Revisited

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Non-Fiction  |  House: Booksie Classic
Pain needs to be relived in order to feel joy.

Submitted: April 23, 2013

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Submitted: April 23, 2013

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Revisited

 

The clinic was filled with expressionless faces. The lack of emotion scared her considering how much she wanted to hide away in the corner and pretend like nothing happened—but she couldn’t. “Be useful.” That’s what her mom told her to do before she left to help the more serious victims. Sam filled another thin Dixie cup with water and turned to look for someone with empty hands. An old man sat near the rest rooms, his head balancing on his palms like a plate on a stick. He was hunched forward as if he were going to vomit. Sam walked over to him and stretched out her thin arm with the sloshing cup clasped tightly in her infant hands. The old man looked up at the cup and took it without a word. Sam stood still. The ash on the man’s balding head etched his wrinkles like a street artist's masterpiece. Feeling her eyes on him, the old man looked up once more—his stoic face suddenly taking on pure elation.

“Baylee! Thank god!”

The old man lunged at Sam and threw his arms around her, picking her up and swinging her around the small aisle of the waiting room. Sam instinctively put her hands on his chest, locked her elbows and pushed her body away from his. The man stopped mid-twirl and looked closely at her face. A woman rushed to their side and pulled Sam out of the man’s tight grip. As soon as her feet touched the ground, Sam retreated back to the water cooler and crouched by its side. The old man stared across the room at her, his joy draining from his face as the woman next to him stroked his arm knowingly and spoke:

“That isn’t Baylee. I am so sorry Charles.  Your sister just called from the hospital. Baylee is gone.”

***

 

The metal, art-deco bench sat alone behind a semicircular partition in the center of the pathway. Sam had been sitting on its hard metal surface, gazing across the rest of the room for fifteen minutes. Bright colors splashed across wave shaped-walls and partitions which separated the displays of the museum from each other, from everything. Multiple perfumes and dried body odor swamped the stale, recycled air. The chemical assault made her throat crack and nose run. She clasped her hands tightly around her knees and inhaled through her teeth. Blinking rapidly in order to fight off the burn in her eyes, she asked herself why she wanted to go through this—all of this, again. Sam knew that something inside her was desperate for this place and no matter how much it tore her apart, she had to face it. She tensed her grip around herself, whitening her knuckles and letting her nails cut into her hands. Blue tinted lights made her skin a corpse shade of grey. The other people in the room waddled from display to display, decaying with each oddly colored hue that accompanied it. She wasn’t the only walking-dead here.

A large, flat screen TV secured in a glass case sat a few feet in front her; it washed along another eight foot wide wave-wall. The fluidity of the architecture, she heard, was supposed to be calming; it was supposed to soften the disturbing sharpness that this place possessed. Sam simply thought it was an architect getting a little too crazy with a drafting pencil. The TV flashed to the scene she had been waiting for and her focus came back to the screen. It played the same broadcast over and over again on a five minute cycle; this was her third time around. She watched as the blonde reporter pushed the hair out of her face again. She coughed gently from the smoke swirling overhead. Sam sat straighter; she leaned towards the TV, trying to smell the smoke and feel the grit upon her skin once more. She knew the moment was coming. The television changed back and forth rapidly from “live” image to “live” image.

  Firefighters sprinted across rubble, people in plain clothes made plainer by ash, collapsed over themselves, shaking with sobs. The newscast flashed to the volunteer tent—Sam stood up. Reaching out, she put her fingertips on the glass, dragging them downwards, as if she could claw herself back to that moment. The reporter’s voice narrated:

“The Red Cross’ Oklahoma City division has quickly set up several triage units for the victims with minor injuries and for blood donations—reports say they will need a lot of blood, so please donate!”

Sam watched and like clockwork, one and half seconds after the reporter’s last word trailed into the smoke, an 80’s clad-vested woman raced into the triage tent now at the upper right corner of the screen. Trailing behind her, connected only by clasped, bloodless fist came a curly haired, seven year old girl.  

 

“The museum is beautiful, don’t you think?”

