I was expecting my daughter's call that morning, April 19, 1995. As I sat by the phone my coffee cup rattled on the tabletop. The next instant, I heard a thunderous sound and the floor shook beneath my feet. I ran to the kitchen window. Blue sky, spring sunshine. Just a peaceful Oklahoma day. It was hard to imagine anything terrible happening on a bright Wednesday like that.
I hadn't put on my Texaco uniform that morning; I was meeting my 23-year-old daughter, Julie, for lunch. Proud of her? Everyone who came in for an oil change heard what a great kid I had. She'd caught me bragging on her just two days before. "Dad! People don't want to hear all that!"
Odd, that visit...Julie often stopped by my service station for a few minutes on her way home from her job at the Murrah Building in downtown Oklahoma City (her mother and I were divorced). Monday, though, it was as if...she didn't want to leave. She'd stayed for two hours, then threw her arms around me. Julie always gave me a hug when she left, but Monday she held me a long time.
"Good-bye, Daddy," she'd said.
That was odd, too. Nowadays Julie only called me Daddy when she had something really important to say. Well, maybe she'd tell me about it that afternoon. Every Wednesday I met Julie for lunch at the Athenian restaurant across from the Murrah Building.
At nine o'clock I'd sat down with that cup of coffee to wait for her call. Julie usually got to work at the Social Security office where she was a translator at 8:00 a.m. sharp. It was her first job after college. As a federal employee, Julie got only 30 minutes for lunch--and she wouldn't take 31! She always called to find out what I wanted for lunch, then phoned our order in to the Athenian so we could eat as soon as we arrived.
Chicken sandwich this time, I'd decided. The parking lot would be full by lunchtime: I'd see Julie's red Pontiac in her favorite spot beneath a huge old American elm tree. I'd watch for her to come out of the big glass doors--such a little person, just five feet tall ("Five feet one-half inch, Dad!"), 103 pounds.
But a big heart. I believed in loving your neighbor and all the rest I heard in church on Sundays. But Julie! She lived her faith all day, every day. Spent her free time helping the needy, taught Sunday school, volunteered for Habitat for Humanity--I kidded her she was trying to save the whole world single-handed.
The rumbling subsided. Bewildered, I stood staring out the kitchen window. The phone rang. I grabbed it.
It was my brother Frank, calling from his car on his way out to the family farm where we'd grown up. "Is your TV on, Bud? Radio says there's been an explosion downtown."
Floors thrusting straight out into space. Tangled wreckage in rooms with no outer wall. And in place of those big glass doors, a mountain of rubble three stories high.
I didn't move. I scarcely breathed. My world stopped at that moment. They were appealing for people not to come into the downtown area, but nothing could have pulled me away from the telephone anyway. Julie would be calling. Her office was at the back of the building, the part still standing. Julie would find her way to a phone and dial my number.
All that day, all that night, all the next day and the next night, I sat by the phone while relatives and friends fanned out to every hospital. Twice the phone rang with the news that Julie's name was on the survivor's list! Twice it rang again with a correction: The lists were not of survivors, but simply of people who worked in the building.
Friday morning, two days after the explosion, I gave up my sleepless vigil and drove downtown. Because I had a family member still missing, police let me through the barricade. Cranes, search dogs and an army of rescue workers toiled among hills of rubble, one of them a mound of debris that had been the Athenian restaurant. Mangled automobiles, Julie's red Pontiac among them, surrounded a scorched and broken elm tree, its new spring leaves stripped away like so many bright lives.
Julie, where are you? Rescuers confirmed that everyone else working in that rear office had made it out alive. The woman at the desk next to Julie's had come away with only a cut on her arm. But, at exactly nine o'clock, Julie had left her desk and walked to the reception room up front, to escort her first two clients back to her office.
They found the three bodies Saturday morning in the corridor, a few feet from safety.
From the moment I learned it was a bomb--a premeditated act of murder--that had killed Julie and 167 others, from babies in their cribs to old folks applying for their pensions, I survived on hate. When Timothy McVeigh and Terry Nichols were arrested, I seethed at the idea of a trial. Why should these monsters live another day?
Other memories blur together...Julie's college friends coming from all over the country to her funeral. Victims' family meeting. Laying flowers on my daughter's grave. No time frame for any of it. For me, time was stuck at 9:02 a.m., April 19, 1995.