Saturday, April 23, 2011

Something Terrible


Years ago, I wrote a short story called Prairie Justice. I had almost forgotten the story and found it again, recently, while deleting unnecessary files from my computer. As I reread and reedited the story, details of why I wrote it in the first place flooded my brain.

The year was 1995. During April of that year, a madman blew up the Alfred P. Murrah Building, killing 168 innocent victims, including many children in daycare there. Anne, my wife then, was a fledgling lawyer, having gone to law school late in life (mid-forties). She partnered with Becky S., and we were about to move into our new offices when the bomb exploded.

I had returned home from an early-morning dentist’s appointment. I found Anne sobbing uncontrollably.

I was puzzled because Anne was a trooper. Despite all the bad things that had happened to us, I don’t recall having ever seen her cry. When I saw her that morning, she was crying like a baby.

“What’s the matter?” I asked.

“I don’t know,” she said. “Something terrible has happened.”

We turned on the TV to a local news station. Their helicopter was heading downtown to check out an explosion that had rocked the City.

“There’s lots of smoke coming from one of the buildings. I think it’s the Federal Building,” the chopper pilot said.

A camera man was taking pictures. Except for the smoke, the front of the building looked normal. We watched as the chopper circled around the building. When the camera focused on what remained of the north side of the building, Anne and I gasped in disbelief.

“Oh my God!” the pilot said. “Oh my God!”

Days passed, and then weeks. The bombing was like a blow to the head for the entire City. It became all to common to be talking to someone, and suddenly have them dissolve into tears, blurting out some heart-wrenching story they’d kept bottled inside for far too long. Everyone had a story. Everyone was affected.

Shortly after the bombing, Becky sent Anne to interview a deadbeat, druggie client that had been put in jail for beating his wife.

“You may think he’s scum, but he deserves his day in court. He’s your client so treat him with respect, no matter how you feel about him in your heart,” Becky counseled.

Anne and I left Oklahoma City early one morning, heading west to El Reno, the Canadian County seat. I can’t even remember why we stopped there, but Iremember the courthouse facilities and the historic town well. Leaving El Reno, we passed a Las Vegas-style bingo hall in nearby Concho. Gambling was in its infancy in Oklahoma. Sixteen years later, it’s rampant.

We drove through the tiny town of Okarche, to Eischen’s Bar. The longest continuously operating bar in Oklahoma was shut down at the time because of a flash fire. We made it to Enid shortly before lunch, finding the correction’s facility ensconsced in an old neighborhood.

The jailers brought Doug (that was his first name) into a visitor’s room, wearing an orange jump suit, shackled in leg irons, hand cuffs and a belly chain. I watched from a distance as Anne talked with him for about half an hour. Wearing her own shackles of lawyer/client privilege, she never told me what they talked about.

Later that night, I wrote Prairie Justice, a short story featuring Buck McDivit, a character that had suddenly invaded my mind. The story is about a crooked oil man and mirrors a real oil man responsible for the bankruptcy of the oil company Anne and I started from scratch. Most of the description in the story actually occurred.

Years have passed since I wrote Prairie Justice. Anne died three years after the Murrah bombing. I wrote Ghost of a Chance, my first Buck McDivit novel, some years later. It was published in 2005. The scar of the 1995 Oklahoma City Bombing has faded. As I wrote this story, tears streamed down my face. Buck McDivit is now a real person to me.The Murrah Building scar has faded, and people no longer sob during normal conversation. Maybe, but the bombing still rests like a red blotch on my soul, as I’m sure it does for everyone that experienced that sad day.

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