Sam’s dad asked quietly, trying anything to make conversation. Sam only nodded in response. They stood in line for the Sound Room, both dressed in their “good clothes” and taking care to stand up straight as if a finicky nun was waiting inside to inspect them. A couple at the head of the line spoke carelessly of their night before. Sam watched as they lovingly poked and prodded one another like monkeys during an intimate grooming session. The man, who was dressed like he had just come from a golf game with fresh dirt included on his powder blue polo and khaki shorts, laughed at the memory of the valet bringing around the wrong car. The woman giggled while manically twisting the over permed curls that bounced off her head.  Sam hated them. She knew that they saw this as a “time-filler” something to do before they had to leave to catch their movie.

In her baby-pink blouse, the woman shuffled in place. Her impatience was like a flea biting at Sam’s ankles. The woman caught a glimpse of herself in a display to their right. The glass case was dedicated to mirrors, wallet sized photos, compacts and other small “purse” items recovered at the site. The impatient woman jumped at the chance to stare at herself. Pivoting and darting from one side of the case to the other, she tried to find the best angle to inspect her lipstick. Her dance landed directly onto Sam’s right dress heel. She turned and gave Sam a toothy, red lipped smile and then returned to primp her treasured appearance. The careless woman rummaged through her purse to find her own compact—making it apparent that the ones belonging to the dead did not suffice.

The line snaked through a hall of glass cases and displays. Sam’s dad looked around,

“It’s amazing they recovered so much from the debris.”

Sam nodded again.

“You okay Sam?”

“Yeah.”

“You sure? You haven’t said much this whole time. You’re the one who wanted to come here.”

Sam felt the smack of his blame-filled words. Annoyed, she distracted herself with another display case. Old, corded phones—half melted and burnt were piled inside; last words still lingering on their receivers.

“I know, I did. I mean, I do—want to be here, that is.”

 She finally said after her dad’s eyes refused to leave the back of her head.

“Okay, well just let me know if you want to go.”

The line remained steady.

Sam’s dad shifted his weight from one brown loafer to the other and fumbled with the loose change in his pockets, like a little boy trying desperately not to touch the breakables around him. Sam knew he was uncomfortable but she didn’t care. She needed this.

The couple in front of them finally headed in through the doors of the Sound Room. Before the innards of the room disappeared from view, Sam craned her neck to look in. A short bench sat in the middle of blackness—black walls, black floor, black ceiling. She thought it looked like a death chamber and considering what they were about to hear, she knew it was. Their wait seemed quick. The doors opened again and the careless couple seemed to magically disappear. Sam entered slowly, her dad shuffling a few inches behind. They sat on the bench, each claiming one of the furthest ends. The doors closed and for a few seconds, they were coated in darkness. The walls must have been soundproof, because she couldn’t hear anything except their nervous breathing and even that sounded muffled. The darkness around them seemed to fold in on itself; the stagnant air was suffocating. Sam’s palms began to sweat and her stomach dropped. She developed a sickening emptiness-- scooped out like a rotting melon rind.

A stealth projector clicked on and an image of the Murrah building flashed onto the wall. The small room suddenly echoed with a man’s voice:

“Across the street from the Alfred P. Murrah Federal building, a business meeting began at 9:00 am. The meeting was being recorded for legal reasons. The employees of Baker’s Insurance Company could have never known that only two minutes into their assembly, they would instead be recording history.”

The man’s voice faded as did the picture of the building. Blackness again. Drops fell onto her tightly clasped hands, was she crying? Her heart raced making her entire body pulsate and heat up. Sam could feel her dad fidgeting on the bench beside her. The audio of the meeting started to play:

“Thanks for coming in this morning everyone; we are going to be discussing profits, losses and other quarterly statistics. Just so everyone knows, we are recording this meeting for our legal records. If we can all take a seat, we can begin.”

Sam’s eyes glazed over, her tears had stopped and so did the strangled breath that crawled up her throat. The blackness was swallowing her with each second, eating away at the years that had separated her from that terrible day. Her internal clock told her a minute had passed. She had one more to go. None of the audio registered in her mind anymore, she only heard herself saying “No, no, no. . . please!” The audio hummed on. As the seconds deteriorated; Sam heard nothing of the recording, only her heart banging in her ears, nothing except the last word:

“Red.”

