April 19

Tomorrow is April 19, a day of holy introspection for Oklahoma City. Each year, we wake to the sounds of church bells and ghostly echoes. Washed in redbud blossoms and disquieting memories, our community tastes together a hard-won but bashful peace tinged with the lingering after-taste of unresolved grief. Despite the reappearance of the purple ribbons and Memorial Marathon banners, I had nearly pushed the approaching anniversary to the back of my mind. It couldn’t have stayed there long, I know. April 19 is one of “those” days.

Today, I read my mother’s account of her experience on the day of the bombing of the Murrah Federal Building. It felt strange to read her memories of the worry and fear she never let us see.


We were children, you see. Mothers do their best to protect their children from the terrible, the inexplicable. I was so full of relief when she arrived at my school that day. I had been waiting for her to come. My teacher’s announcement had left my 8 year old mind flooded with images of cartoon bombs of the Inspector Gadget variety. I was confused, unable to understand why the very earth shook beneath our feet. One by one, my classmates left our common area where we sat huddled around a small television. As their parents arrived, they leapt to their feet and ran into open arms, crying “You’re okay!” By midday, the impact of the first terrifying images had been realized and the television had wisely been swapped for a radio. Now we understood. I waited for my mother, growing more and more impatient. I nearly cried each time another parent arrived. I knew she would come when she could. If she could. When she finally arrived, I pressed my hand into hers, flooded with unfounded reassurance. Everything would be alright if we were alright. I never knew she was as frightened as I was.

My mother was brave for us during the following weeks. She was always ready with a much-needed hug or a hand to hold. She did her best to create a sense of order during the seemingly endless days of cancelled classes, hourly television press conferences, and the ever-present nagging “why?” She taught us to push away despair with kindness and purpose, taking us to deliver rescue supplies and teddy bears to our fire station.  She was there in the night. The sound of Casey’s soft whimpers in the next room were met by the  sound of her low, soothing voice.  As quickly as my brother would cry or thrash against the sheets, she would arrive, and he would quiet.

Despite her best efforts, and those of all of our mothers, none of us would escape untouched. Casey became afraid to go to daycare. He didn’t understand, after all, that the bombed daycare full of children wasn’t his, but another. My mind swam with strange new concepts. A boy in my grade didn’t have a mother anymore. My playmate cried with relief that her mother had been too sick to go to her job at the Journal Record. The world turned upside down as adults around us thanked God that they had overslept or been given a traffic ticket or been unable to find a parking spot. Each fortuitous inconvenience had made the difference between arriving at 9:00 am and 9:05. We had never been safe after all, and like Casey, we all began to dream strange dreams.

The dreams have nearly gone, now, but I am still visited on occasion by nighttime visions of shattering glass, high rises with gaping black holes, and gray ash clouds. They returned for weeks after Sept. 11., different and more fiery, but eerily familiar. Did the ground shake? It’s my tell. In my dreams, the ground doesn’t shift beneath my feet. The walls don’t rattle. I see the event, but I don’t feel it, and I know it isn’t real. If it was real, I would have felt the earth move. It’s only a dream.

Tomorrow, I’ll eat lunch with Casey, or be with my friends, and light a candle or wear a purple ribbon or do nothing at all in particular except remember the moment my mother arrived to pick me up from school on April 19, 1995. I’ll think of her calm and her strength, and of the reassurance she offered in place of the safety that was no more. I’ll know it wasn’t real, that she was afraid just like me, but it won’t matter. She was flawless.



11 responses to “April 19

  1. Jessica…thank you for this. We never know how our actions affect others sometimes, even our own kids. I’m so glad that I was able to do the things I needed to do for you and Casey. You know you two are the most precious people in the world to me. Thanks for writing this–I treasure it.
    Love, MOM

  2. Having read you mother’s account and now yours, it is me the reader who has been given the gift of insight into an event that forever changed our lives. Yes, we tend to forget or submerge those unpleasant memories, but they do remain with us.

    There are always more sides to a story than most of us think about. To hear your memories just add to the full story. Thank you for taking the time to share and help us who weren’t there to understand, and hopefully share the history with our children/ next generations so that we won’t repeat it. (We can always dream) Doris

  3. Thank you for sharing your insightful version of remembrance for April 19. I’ve also read your Mom’s perspective, and I find both of your reflections most endearing to my core. As young children growing into adulthood, vivid memories come to us like a fresh drinks of water, to remind us we have these memories that sustain us…

  4. This is such an elegant and poignant statement to make of your feelings and awareness of what you experienced. Thank you for sharing this life-changing event from a child’s perspective.

  5. Jessica, what a touching article. So very sorry you and all the others had to go through such a tragedy. It may be idealistic, but let’s pray our country never has to endure anything like that again. Every mother should be so blessed to have her son or daughter say such appreciative, and heart felt words that let her know she gave you courage, strength and comfort to see you through such a difficult time. You certainly have your mother’s talent for writing. Thank you for remembering that day and sharing your thoughts and feelings. With warmest wishes.

    • Beverly, I cannot thank you enough for your encouragement. It truly means the world to me. Yes, it may be idealistic, but it’s certainly worth a try! Love and blessings to you.

  6. Oh my, such a heartfelt tribute to your mother, for those that lost loved ones and friends and for our country that was changed forever by unseen evil that day. Our nation wept as one as we watched the scene unfold on our TV screens, but for those of you who lived there and through it, it was so much more. Thank you for bringing those memories alive once again and pray that we never forget those that perished or the bravery shown by our first responders that rushed in to rescue those they could.

    • Barb, thank you for reading and for sharing your incredibly kind comment. I know it was a terrible day for everyone, not only for us, but our people here in OKC received so much love from strangers all over the country. At school, we received letters from other children all over America. Our teachers read them, and put them up in the hallway, and that was very special. I cannot tell you what it meant to our city to know that people we had never met were thinking of us. That’s one good thing we can remember!

  7. Friends, thank you for your comments. These responses are beautiful, and kind, and so very much appreciated. Yes, my mother is a very special woman with a brave heart. It would be impossible to remember this event without remembering her fortitude, so I am lucky. Thank you all for taking the time to visit and remember with me this year.

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