Sunday, April 19, 2009

April 19th: A Day I'll Never Forget

Most people can’t really remember what they were doing on April 19, 1995. For most people, it’s just another spring day. Nothing special.

As for me, parts of April 19 I remember quite vividly, while other parts have since become murky. But I remember the shock. And I remember the fear. You don’t forget that kind of fear, especially when it takes over your childish, 10-year-old mind.

I remember exactly what I was doing at 9:02 that morning. I was in the fourth grade. All the fourth graders from Wiley Post Elementary were loading the bright yellow school busses to head to downtown Oklahoma City. We were going to listen to the Philharmonic Orchestra. I remember being mad at my mother for making me wear a dress. I hated wearing dresses to school, but our teachers had sent home a note telling our parents that we needed to dress nice for our special field trip.

It was almost my turn to get on the bus. I can’t remember who I was going to sit by, but I do remember this causing me a bit of anxiety. I was still the new kid, and I always had a fear that no one would want me to sit next to them. Suddenly, I heard a loud “boom!” and suddenly the teachers were pushing all of us back up the stairs into the school. I remember wondering what had caused the boom. Originally, I thought that someone had thrown something against the bus and as punishment we now couldn’t go on our field trip. This irritated me. I was at times too practical when I was younger, and I hated children who would act out and do such childish things.

It wasn’t until we were inside and the teachers turned on a television that my small, 10-year-old mind began to realize that this was much bigger than someone throwing something at a bus. I remember watching from the point-of-view of the news helicopter flying over the debris. Smoke was billowing up and the interior of the building was exposed as beams hung out. I still didn’t understand what had happened, but I knew this was bad.

One child near me began to cry, because it looked like his father’s office building. A teacher reached over to comfort him, saying that she was sure it wasn’t where his father worked. Even then, I could tell that what she was saying didn’t match the look she was giving another teacher nearby, who quietly left the classroom. Probably to go make a phone call. The rest of the children sat in awed silence, most of them probably not realizing that the horrible splendor they were looking at had caused people to die. I remember hearing exclamations of “Ooo, look at the smoke!” and “Wow, look at that hole in the building! It’s huge!” Of course, how could they know they were looking at an act of evil? Their biggest concern was what we were doing for lunch that day since we were no longer going on our field trip.

Even I stared at the scene unfolding, not quite realizing what I was looking at. But still knowing that people were going to be hurt. And that the nation would be talking about this for years to come.

I don’t remember much of what happened the rest of the day, other than worrying about my mom and sister. I knew my dad was okay, because his office was located in the suburbs, not downtown. But I knew my mom didn’t work and would sometimes go downtown to run errands. I found out later that at 9:02 a.m., my mother was about to get in her car with my sister to go to the post office downtown. The post office was located next door to the Murrah Building. They were running late that day. When the explosion went off, she said that it rattled all the windows in our house.

The next few days were mass confusion. The television in our house was always on and tuned into New Channel 9. My parents called all their friends that worked in the downtown area to make sure they were okay. Not everyone knew someone in the building or lost a love one, but the bombing affected us all.

My parents took my sister and I to see the building before they imploded it. My grandparents had come from Missouri to visit, and like everyone at that time, we wanted to see the building with our own eyes. We needed to know that it really happened and it wasn’t some sort of bad dream. I remember staring at the building and not being able to think from the horror of seeing the exposed beams and the shattered walls in person. I was terrified that if I looked too close, I would see a lifeless arm or leg.

And now, 14 years later, I sit in a crowded office in downtown Seoul. Around me all my co-workers bustle about, focused and intent on their work. It’s just another normal day to them. But I, the only foreigner, sit at my desk caught in memories from that day. A few of my co-workers have heard of the bombing, but they treat it like a far away, vague memory. Something that happened half-way around the world that doesn’t demand much of their attention. Much like Americans view the bombings in Mumbai or natural disasters in Southeast Asia.

But I remember. And it doesn’t matter that I’m the only one taking time to think about the 168 people who died. Koreans have their own disasters to think about and their own bloody history to remember and memorialize.

All that matters is that I take the time to think about it. That I remember. And that I never forget.

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