Monday, April 11, 2005

Sprites, Bombs, Art...and Evil Week

Next week is the Festival of the Arts. Yes, there are artists, but what most people come for is the food -- Strawberries Newport, Funnel Cakes, Cheesecake, Gyros -- what, and there's art, too? There's also continuous live music by local bands, dance exhibitions, and it's all outdoors at the lovely, huge, downtown park. Mostly this part of Oklahoma is as flat as a pancake, but the park has actual hills and beautiful plantings.

My sister and I are hauling a kid each out to volunteer on opening night, April 19...the start of (according to my son) Evil Week, which ends with Hitler's birthday (and coincidentally, contains my son's birthday on the 21st).

Why is April 19th the start of Evil Week? Well, that's the anniversary of the the Murrah bombing, and this year is the 10th year -- so it's a milestone, a very sad one.

If you had lived in Oklahoma City for any time at all before the bombing, you too would have either known someone who died, or known someone who lost a significant person in their lives. The deaths that affected me were all second hand -- 1) the lost looking lady who had assisted my friend Bev in obtaining disability for her son as he was dying of cancer -- she worked on the first floor. 2) The husband of my daughter's daycare teacher -- he was in (I think) HUD on the 7th floor. 3) My ex-husband's boss' daughter -- a charming woman who worked in the credit union. And Monica, whom I worked with at the time, had just transferred her kids from that daycare to another one -- missing the bombing by a week.

How did it unfold for me? I was sitting on the table in the conference room in the Dept of Psychiatry (about 12 blocks away), being silly and waiting for a meeting when our building shook and there was a muffled rumble. We thought there was something wrong with the heating/cooling system but weren't particularly perturbed -- all our thoughts were bent around Bev, who was back to work for her first day after the death of her son, her only child.

One of the secretaries ran in -- "There's been an explosion downtown" -- and we all ran to the only TV on our floor. Monica started screaming, "It's the daycare!" And we kept telling her it couldn't be the daycare -- because none of us could wrap our minds around a daycare exploding.

Then the call came that all nursing personnel were needed in the ER -- although I wasn't yet a nurse at that time, I tagged along to help in whatever way I could. We loaded ambulances and waited...and waited...and waited...and then they started coming back empty. That was when we knew it was going to be bad.

My children were both close as well -- my son, Gavin, at a church daycare 6 blocks away, my daughter, Alex, at elementary school 10 blocks away. Gavin's daycare was evacuated. Alex's classmates thought a ladder had fallen down (some construction was being done on their building).

Psychiatry started getting bomb threats within an hour. To this day I believe that they were not malicious; I think some of our more paranoid patients became delusional and wished to protect us. We had a patient, so Bev stayed while the rest of us went home; later she said, "You know, I really didn't care at that point if I lived or died, it just didn't matter." The patient? Panic disorder. She later said that if she'd had any clue how bad it was, she'd have had a huge panic attack right there.

Alex's school, meanwhile, had been told that a different building had exploded -- causing one of her friends to have a screaming hysterical tantrum because her mom was in that building (her mom actually WAS injured; her office had a plate glass window which faced the explosion...luckily she had her back to the window and was filing at the time. She has some interesting physical scars but no emotional ones). Whitney, Alex's best friend (and one of the most intelligent people I will ever meet), had a mom in the Murrah building. Pam told me later that the floor broke off not two feet in front of her and she couldn't remember getting out of the building with her injured and blinded coworker...she showed up at the elementary school, covered in dust and had the principal drive her and Whitney home. Whitney later got a pass on a big homework project when she told her teacher, "My homework was blown up." If I could have had a third kid, I've have wanted it to be Whitney. She's going to be designing the next generation of hybrid or alternate power cars, BTW.

Had the bombing been two hours later, the area in front of the Murrah building would have been filled with schoolbuses full of 5th and 6th graders going to the Civic Center (just down the street) to see a Ballet Oklahoma performance of "A Midsummer Night's Dream" which Alex had a bit part as a sprite. She was so excited that her friends would get to see her dance in a professional company -- and it never was rescheduled.

It's hard to see how your life intertwines with others in innumerable ways until there is a huge disruption in which so many things are broken forever, whether large or small.

The year Gavin christened his birthday week as "Evil Week"? Luckily, Easter was in the same week that year...and eventually I was able to show him that good and evil exist side by side -- so that he at least doesn't feel it's inevitable that he become an archvillain. Of course, he can still make that choice. He's certainly got the evil laugh down pat.


Gone Away said...

Amazing, Jodie. You really bring home to us how such events are not just items on the news but tear people's lives apart and how they ripple outwards to affect even those far from the blast. How terrible it is that there are some who think that their political opinions are more important than others' existence...

Ned said...

Even when we don't know someone involved directly or indirectly, the effects ripple outwards to touch us all. I remember the haunting thoughts I had of mothers who had dropped off their children that morning, the horror of what had been lost,what security and innocence destroyed. Worse still, was the realization later that McVeigh was incapable of remorse, that no thought had ever entered his mind of how evil was the deed or the broken lives and bodies, the mothers weeping for their children, even in the face of the fact that his act accomplished nothing.
And it was no surprise that on September 11, 2001 as all in my office gathered around desks with radios, listening in disbelief that I suddenly had no thought other than leaving to go get my children. I didn't even ask to leave, I announced I was leaving and picked both children up from daycare and school. Although it happened so far away, all those images came back to me, and my sense of well-being and security was torn to shreds, once again.

Reading this piece, it all came back to me again. Very powerful post, Jodie.

Jodie said...

Ned, at the first anniversary, I was living in Kansas and teaching school. We had a fire drill that day (which I knew was coming) and as soon as it went off, I screamed and dived for the floor. The kids thought I was crazy until I explained and then one said, "Was that only a year ago?" For several years after that, I made sure I took a vacation day, turned off all media, and spent it planting flowers.

Keeefer said...

wow Jodie, that was a tale well recalled.
I agree with Gone it is often too easy to sit and watch these things from a detached viewpoint.
I remember that during the destruction of the world trade centre (i was working from home) a friend and i went to the local pub so we could watch the events unfold on a bigger screen.....At the time we, as everyone else, had no idea what was occuring. The first reports i got were from friends in the states on messenger telling me that a rocket had struck the building, we went to the pub expecting to see a grand rescue operation. We got there just as the second plane hit and it was at that point we both began to understand how serious the event was.
It is the same when nations go to war we all sit and watch the reports on the news so de-sensitised to the whole issue that we carry on eating as some nameless soldier fires burts from his rifle into a crowd of unknown foreignors.....

Today an image came into our office of a young Iraqi girl pointing a toy gun at a G.I. A year back he would most likely have shot her out of terror and i would have been looking at a very different image.

Ugh im rambling again so im going to shut up before i depress myself with the death and destruction. We humans seem so intent on ignoring the lessons of the past in search of a new tomorrow.

Jodie said...

The media attention was overwhelming. My son's daycare was the closest to the blast site, so reporters from all over the world were hanging out there day after day. I was interviewed for French TV. My daughter's 5th grade class was interviewed for 60 Minutes. And people from all over sent toys and stuffed animals; every child at her school took one home. I still have the note the lady pinned to it. It meant a lot to the kids and probably more to us parents.