Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Oklahoma City

A couple of years ago I drove by myself to Oklahoma City to see the memorial. This was during March of '08, coming up on the thirteenth anniversary of the bombing. It's a long drive to OKC from Memphis and I had just started a new job, driving a brand new car and I kind of felt like part of my life was ending. When I got into town I didn't go directly to the memorial. I just checked into my hotel and walked around a little on my end of downtown, got some food, had a beer. I was tired. I had worked all night the night before. So I was pretty tired by the time I rolled into town anyway.

The next morning I was kind of bummed looking up at the clouds. I wanted to walk to the memorial but it looked like rain. I was flipping around the television trying to find the Weather Channel to get a look at the radar and check out the forecast. They were predicting rain for much later in the day. Didn't look good to me but I decided to chance it. I asked somebody at the front desk the best way to get to the Murrah Building, I mean the memorial. I felt bad for saying the name out loud. It didn't seem to faze them though, they just handed me a paper tourist map of downtown Oklahoma City. The nice lady at the front desk just circled where the hotel was and circled where the memorial was. Just a few blocks. Off I went.

I'm a huge fan of cities. I like the tall buildings downtown. I like robust public transportation systems. I like checking out the local dining scene. These things interest me. Whenever I walk around in a new city I wonder what is it like here, what are the common themes here. What's the one thing in this city that everyone agrees on. Well in a place like Oklahoma City, which is smaller than Memphis, you know the answer. You know what it's about here. What everyone thinks about everyday. The bombing. And I kept thinking, they had a bombing.

I always think that when people visit Memphis they assume that we all subconsciously have an Elvis song running in our heads. Or an Elvis movie. Or an Elvis story. I mean, I do, but do most people in Memphis? But regardless of what is true or not, we are at least identified as the Elvis city. So I think that's what I was thinking about OKC. They had a bombing.

I'm pretty good with maps so I sort of set my course and took off folding the map away in my pocket. I knew what direction I was going, I knew what side of the street to be on and be looking on. I knew the name of the cross streets I was looking for but I was still thrown for a loop when I got there. There it was, the entryway plaza for the Alfred P Murrah Federal Building. It's still there, it's the opposite side from where the truck was parked and exploded. And my first thought was, holy shit. It was like looking at ancient ruins, some relic from the past. And also, I didn't know this was here. My brain was buzzing with a million thoughts.

My immediate thought as I stood there frozen, looking at the plaque bearing the name, right next to the steps, was, if I had stood here on this spot on that day what would it have sounded like? What would it have felt like? Would I have been injured or killed? Would I have ran around to the other side and tried to rescue people?

And there they were, these steps that lead up to the plaza. How many victims took these steps from the sidewalk for the last time that day? I walked up them and I was starting to get emotional. Not outwardly, I wasn't crying or making a scene. I just had to force myself to breath. I had to force myself to walk up those steps. I got up to the top and saw the large planters still there, with trees in them. I was wondering if I wanted to keep going. How much did I want to see I thought? Keep going.

The plaza ends abruptly. Right in the spot where the building stood. You can walk to the edge and look down at what at the time was street level and what today is the public memorial. The first thing you notice is the long reflecting pool. The pool runs parallel to what would have been the building. The pool itself is surrounded by a stone walk way. And directly below are the chairs. 168 of them, one for each of the victims. They are spread out exactly where the building once stood and each chair is located approximately where the people would have been in the building.

I stood up there for a while and I don't know, it was peaceful and it gave me strength. It was like getting a second wind and I felt it was important to be here and see this. You can walk inside the memorial grounds so that's what I did. And it wasn't until I got down there that I realized the reflecting pool runs where the street ran. Which means you can't stand in the exact spot where the the truck was parked and the bomb exploded.

Why did they do this I thought? Are they trying to obliterate history? I wanted to stand in that spot because I wanted to somehow absorb part of the psychic energy of that blast. To pull some of it away from the survivors. To share in the burden somehow. I kept thinking of Lincoln's quote about "the mystic chords of memory that bound our earthly affections" or something like that. I wanted to feel their pain and to let them know that what happened here was not just a crime but an immense national tragedy. Something we all shared in. I walked all the way around the pool.

When I got directly in front of the chairs, I had no compulsion to walk on the grass where they stand. Where the building was. I didn't want to go in the building. I couldn't go in the building. I started thinking about the kids in the daycare. I kept on walking.

I stood at the end of the reflecting pool it was the end closest to the intersection that the truck drove through (I'm not going to use that assholes name) right before it was parked. And then exploded. Later I walked back to the hotel and got in my car and drove all around the memorial. I was obsessed with the exact route the truck took to get there. There was a surveillance camera at an apartment building that caught a glimpse of the truck just a block away on it's way. I stopped my car in front of the apartment building. I looked in my rear view mirror and still I thought, but where was the truck before it got here? I wanted to know exactly.

I figured out it wasn't the interstate exit or the interstate. Or the secluded lake or the storage shed. That's not what I wanted to know. I wanted to know why? Why did this happen? And in the end you go to the memorial and you visit the museum. And the museum is excellent and moving. You see where it happened. You know exactly when it happened down to the minute. But you never find out why. Nobody knows why.

Later that day I sat staring out the window of my hotel room watching it rain it's ass off.

8 Comments:

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