April 19, 2015

Remembering Oklahoma City 20 Years Later

by

Oklahoma City Bombing Memorial

Twenty years ago as I got ready for class, my apartment in Norman, Oklahoma rattled a bit. Definitely an odd experience, but when I turned on the TV there was nothing on the news. I knew something happened but I didn’t know what it was. As I did most days, I called my husband, who lived in Phoenix, to say good morning. I told him what happened. At the time though, just minutes after the Oklahoma City Bombing, we had no idea what really happened or how that day would change our lives.

This was long before the internet of today so we had no Google or Twitter or Facebook to turn to for immediate information. Instead, we said our goodbyes and I headed to class. I was in law school at The University of Oklahoma at the time. I don’t even need to close my eyes to tell you that each of the front doors had pieces of paper on them telling us not to go downtown. Those taped-up papers, hastily printed and placed around the building, were all over. A normally buzzing building was eerily quiet. We may not have known exactly what happened, but we knew it was something that would affect us all.

It wasn’t long before speculation turned to truth. The plume of black smoke could be seen miles away. Reporters were on the scene with the grisly photos and video of the bombed-out building. And talk among the students quickly turned to those who worked in the building and nearby offices.

The aftermath was a jumble of emotions. I drove a vehicle with Arizona plates and was stopped several times in the days after the bombing as police were looking for a vehicle with Arizona license plates that was believed to be connected with the bombing. I was late for class three times in the following days because I was stopped on the short 2 mile drive from my apartment to the school.

Two days after the bombing, I was stopped on the way to class and made to get out of my car. I was late to a class taught by an Oklahoma Supreme Court Justice. Missing the class wasn’t an option so I went, arriving sweaty, late, and already humiliated. I can still hear his voice calling me disrespectful. There was no use saying anything but “I’m sorry”. For the sake of the class. And for me.

I didn’t leave my house at all that weekend. I knew what might happen if I did. Fortunately it wasn’t too long before they news reports said the police found the car they were looking for. I got tired of the around-the-clock coverage with the same images flashing on my TV over and over again. This went on for weeks as the national news set up camp in downtown Oklahoma City and searched the area for any and every possible news story to fill the air time for all the shows they were preempting. It’s probably why I don’t watch the news much, even to this day.

In the scope of what happened to Oklahoma that day, what I experienced is minimal. It stays with me not because the Oklahoma City Bombing had anything to do with me, but because it intimately affected my friends, my classmates, my school, and a community I had adopted as my temporary home. Twenty years later and I think many are now finally finding peace. First responders, family members, and the Oklahoma City community continue to find hope.

Recently, I was talking to a friend and we paused at realizing it’s been 20 years since we sat in “the pit” speculating as to what happened. She said that some days it seems so recent. I agreed. We talked about how the memories don’t fade, just the pain and sadness. There are some who think these remembrance ceremonies are a waste of time or money. That they open old wounds. And perhaps they are right.

For me, writing about it still overwhelms me. I felt helpless and sad and angry back then. I don’t feel helpless or angry any more. Sometimes I still feel sad, but mostly I remember so I can keep alive the memory of the 168 people who perished that day because two people didn’t believe in the good of our country. And I remember for those who survived and continue to live life believing in the good of our country, our world, and the people who strive to make it great.

“We come here to remember those who were killed, those who survived and those changed forever. May all who leave here know the impact of violence. May this memorial offer comfort, strength, peace, hope and serenity.”
Oklahoma City National Memorial and Museum

 

 

 

Image Credit: Memorial Candle image used in graphic

Sara

{ 1 comment }

Robyn Wright April 29, 2015 at 2:50 pm

I cannot believe it has been this long! This day always stands out for me because it was my grandma’s birthday also. I had no idea you were in OKC when this happened – I am so glad you are okay. Even though you said your experience was minimal, it really had to be very hard to be living there at the time. Such scary stuff! {{{HUGS}}}

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