fine. By some miracle, the man had been caught by his boss Tuesday night as they were both leaving, and told he needed to be in the other building for the rest of the week. It was only because of that, that Steve had come in early on Wednesday morning, parking his car in the now-demolished underground parking area, and had gone into his office to gather some things before heading over. As it was, he had just sat down at his other desk when the explosion sent him flying. Dazed, he simply turned around and began helping people throughout the next few days.
My mother was at home, about three or four miles away. The neighborhood appeared on their front porches, all eyes looking to the southeast at the column of smoke and debris rising from the center of the city. My father was farther away, at OSU’s technical campus. Cracks appeared in walls there from the force of the blast. Windows had been blown out in the nursing school. My sister lived about three miles away at the time, and had been driving down that way to pay the phone bill. She suddenly decided she was hungry, and turned back to get something to eat. Had she kept going, she would have been right in the middle of all this when it happened.
As for me, fifteen hundred miles to the west, I remained in front of the television set with Gary for nearly three days, sometimes seeing people I’d gone to school with, sometimes gaping at what had happened to the buildings surrounding the blast. It didn’t look like downtown Oklahoma City anymore. I flashed back to the summer days when we would walk down to that area as teenagers, imagining the tall buildings surrounding us were actually Manhattan. We’d grab a hot dog and a Coke and sit on the steps of the plaza leading to the Murrah building (the opposite side of the blast), and talk about our plans for the future. Now here I was, in the state I’d planned to move to, unable to get back and help my hometown during this nightmare.
In August, 1996, I went back for my high school reunion. Driving a rental car, I had stopped at a stop sign, and noticed buildings around me were boarded up for the most part. I looked to my left, and suddenly realized where I was. Only a block and a half away was the bomb site, and by some stroke of luck, I had my father’s camera with me right then. It was eerie, even with the throng of people who seemed always to be there. Perhaps it was because I remembered how it used to be in that area so clearly.
But when I stood where the Ryder truck had been and looked up…superimposing the images I’d seen in the media over this vast blank space that was now before me…I was not ashamed when the tears welled up in my eyes. It was then that I fully realized what it must have looked like during those first few days.
Wiping my eyes, I looked around. I was surrounded by strangers who were as affected as I was. In silence, I continued my circle of the area.