For me, it's hard to believe that it's been 16 years since the Oklahoma City bombing -- for different reasons than you think. It was the first "tragedy" that took place outside the confines of my high school that didn't involve boys that I can remember being affected by. Yes, it was mind-blowing hearing that Timothy McVeigh killed 168 people in the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building, but so was my grandmother's reaction to it.
I was a sophomore in high school. My sister was in sixth grade. And my parents were on their annual vacation to a place warm and rum-filled. My grandmother, my mother's mother, was watching us, and things weren't like they always were, as they never are when you're young and your parents go away.
That year, Easter fell on the Sunday they were gone, so instead of our usual lasagna-filled celebration, we went to a family friend's house with my grandmother. During dinner, I listened from the children's table (where I was the oldest by four years), as the adults talked about the bombing.
The conversation started out with the obvious and broad -- what a tragic thing; those poor people; what a psycho -- and detoured to the obscure and personal. The question "Would you turn Timothy McVeigh in if he was your child?" was broached by someone at the table. If memory serves me correctly, there was a lot of hemming and hawing and wanting to say the right thing from the grown-ups. Until my grandmother spoke up.
"I would turn him in if he was [daughter A], but not if he was [daughter B]." (Daughter A was my aunt; daughter B my mother.)
The kids at my table continued to laugh and draw and eat their ordered-in baked ziti that came in a tin. The adults -- and I -- grew silent. My grandmother was always -- still is -- a person to speak her mind and not give a crap, but this? Wasn't this the like one sin you can't commit? Picking between two children. Even 16-year-old me thought, "Not cool, granny."
After my parents returned, it was a matter of hours before my mother got wind of the ... news. I'm not sure if it was me who told her or her friend whose house we were at. Probably both.
The thing is, I understood why my grandmother said it. I don't think I would have said it, but I get it. She and my mother were close. My mother did everything for her, and, for all intents and purposes, was a perfect daughter from day one. You would have no choice but to let her get away with murder. My aunt, on the other hand, is sweet and kind, but her relationship with her mother just never will be what my mother's and grandmother's was. And as awful a thing for my grandmother to say, it made me wonder what it would be like to be that kind of daughter.
So, every April 19, when the Internet is abuzz with recounts of people's deaths, and horrifying stories of where-they-would-be, I am shocked and saddened with everyone else, but I also think of my mom and the totally taboo thing her mother said. And this year, when for the first time my mother isn't here anymore, I can't help but just smile.
What are you reminded of on April 19?
Image via Chimpanz APe/Flickr