Clark greeted me at her door with a smile on Saturday morning, wearing pearl earrings and red glasses. We talked for a while in her living room and then she told me she wanted to show me something in her backyard, which is well gardened and is filled with the soothing clang of wind chimes.
It was an elm, taller than her house.
She told me it grew from a tiny sapling from the survivor tree at the bombing site.
She put a metal sign at the base of the tree, explaining its origins -- that this tree grew out of tragedy and was now probably the best and sturdiest plant in the yard. When she dies and the house goes to someone else, she said, she wants the new buyer to know about the tree. That way, if he or she cuts it down, they'll know they're going straight to hell, she told me, laughing wildly.
Clark told me about the nightmares she had after the bombing. They lasted for three years. Many nights she dreamed she knew of an imminent bomb attack, but that she was unable to evacuate or warn people in time. She worked in the Oklahoma City library at the time of the bombing. It shattered the window and blew her out of a room and into a hallway. She told me how she staggered around downtown in a daze. All the buildings seemed like they were bending toward her.
"At times, I felt I was crazy," she told me. "I would look into the mirror and I would just not know who that person was. It took me down to the quick."
In an experience that parallels Hunt's, Clark once jumped under a table at dinner when the restaurant's air conditioner popped on suddenly. Shattering a drinking glass once brought her to tears. It reminded her of the glass that was broken in the bombing, that stuck in the sides of the survivor tree, and that made its way between the pages of many of the library's books.
When she couldn't sleep, Clark made a pact with another survivor to go sit in the dark at the bombing memorial downtown, where the OKC marathon begins.
They would sit in the dark in silence holding hands.
Just for comfort. Just to be there.
She also wrote. She bought her first computer after the bombing and she told that machine about what she had seen in 1995 before she could tell another person.
Clark isn't able to walk well enough to go to the marathon these days, but she was instrumental in planning and shaping the memorial that it commemorates. She's been a quiet but adamant representative for victims of the tragedy and their families.
I told Clark a little bit about Hunt, the runner from Connecticut. How she wanted to finish what she'd started. How she was looking for answers in this city. Clark said the Oklahoma City marathon "will be a step in her healing."
"There will be many, many more," she said.
And then she said something kind of amazing.
She offered to help a stranger.
It's something she's done many times. She received letters from all over the country after the Oklahoma City bombing. Talking to strangers shortly after the blast was easier than speaking to her own family members, she said. They brought her comfort. They helped her get to the point where she could join society again.
She's done a great deal to pay that back. She visited Cameroon to meet with people who live in a village that was decimated by a volcanic eruption in the 1980s. She befriended her translator there and eventually helped him earn a scholarship to attend graduate school at her alma mater, Oklahoma State University.
She wrote letters to people in Columbine. After the Boston Marathon bombing, she encouraged church members to make a sign showing support for the victims. They sent it to another church of the same denomination in Boston.
"The day of the Boston Marathon, that just put me in a deep hole," she said. "I cried all day. (Tragedies like that) can throw you back there.
"The difference is, after 18 years, I can pull myself out of it."
When I mentioned Hunt, she didn't hesitate to say that if the young woman from the Boston area ever needs to talk to someone, she should get her number from me and give her a call.
After all, what are strangers for?
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