The sound of the explosion filled the room; the meeting room, the sound room—it filled Sam. She doubled over with her head in her hands, sobbing uncontrollably. She felt her dad’s chubby fingers awkwardly try to console her with light pats on her back. He asked her to sit up but all Sam could do was let out a few gargled yelps. The audio played on. A woman screamed and another yelled out if anyone was hurt. Sam squeezed her eyes tight, trying to shut out her interpretation of the scene. Glass was still breaking from unseen windows and papers rustled in unfelt wind. Sam felt nauseated, she was seven again and she could see the yellow body bags lined against the side of the building. People were bleeding; she smelled the smoke.

The lights clicked on turning the black walls to a gunmetal grey. The careless silence made her ears ring. The intrusive light and then her dad’s voice brought Sam back to the present. She slowly uncurled from herself and tried to catch her runaway breath. Through her murky vision, Sam could see her dad’s blood red faced twist away from hers; she knew she had embarrassed him. She desperately tried to dry her swamped eyes but the back of her hands only pushed the mess around her face. An invisible door at the opposite end of the room opened and Sam quickly shot from the bench to the painted world outside.

 

“I never knew that all this . . . well, that you even remembered all of this.”

They stood just outside the woman’s restroom, giving Sam the opportunity to clean herself up.

“Yeah, well, I do.”

She clutched a mound of tissue paper and blotted away the smeared mascara from the corners of her puffy eyes.

“You were so young, and I thought you weren’t even here that long.”

Sam stopped blotting and looked at her dad. His face was serious, she realized that he didn’t know—he didn’t know because she never told him. No one had ever told him.

“Dad, we came back here every day that week. We showed up an hour after it happend. You knew she was the head volunteer at the Tulsa Red Cross didn’t you? They called her first thing.”

“Why the hell would she even bring you with her?”

He grumbled, regaining that familiar angry expression that Sam knew only to be reserved for her mother. Now she remembered why she never told her dad. She knew it would be just another reason for her parents to scream at each other for hours on the phone.

“She didn’t have a choice dad, the schools closed after they heard the news. They sent everyone home. I was seven—what was she going to do? Leave me at home? She had no idea how long she was going to have to stay there.”

“She could have left you at my house.”

“You weren’t in town!”

“Yes I wa—oh, no, I wasn’t, was I?”

“No, I just remember mom called your office over and over again before we left the house. She didn’t want to bring me. She knew of the hell that was happening here, but your secretary said that you were in Guatemala.”

“Yeah . . . I was. Business meeting.”

Her dad uncomfortably shoved his hands in his pockets and started to fumble with his change again; he was obviously still mad but Sam couldn’t tell if it was because of her mother or that he had no one left to blame.

“She could have left you at the neighbors or something.”

 He said pathetically, avoiding Sam’s gaze by looking awkwardly at a display case filled with recovered watches and clocks.

“The only neighbors she trusted had a nephew that worked in the building. He died that day.”

“Oh.”

 Her dad turned red and cleared his throat. Sam desperately wanted this conversation to end. She didn’t feel like defending herself, nor her mother. Not fifteen years after the fact.

“You do remember a lot.”

“Yeah dad, I do.”

Sam and her dad didn’t speak throughout the rest of the tour. She watched him casually take in the displays and the old, repeated news casts that played on the multiple TV’s. She didn’t try to comfort him even though she knew he felt guilty for not being there. This was her moment. Somehow, he cheapened it with his guilt. The final walk of the tour passed through a hall dedicated to the construction of the museum. A volunteer stood at the end and bellowed a well-rehearsed story:

“Six months after the bombing, the Oklahoma City National Memorial Foundation was created. They began the search for architects and artists who would help design a beautiful memorial to commemorate the 168 souls that were lost on that horrible day.”

Sam barely listened. She couldn’t take her eyes off the group of tourists that were forming around her. She looked at their faces, their dry eyes, their smiles. Some spoke—their accents foreign to her pan-handle state. This was fun for them.

