By now, you must be wondering, how did we go from happy simple life to earth shattering loss of life in one post and we're still not done? These things take time to unfold Grasshopper.
Three days after the Murrah building disaster, I was on my way to the Will Rogers Airport in Oklahoma City. I had driven to the airport in and amongst the largest funeral procession I had ever seen. Everyone in the city was driving slowly, with their headlights on during the day. Arriving at the airport gate, I sat across from Charles Gibson and others who had been there for the national coverage. I wasn't excited to see them; in fact, I barely looked up but I could feel them staring at me. I had picked up a newspaper with the photo of the fireman holding the baby. It was the first time I had seen it and I was crying.
I was heading to New York City for a week-long class. The class had been scheduled months prior. It was the last class I needed to finish up an important credential in my field. I sat in my window seat, gripping the newspaper, unable to take my eyes off that photo and still hearing the cries of those anguished parents in my head.
New York City is my city. I have had a mad crush on it from the first moment I arrived at the age of 17. This extraordinary city has always loved me and taken care of me in a way that makes me certain it is or once was my home. How else could you explain a group of high school students roaming the streets all day and night, with no supervision, during a decade when the city was dirty, seedy, full of potential harm. Yet, there we were, innocent and naive, happily skipping our way through the city, left to our own devices by the young chaperon teacher who wanted to be rid of us. We drank, we danced, we saw our first porn movie (if you can call 'Deep Throat' porn) and we were safe.
During subsequent visits to the big apple, I noticed I had developed an uncanny ability to know exactly where I was within the city grid. I never needed a map, I knew the city intrinsically. This is the same girl who could get turned around inside an office building or lost in my own neighborhood. I could hoof myself uptown, downtown, midtown and back again. I mastered the subways and knew how to aggressively flag down a familiar yellow cab. The little Okie girl was no more.....
.......or so I thought.
Arriving there in April of 1995, I quickly realized I wasn't going to escape the devastation back home. New York was mourning with me. It was everywhere, the flags solemnly waiving from their half-poled postures, crowds gathered around TV's to see the latest developments and the people in my class, warmly embracing me, allowing me to labor through my tears. I worked in a case study group, consisting of six, mostly locals, one other girl from LA and me. From the moment our group took shape, I sensed him. On more than one occasion, I found him gazing sympathetically at me with small tears in the corners of his big, brown eyes.
Mr. Big has already been spoken for so I shall refer to my new friend as Mr. Plentiful. By day two, LA Girl, Mr. Plentiful and I had formed an alliance against the other three whine bag, idiots in our group. We spent every evening together exploring the culinary world through the most amazing restaurants. They introduced me to food and wine I had never experienced. Occasionally, I would transcend into the present moment with them and find myself smiling or even laughing. It delighted them to cheer me up. I felt they had devised a happy plan and I was their happy target.
By mid week, I realized I had been captivated by this devastatingly charming, successful man. He shared the details of his life with me, beautiful country home on top of a hill in South Salem, two young daughters, a wife of 15 years, a beach house in the Hamptons. He spoke of his garden with three kinds of swiss chard, eggplant, serrano peppers, arugula, beans and squash. Grass so lush and baby leaves on the trees so soft and tender they were edible. The forsythia was beginning to fade but the dogwoods were in full bloom and the raspberries and blueberries were popping out buds near the evergreens he had dug up in Vermont.
There were paths he had cleared for his girls to run through the woods, chasing butterflies while delightfully bumping into each other. He picked morel mushrooms along the wooded path, thought they were hard to see through the dappled sunlight. He had a watercress plant as large as a queen size bed. I wasn't sure what a watercress was. At the time we met, his tulip garden had just started to open, casting the first shades of spring throughout this idyllic country setting complete with goats, horses and sheep. I was mesmerized, imagining a life so unlike my own. He must be the happiest person I had ever met. He had it all.
But he wanted more.
Walking me back to my room after one of our evenings out with LA Girl, he asked if he could come in and hold me, telling me he had been yearning to scoop me up in his arms all week. He promised me there would be nothing else. He sensed my need to have someone wrap themselves around me and let me grieve. I opened my door for him. He took my hand, led me to a comfy chair in the corner, pulled me into his lap and held me, gently rocking me and stroking my hair until I fell asleep.
The little Okie girl was still very much present, ripe for the pickin' and in way over her head.
To be continued......