I had a wonderful 3 day reunion, but I'll get to that another time. Upon leaving Arcadia, I decided to take a different route home so that I could swing through OKC. It was much longer than the way I'd driven up, so I didn't arrive in Oklahoma City until dark. I didn't have a reservation anywhere, so I just drove to the one place I knew the best. The Skirvin Hotel in downtown OKC. The Skirvin has always been a landmark hotel and it's elegant and I knew I'd be happy there.
I checked into the hotel and collapsed once I got to the room. However, I was able to make a list of the things I wanted to do the next day. Most people do this I think. Drive by my grandparents' old house, drive by some old familiar haunts, then drive downtown to see the Memorial and inspect whatever had been rebuilt. I was wanting to recapture some memories of the old days. So, I went to sleep with great anticipation for the next day's activities.
The first thing I did the next day was drive in the direction of my grandparents old house, close to downtown on 10th street. I was surprised to see that entire area had been turned into the historical district, but it all looked so much better than I remember. Apparently, a young couple had bought their old house and had totally renovated it. I was quite pleased with this development, so I moved on.
I drove by several of my old haunts, none of which were any longer there. No problem. I chalked it up to progress, deciding it was all good. So, I turned off 23rd street, getting on Robinson and headed toward downtown. I couldn't wait to see the old cleaners, which once stood @ 6th & Robinson, just off the corner. As I approached downtown, I started getting disoriented because nothing looked the same. After 30 years? Go figure. I wound up having to go around several blocks, several different times before I could pinpoint where I was. In the process of going around the blocks, I realized that the Memorial was less than a block away from the cleaners.
I realized that everything I'd thought before about the bombing, was all wrong. Back on Robinson and in front of the Memorial again, I screeched the car to a halt in the nearest parking place. I couldn't breathe. I had something in my stomach that wanted to come up and I wasn't sure that I could hold it off. It all hit me so hard & so fast, that I did not see it coming. I got out of the car & stumbled across the street to the Memorial, all the while turning in circles & trying to figure out what all was different. My grandparents' cleaners had been across the street, to the side of the Murrah Building that housed the FBI. It all had. All of it. All of those places & people I'd known as a child were gone. For 4-5 blocks in every direction. I had seen everything on TV but it had all looked so different that I had just not connected the dots. Until that moment. It was a devastating
I felt the Big Blow coming on but ignored it. I felt as if someone had socked me in the stomach really hard and it had knocked the wind out of me, because I was still having trouble breathing, only now it was because I'd started crying. No. I can't really call it crying, because it was more like weeping and cough-gulping all at once. I was clearly hysterical and there were people all around. Thankfully, no one stared. No one stared because people were used to seeing other people cry at the Memorial. It's a very common occurrence, therefore, I was ignored & left to my own grief.
I sat outside crying for at least two hours before I was able to muster up the nerve to enter the museum. I went in to use the restroom but when I came out, I just couldn't go through it. I went back outside to sit and stared at the infinity pool for a long time. Still crying. Still trying to figure out how I could have misjudged the distance from the cleaners. I ultimately realized that I had been remembering through a child's eyes. That's why I'd thought it was so much farther away.
After a time, the two Security Policemen I'd seen when I first arrived, came up to me & asked if I was okay. I replied a tearful yes, then kind of laughed at my blubbering. I was blowing my nose on the one ragged Kleenex I had left, so I was offered another, which I accepted. One of the men said that he only saw people who had lost someone stay as long I had, and I told him yes. I told him I'd lost my entire childhood. So, they sat down with me for a while & I tried to tell them my story in as few words as I possibly could. (I know, miracle, huh?)
When I finished, they were both crying with me. Then they took me over to the wall that lists every one's names that were killed. There, toward the bottom was my Uncle Bruce's name. Which started a whole new barrage of tears. I told them of the many other businesses that used to be there and they both said they'd just been talking about what the businesses were that had not been listed. People were listed. Not businesses. They also told me that that entire block (of the cleaners) had been levelled in the bombing. My uncle had been found in the rubble, 2 days after the bombing. Once upon a time my grandfather had owned all of that property in downtown... slowly selling it off over time.
I returned to the hotel when it was getting close to dark and called Mr. Snooty to bring him up to snuff on everything. I also told him I'd be staying a few more days and he said to take as long as I needed. I ended up staying an additional 5 days while I laid my ghosts to rest and visited the Memorial again 2 more times, but was never able to make myself go through the museum part.
Sometimes I wish I'd never gone back to OKC that year, but I also realize that it was final closure for me. Just like the previous stages in my life, I needed that closure. And time marches on, taking no prisoners.