“Oh! Henry! Come look at this!” A woman exclaimed, snapping a photo in macabre wonder of one of the displays while gesturing to her husband to come to her side. “Oh how interesting!” the man said while fussing with his own camera. The two were marveling over a torn teddy bear, recovered from the rubble that was once the daycare.

The cameras continued to flash, each click tore Sam apart. Each Hawaiian printed shirt, each giggle and entertained nod electrified her and shocked to life something long-dormant. Sam pushed herself through the crowd and escaped outside; she couldn’t take the contents of that hallway. Her dad mumbled apologies to fanny-packed tourists as he zigzagged between them.

Sam walked briskly down the stairs of the museum; she didn’t even bother to squint, though the bright April sun stabbed at her already burning eyes. She welcomed the pain; she welcomed it since no one else seemed to. Sam half ran, half stumbled down to the lawn that flanked the right side of the museum. The large grassy area took up the center of the lot, a place once reserved for the Murrah building. She flopped down, cross legged onto the soft grass and looked below to the reflecting pool a couple yards ahead. The water cut through the middle of the square city block and was capped off on both ends by two, thirty foot tall, rectangular slabs. The slabs were made of black marble that looked like it had been charred. Sam watched the wavy lines of heat rise from the hot slabs that were crafted after shadows of a building—a building on fire. On the other side of the water, a podium was being set up. A small group of people gathered and discussed inaudible things. Sam watched intently.

From the crowd, a short woman emerged and stepped up to the podium. Her pale skin was cut harshly by the heat rash now crawling up her neck. The woman leaned into the microphone and tapped it gently with her index finger. The static thuds could be heard across the lawn. A man walking from the other side of the pool called out to her.

“Ms. Almon, if you could just practice your speech with the mic for a moment, we can test the sound.”

The woman at the podium flushed a bit and nodded. Sam watched her uncomfortably fidget with her spot on the stage. Like a restless dog, never truly satisfied with its bed, the woman bustled about the podium trying to find some sense of comfort. Finally settled, she pulled some papers from her shoulder bag and gently flattened them out onto the smooth wood surface. Sam watched her breathe heavily, turning her head to peer up at the sky and then back down towards the sculptures further up her side of the lawn. The woman’s chestnut brown hair was wrapped tightly in a bun at the nape of her neck. She adjusted her brown velvet shawl around her shoulders; it glistened in the Oklahoma sun like its own golden fields. The woman took one last look around, finally locking eyes with Sam. She saw the woman’s face tighten up; she swallowed hard and cleared her throat loud enough that the microphone broadcasted it to everyone on the lawn. Embarrassed, she turned back to her papers and shuffled them unnecessarily. After a few moments the woman looked back again, across the water and this time, Sam knew she was intentionally looking at her. The woman’s brown eyes, filled with hurt and knowing seemed to understand Sam. Those eyes did not squint to block out the sun’s searing pain; they remained wide, proudly showing the streams within them. Sam began to cry.

The woman turned and spoke into the microphone:

“Hello everyone. My name is Aren Almon. I am the mother of Baylee Almon—her chair is right over there.”

The woman gestured to one of the sculptures, a small brass chair sitting at the backside of the lawn. It sat among eighteen other small chairs and one hundred and forty nine larger ones. Sam looked at the empty seats; each one representing a person taken by the blast fifteen years ago—one of them was this woman’s daughter:

“Baylee turned one year old on April 18th, 1995—one day before the bombing that took her life, she would have been sixteen today. Many of you know of the daycare that was on the first floor of the building, many of you know that nineteen children died in the explosion. Many of you even know of my daughter, though you may have never known her name.”

