I was there…but I wasn’t there. How do I explain April 19, 1995 at 9:01 a.m.?
By 9:00 a.m. the morning was already an hour into “work”—I was at my desk sorting through my “in” basket, determining what do tackle first, what was a priority and what could wait. I looked out my window at the Myriad Gardens—on a clear day I could make out a slight rise in the horizon that was Newcastle (the town where we lived). I could hear the attorney whose office was next to mine on the phone. The main attorney I worked for was on the other side of the building talking with another partner. You could hear the sound of secretaries, legal assistants, and attorneys getting the day started—phone calls, dictating and transcribing dictation, discussions, copiers busy … general life in a law firm.
And then the floor seemed to roll.
And the ceiling seemed to bend down.
There was a rumble.
Then a sound I can’t forget.
And then the screams—“What was that?” “Oh my God! Oh my God!” “It’s the Federal Building.” “Oh my God!”
I thought the ceiling over my desk was collapsing and I ran into the hall. I remember thinking it felt like an earthquake but what was that explosion? Had a plane hit our building?
Within moments (seconds) the entire firm was standing looking out the north facing windows of our building—looking from the 31st floor down at the Murrah Federal Building. There were papers—the sky was filled with the papers that make up all the bureaucracy of our lives—filling the sky with the debris of the building. And we stood there in shock. What was this? What were we seeing?
I ran back to my desk. I remember thinking I wanted my family. I called the Newcastle Elementary School and told the secretary, “There’s been an explosion in downtown Oklahoma City. I don’t know what it is—but will you let Danny & Mika know I’m ok? And the other kids whose parents are downtown . . .”
I couldn’t get through to my husband in Norman. The lines were already jammed. Amazingly, my Mom in California had just walked into her living room and as she clicked on her t.v., she saw the report of an explosion in downtown Oklahoma City. She immediately called me—I said I was ok and lost connection.
We made a quick assessment and determined everyone in our firm was accounted for. One of our “runners” had a mother that had been called in that morning for a meeting at the Federal Building. A couple of people went with her to look for her mom. They returned a short time later. I remember her saying:
“There’s a lot of people hurt. But I think they are going to be ok.”
And the look on the two people who had gone with her as they stood behind her and shook their heads, saying “no.” No, it wasn’t going to be ok.
My van was parked close, so I volunteered to take her to St. Anthony’s hospital to look for her mom. Just getting out of the parking garage onto the street was a nightmare. I remember all of the emergency vehicles going past us. One time I literally stopped in the middle of the street because there was no way to pull to the curb as ambulances and fire trucks passed us.
Once at the hospital, we discovered people everywhere. The doctors and nurses and hospital personnel were lined up waiting for the incoming ambulances. Her mom wasn’t on the list of patients brought in. We started looking around and finally found her mom, in shock, wandering on the sidewalk outside the hospital.
As we tried to return to our building, a policeman said I couldn’t turn into the parking garage. I thought he meant from the direction I was heading, so I went around the block and tried to come in from the other direction. This time he stuck his head into my window and said, “LADY! You are NOT going in there. Go home.” I tried to tell him I had to get back to work and he said “You are getting close to being arrested. Go home.”
I let our runner and her mom out of the van and drove to the south side of the Myriad Gardens and parked my van. I started walking across the gardens—trying to get back to work. I came to a pay phone (pre-cell phone days) and tried to call the office, but the call wouldn’t go through. So I tried my husband again—and this time reached him.
“WHERE ARE YOU?” he yelled into the phone. I told him I was in the Myriad Gardens trying to get back to work but I couldn’t seem to get there—would he call our office manager for me and explain? At that, my husband said, “You aren’t going back to work. They think it was a bomb and they think there may be more. GET OUT OF DOWNTOWN.”
As I started, dazed, walking back to my car, a woman that I didn’t personally know but had seen in our building, asked me if I had my car out of the garage. They had closed the parking garage & she couldn’t get her car. She wanted to know if I could take her home. By the time we reached my van, it was full of familiar faced strangers. As we drove out of downtown Oklahoma City, we passed so many familiar faces. Those people you see on the elevator, in the coffee shop—those people you don’t know but you see every day. As we passed them, we were all saying things like, “Oh, there’s the guy with the beard—he’s ok;” “Look, the pregnant lady that works next door is ok;” “There’s that man that always reads his paper on the corner…” We were searching for “OK.”
It took quite a while to deliver all of my passengers to their homes and to make my way back to Newcastle. To start hearing who wasn’t ok. To start getting the phone calls. I don’t think anyone was untouched. The members of the law firm called to see if each of us was ok. I thought I was.
I pride myself with being tough and able to handle things. But the next morning driving to work I started to shake and then the tears. I had to pull the car over. The closer I got to downtown, the more I panicked. I finally turned my car around and went home. Most of our staff did make it in to work that day. And the next day. And the next. Step by step we kept going. And trying to help where we could.
We lost so many beautiful lives that day and so many others’ lives have been changed. And my life was changed because I was there, but I wasn’t there. Three blocks away, thirty-one stories up. But I can still hear the sound …