Baylee Almon would be 22 years old if she had attended my daughter’s college basketball game yesterday. She would have watched her team get a proverbial spanking by Oklahoma Christian University. But she didn’t watch it, because 21 years ago Baylee closed her eyes for the last time, soon after her rubble-coated body was in the rescuing clutch of a fireman’s valiant arms.

You come to an opening that gives you full view of the memorial. Beneath you are 168 empty chairs. Beyond that is an expansive rectangular pool with just inches of shallow water. Positioned at opposite ends of the pool are two large walls referred to as the “Gates of Time”. Each has an open entrance. On one wall, in large numbers above the entrance is the time 9:01. The other wall reads 9:03. It is then that you realize the one minute between the two walls harbors itself in the shallow serenity of the pool of water that was once N.W. Fifth Street in the heart of Oklahoma City. Within that one minute of 9:02, life was either taken or life was spared. By 9:03, the magnitude of the human spirit undertook the painful task of sifting through concrete, rebar, mangled steel, sheet rock, and too many personal belongings to remind us of who had perished.

You stand there looking down at the memorial. This body of water tugs on the gravity of your mournful thoughts that have billowed up so unexpectedly. It’s 9:02AM on April 19, 1995. You were driving a UPS truck in Stonewall, Texas. On that warm, sunny morning you were standing in the doorway of a mobile home, waiting on a signature for a package. Then, you caught sight of the TV and joined in with millions of other viewers in disbelief at the destruction created by a cold-hearted, remorseless killer. For the remainder of the day in that UPS truck you drove around with your mind firmly planted in a place it would take 21 years to eventually see. And how would you know the effect the memorial would have on you? How could you possibly know the tears you would shed?  168 empty chairs honoring 168 people who had died. Of those, 19 smaller chairs to remember the deceased children. One chair was Baylee Almon’s. Of course you would cry.

All you came to Oklahoma for was a basketball game. To watch your daughter and her team play about as miserably as they could possibly ever play.  Amongst a sea of Oklahoma fans you had no choice but to listen to their loud, supportive cheering. That game clock could not tick fast enough to end this beat down, this proverbial spanking.

A day later, as you drove through Kansas for another collegiate game, you looked out at that wide-open, fertile landscape, and reflected on the pool of water between the Gates of Time. How insignificant did your daughter’s poor three-point shooting now become. How insignificant was her team’s embarrassing loss. If only Baylee Almon could be so blessed to have those problems. She would have happily missed every shot she would’ve taken, fully knowing she was alive. And the people in the stands would have no stories to tell regarding a tragic day in 1995.

But the stories do exist. And they all begin at 9:01.

Copyright Ros Hill 2016


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