Pausing, Baylee’s mother bent down to retrieve a bag from underneath the podium. From the bag, she pulled out an old issue of Time magazine, well worn, the front page crinkled and warped. She held it up high so that everyone could see. She turned and faced Sam and even from across the pool and the few yards of grass, Sam recognized it. The image: a tiny, little girl, battered and bloody, white-socked baby feet dangling from the firefighter’s careful arms flashed like a recurring nightmare in Sam’s mind. Sam put her hand to her mouth, convulsing; new tears falling over her already damp fingers. Her loud sobbing broke into the air and for the first time she realized her dad is standing behind her. He bent down and placed his hand on her shoulder but said nothing. The woman set the magazine down onto the podium:

“Baylee was a bundle of energy. She was always happy, always laughing. She gave me everything I could ever want as a mother. I hated having to leave her at daycare to go to work each day but I loved picking her up when the day was done. Her smiles and laughs made all my stress dry up and disappear.  The day the bomb went off; I thought it was just the noise of construction, of demolition. I worked a few blocks away so when the news came around, it wasn’t long before I was outside the chain link fence, pleading with police officers to tell me what happened. . . to tell me what. . . wh-- what happened to the children.”

Her words cracked over the memories.  She hunched over the podium, the crinkled image of her dying daughter resting just below her face. Sam watched the light catch the tears that fell onto the magazine’s cover. The woman took a moment and then looked back to her daughter’s empty chair.

“You know, this picture was published in the paper the day after the bombing. My parents tried to hide it from me. I found it anyway. I knew, even though she was missing her hair-- the purple shirt she went to daycare in that day had been burnt off of her and even though her face was turned away . . . I just knew it was my Baylee, my baby!”

Baylee’s mother collapsed, dragging the magazine to the floor with her. Sam watched several men from the group below rush up to the podium to help the now limp woman back to her feet. She broke. A flood of sobs and jumbled words poured out of her that Sam understood as “My baby! My poor baby!” The chairs gleamed in the sun.

Baylee’s mom was pulled upright again and endured many concerned shoulder rubs and side hugs. After a long minute, she returned to the microphone for one last statement. The scarred woman looked directly at her daughter’s chair; tears still dancing in her eyes, she spoke sweetly to the crowd in front of her; it had doubled since her collapse:

“I feel like Baylee was put on this earth to do what she did, and that was to represent everyone who died in the building that day.”

With that final word, Baylee’s mother calmly walked off the stage and glided up the lawn to kneel by her daughter’s chair. Everyone watched as she bent over to kiss the little seat and make the sign of the cross before standing again. In another moment, she was gone—leaving the lawn, the block, her daughter’s empty seat; she left the bombing site with the debris still fresh behind her.

 

It took Sam a while to peel herself off the ground. Her dad had since taken several business calls and was somewhere, roaming the sidewalk discussing something much more important.  Sam didn’t bother wiping off the crusted water lines that hatched her face. She straightened her dress pants and smoothed out her blouse. With a couple of courageous strides, she soon stood over the reflecting pool. Sam peeked across the water and whispered

“Hi Baylee.” The chair beamed.

Sam closed her eyes and tilted her head towards the pool below. When she opened them she saw her face, worn and tired from tears, soften in glass. The water was still, so was the Oklahoma air. Sam watched as the pool slowly curled her hair—it shrunk her body and added a playful red to her newly chubby cheeks. She saw the world around her grow dark from the shadow of the Murrah building. It stood tall above her, its windows glinting from the busy people inside. The air didn’t smell of freshly cut grass, nor did it smell of dust and blood. Static from speakers didn’t fill her youthful ears and the sound of the explosion no longer broke them to pieces. She smiled at the calm, at the familiar sights and smells of childhood happiness and carless wonder. Her mother’s voice rang out, calling her away from the water. “Stop playing in the fountain.” She said, certain that Sam would ruin her new Mary-Jane’s. Sam giggled at her near defiant act and then skipped happily to her mother’s side. Sam grabbed her hand and watched as her mother’s pastel pink vest flapped airily in the warm breeze. The two rushed through the doors of the federal building; they were met by the sounds of rustling papers and laughing children. Sam looked across the entryway to the large glass paneled room that occupied the right side. Colorful toys, floor mats and posters lined every inch of the space. Children were everywhere, running and falling in a tumbleweed of giggling chaos. Sam started to drag her feet and tug at her mom’s hand. “Mommy, can I go in there?” pointing at the happy room. Sam’s mom glanced at the daycare and then down to her pleading daughter. “Not today sweetie, we have too many other errands to run.”

 

 

 

 


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