From The Perimeter - April 19, 1995

by - April 19, 2015

Every Oklahoman has their story. Their story of where they were. Who they were with. What they were doing. This is mine. Where I was. Who I was with. What I was doing at 9:02, April 19th, 1995 and in the days to follow.

I was putting on make-up in the bathroom of the two bedroom apartment I shared with two friends in Edmond, OK. (The same city I'm sitting in now, twenty years later). My freshman year of college was quickly coming to an end, and I was working on being late to my first class of the day. I didn't specifically know it was 9:02 until that time got burned in memory later. But I did know I was in a hurry. Then my whole bathroom shook knocking things on the counter around and making me think a car had just wrecked into the downstairs apartment under ours. So I ran out the front door to see what had happened. Many apartment doors opened up, as others came out to see what had caused their homes to shake. But, there was nothing to see. So I went back inside and turned the TV on. Lee Evans from news channel 4 was sitting in front of a picture of black smoke talking about a possible gas explosion downtown. Crazy. We felt it all the way up here. Then I got in my car to go head to class at UCO.

After I got passed the line of trees around our apartment complex, I could see the smoke. That black cloud filling the sky. I had no idea the world had just changed. A clearer understanding was starting to make its way to people way higher up than a freshman girl from Ponca City, and UCO canceled classes and encouraged everyone to go home and stay there. I guess like with any chaos as unbelief starts to die down, the question will there be more? starts to rise up.  They still didn't know what had exactly happened, or if there would be other targets that day.  In my memory, I can see walking the hall and looking at the black smoke out of a classroom window. Someone at some point (was it at school? was it back at my apartment on the news?) said there were a lot of injuries and the Red Cross was going to need blood.

I had many hours before I had to be at work so I got back in my car and went to the nearest Red Cross location. There I met a parking lot full of people and cars with the same idea. I stood next to a girl I had never seen from UCO and we shared everything we had felt and heard. One of the Red Cross workers came out and said they were only looking for O-negative blood, the universal blood donor type, at this location. If you know that's your blood type stay. If you don't know, or you have another blood type, possibly try another donor location. That is my blood type, but I didn't know it then. My new friend knew her blood type and that wasn't it. So she and I climbed in her yellow slug bug and set off to find another donor location I have no idea where we went. But, I remember they said the same thing.  She drove me back to my car and I went back to Kickingbird Apartments to get ready for work.

Stories began to come out from downtown. I don't remember when or in what order. It was a bomb. They haven't found the guy. There was a daycare. I worked at a daycare and as I drove there my mind like I think everyone's mind, was in a whirlwind. What is going on?  Many of the daycare teachers had friends and family downtown. I had family there, too. None in the Murrah Building, but family very close by and all of mine were safe. But, as we looked at the faces of the elementary school kids waiting to be picked up from the after school daycare, things really began to set in. The school was on lockdown and the head teachers told us to be prepared for the possibility of one of the kid's parents not showing up. Is this really happening? By 6:00 I had seen each of our kids get picked up. Exhale. I don't remember driving home.

The next thing I do remember is driving home to Ponca two days later. Even my memories feel numb.  Like I can remember feeling grief at different times in life. I can think back to feeling angry, or happy.  But when I think back to that time, the feeling I recall is numb. How are you supposed to feel?  It wasn't a direct hit on me or my family, but it was a direct hit on "home."  On security. On right and wrong.  On what happens here and what doesn't. I think we were all collectively in shock.  How do you react or feel about something you cannot fathom?  This was my first taste of experiencing that. I hadn't been looking forward to that particular weekend for a long time. My brother Chris and sister-in-law Leigh and 1-year-old niece Jordi had their own moving van and were leaving for Oregon. The other side of the universe. My parents were going to drive them there. So I was not looking forward to the next few days of saying goodbye.

As I was going northbound on I-35, probably listening to Vince Gill if I remember my 18-year-old music self, police car after police car began to race past me with lights and sirens blaring.  At least one helicopter was flying overhead, and in my memory, there is a guy on a ladder hanging from it.  I don't know if that is a real memory or a movie mixed in with reality. But I can see him clearly.  I called dad on a cell phone close to the size of my head and told him to turn the tv back on something was happening.  As I got closer to where I could see the police cars starting to pull over, I saw Tim McVeigh's car parked on the side of the road.  I didn't know his name yet.  I didn't know that was his car.  And the highway patrolman who had pulled him over and arrested him shortly after the bombing two days earlier on charges having nothing to do with the bombing didn't know who he had either. But today, shortly after I started my drive to Ponca that morning, they realized he was the guy, and that his car was still out on the highway.

