Defining Ourselves in a Moment in Time

We are in the midst of a pandemic, most of us with stay-at-home orders. We’re confronting fear and anxiety of health, jobs, and resources. But I can’t forget the Oklahoma City bombing of 25 years ago. None of us should.

They say that there are defining moments in a person’s life. That no matter how long ago, you can still recall where you were when that moment in time happened. For earlier generations, it might be the bombing of Pearl Harbor or the assassination of President Kennedy or Martin Luther King, Jr. For today’s adults, it’s most likely 9-11. But my first defining moment occurred a few years before that.  

Twenty-five years ago, I was already a writer. In between writing articles and children’s books, I worked for a real estate and development company managing their advertising. It was a small company, so the position was part-time. It worked perfectly with my other writing responsibilities and being mom to two young children.

Wednesday was ad day, the day the weekend real estate ads were due at the local newspaper. After dropping my oldest off at kindergarten and my youngest at Mother’s Day Out, I arrived at the real estate office. I had just started pulling ads together when a Realtor came running out from the back to turn on the lobby television.

My irritation at the interruption disappeared immediately as joined everyone else to an unbelievable scene. Like a bad car wreck, I could not look away. As the dust cleared before the camera, it looked like a Middle East war zone. But this scene wasn’t halfway across the world. It was 20 miles north of me. On April 19th at 9:02 a.m., a car bomb of incredible power ripped the Alfred Murrah Federal building in Oklahoma City in half.

The bombed remains of automobiles with the bombed Federal Building in the background. The military is providing around the clock support since a car bomb exploded inside the building on Wednesday, April 19, 1995.

My irritation at the interruption disappeared immediately as joined everyone else to an unbelievable scene. Like a bad car wreck, I could not look away. As the dust cleared before the camera, it looked like a Middle East war zone. But this scene wasn’t halfway across the world. It was 20 miles north of me. On April 19th at 9:02 a.m., a car bomb of incredible power ripped the Alfred Murrah Federal building in Oklahoma City in half.

A few years earlier, I had worked only a couple of blocks from this location. I had walked and driven those city streets. Now, they were unrecognizable. Somehow I completed my work done and rushed to pick up my 10-month old. All around, somber faces in shock. I debated picking up my older child from kindergarten, deciding instead to allow him a normal day.

With arms wrapped tightly around my 10-month-old son, I waited. In between answering phone calls from family and friends, I remained glued to the television. There was a daycare in that building.

 What would I say to my oldest who had just turned six. When it was time to pick him up, he was in his usual tired but happy post-school state. The teachers at this wonderful neighborhood school had shielded the children. I told my son the minimum, that someone bad had blown up a building in Oklahoma City. And that we didn’t know yet how many people were hurt. He asked a question or two, then said, “they were some pretty bad guys that did this, weren’t they, Mom?” 

I heard from their father, a nurse who had responded to an early appeal for medical personnel. Now at Children’s Hospital emergency room, he said they had treated a few children who were going to be all right. They expected to receive some adults, but word was that few children were expected. They had died in the explosion.

I told myself that rumors ran rampant at chaotic times like this. Preliminary reports from the television were encouraging. But then confirmations started rolling in. Eight dead, six were children. Numbers continued to rise. Twenty-four dead, seventeen were children. Another bomb scare temporarily halted rescue efforts and an amputation that would free a woman from the debris. 

Then the news reported that many medical personnel were being sent home. They didn’t expect many more survivors, although about 200 people were still unaccounted for.  In all, 168 people lost their lives in a senseless act of violence.

By evening, my children were curled up next to me on the couch. Most of the information was recaps. A newscaster starts talking about six-month-old Antonio Cooper. His parents can’t find him. Rumors were that he have been taken to a hospital, but nothing could be confirmed. Antonio has sparkling eyes and an engaging smile, just like the baby now sleeping in my arms. My six-year-old, seeing silent tears gliding down my face, leans into me.

 By bedtime they still hadn’t located little Antonio. A thunderstorm raged outside our windows as we read bedtime stories.  Part of me wanted to offer my son his parent’s bed that night. Yet this was more because I needed him close. I decided to let him sleep with us if he asked. He didn’t. He fell asleep as easily as he usually did after a long, active day. He slept peacefully without nightmares. The nightmares belonged to me.

It goes without saying that my eldest son’s innocence was stolen. At a time when he was still trying to understand the concept death, he learned that children could be killed. My innocence as a parent was also stripped away. I already watched for child kidnappers and pedophiles. I tried to teach my children about safety without making them feel scared. But a bomb? How do you prepare for that? Bombs weren’t supposed to go off in Oklahoma. Oklahoma was supposed to be safe from things like that. America’s heartland. If it could  happen here, it could happen anywhere. Six years later, we would witness 9/11.

Since the bombing, I’ve visited the Oklahoma City National Memorial several times. Each time, I search among the 164 chairs in the outdoor memorial for little Antonio’s chair. It sits with the other child-size chairs loaded with stuffed animals and flowers. And my heart breaks once again.

About KB Gibson

I am a writer who writes a little of everything--fiction, travel, children's books and articles, copywriting, curriculum.My perfect vacation would be to sit on a beach or look out over the mountains and read books. I never get to read as much as I want.
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