Sometime the next day, I remember watching my family pull out of the driveway for Oregon, and me pulling out of our driveway for Barnsdall. Our safe place. I remember my Grandpa Corky's voice being very reassuring to me. And as I drove back toward Edmond on Sunday I listened to Billy Graham's voice on the radio preaching at the memorial service for those lost on Wednesday. I remembered crying, but feeling strong for some reason.  I can better name that reason now. When there is peace that passes understanding, it has only come from one place. There is a reason leaning into Him is so comforting during times of sorrow. He is the only source of true peace.  My parents had told me to stay away from downtown while they were gone. But, on Monday I found myself driving downtown.

At my UCO Student Council meeting that day they said they were needing volunteers to help with the recovery efforts still going on at the site. So I asked my roommate if she wanted to go and we headed down there after work. We stood at a locked fence with a few other people as a man walked up and asked us who we were. I told him we were with UCO StuCo and we were there to help. I remember being surprised it was that easy to walk in.  He just opened the gate and led Kelly and I toward a building to get checked in as volunteers.  We went through security and were asked questions that I don't remember.  They recognized my last name because my Dad's cousin is on the police force.  That made me feel safer being there.  Then we were led to the command center. There were still a lot of people there. Exhausted.  He asked me how long we could stay and we said however long. In my mind, I was trying to think bravely and thought we'll stay here till midnight if they needed us. He just kept walking, and said without blinking,  "Ok. We'll serve breakfast at 6:00 am.  It wasn't even sundown yet. In some way Kelly and I must have agreed, we're in it for the night.  So we stayed all night long.

It was like another city. The command center in the lower level of a parking garage was set up with food tables, basic necessities, clothing, anything people needed who were basically living there. Tons of donations had been received, and it was as if all of them had been piled into that parking garage.  One of the buildings had sleeping quarters set up, massage tables, doctors, all for those who had been digging through rubble to rescue and recover our people. It was shocking and amazing. We served snacks to men and women coming off shift from doing whatever their shift had required of them.  We were given yellow raincoats from the donation piles as the rain began to fall outside.  We met a man who wore a hat with a lot of hat pins I think. He was a director of the Red Cross. Of Oklahoma?  Of the US?  I don't remember.  But he took Kelly and I in to help him for the night.  He asked us to help him deliver coffee to Ground Zero.  We were then on our way with coffee decanters on a golf cart heading to the heart of the pain we had all been feeling. I saw machinery and people working from spotlights still climbing on the rubble. I saw firemen laying on the ground using the curb as pillows. All we could do was give them coffee. For all they were doing, we could only hand them coffee, smile at them and thank them. Maybe our coffee ran out, maybe we just left it down there, but it came time for us to head back to the command center. Mr. Red Cross asked us if we wanted to "drive the perimeter" with him. I remember hearing him say those specific words. We said yes.

He drove us past the apartment complexes to the west of the Murrah building where cars were flipped up over on top of each other, completely burned and destroyed.  We saw buildings shattered with destruction and I began to fathom what that must have been like. I remember now my heart racing when I thought a car had hit my building and my make-up rattled. What must the people in these buildings have felt?  What must they still be feeling?  He explained to us what that sweet smell was that filled the air.  With that smell now defined in my brain as we drove past the church that had become a morgue, I cried. I don't remember serving breakfast. In my mind I see a plate of scrambled eggs, but was that then? Or is that some other random paper plate with a pile of eggs from another time.  I don't know.  I don't remember leaving, but I did know, and still know, when I left I took it with me.

I remember observing a minute of silence at 9:02 in class at UCO more than once. I remember crying, for a couple of years, every time I saw a yellow Ryder moving truck. Every time I heard the song, "You Gotta Be" by Des'ree. The radio station in OKC played that song over and over with audio clips from news reports mixed in throughout the song. I remember getting fired up for justice. I remember being so sad for the victims and their families who had to mourn so much deeper than those of us on the perimeter of the bombing.  Even from the perimeter, it was tragic and it changed us. It made us stronger. Every Oklahoman has their story from that time. This one was mine. As I have been remembering this week, twenty years later, I just wanted to type it out, think it through again, and pray again for those who were in the center of that day that they would experience God's comfort still today.

Here is the sermon Billy preached and the song the radio station played ...

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