Okla. bomb survivors climb out of their past

October 19, 1995|By Sandy Banisky | Sandy Banisky,SUN NATIONAL STAFF

OKLAHOMA CITY -- In the mornings, Marine Sgt. Jack Jocsing finds tiny shards of glass working their way out of his skin, glistening needles shot into him as the Alfred P. Murrah Building was blasted apart.

Laura Bode, who visits counselors twice a week, concentrates on acting upbeat, since cheerfulness no longer comes naturally.

Dr. Paul Heath, who for months without warning was overtaken by tears, says he treats people "a little more gently than I did before."

In Oklahoma City, the people who crawled out of the building and the families who are grieving are trying to move forward. They are going to work, marking birthdays, recreating daily routines in lives that go on, though they've been changed forever.

"I've cried more since April than I've ever cried in my life," says Dr. Heath, a counseling psychologist with the Veterans Administration who was on the fifth floor of the Murrah building when the terrorist bomb exploded April 19. "But it's not a bad cry. It's an acknowledgment that something horrible has happened to my city and my people."

Six months after a truck bomb blew apart a community, Oklahoma City is still defining itself by the disaster.

" 'Normal' will never be the same," says the Rev. Don H. Alexander, pastor of Oklahoma City's First Christian Church, where dazed families gathered day after day last April, waiting to hear from rescue teams digging for bodies.

The newspaper carries bomb-related news, stories about families and reports on legal maneuverings for the coming trial. Week after week, organizations hold benefits to raise funds for survivors and memorials.

Some people in Oklahoma City complain that they're tired of the constant talk of tragedy and the national attention it still draws. But others say the city cannot be hurried as it copes with its loss.

"It's only a few months," says Daniel Kurtenbach, who heads the Oklahoma City Goodwill Industries. "We're the MTV society that wants to think [that] if it happened yesterday it's done with. Well, it's not. You can't just go on."

As the bombing recedes, the survivors find themselves different in ways large and small.

Ms. Bode, who worked in the Social Security office on the first floor, used to consider herself a perfectionist. But "since the bombing, I haven't vacuumed my house once, and I don't care if I ever do. It's not important."

Dr. Heath says he's more understanding with veterans, especially with those who have post-traumatic stress disorder. He counts himself as a fellow victim.

Sergeant Jocsing, who always was inclined to hand change to a beggar on the street, now never passes a homeless person without giving $2 or $3. "I'm counting my blessings," he says.

'I saw the glass come at me'

A Marine recruiter, Sergeant Jocsing says he has always been "a pretty vain guy." Then he laughs.

A wiry man with glossy black hair, he's gotten used to a new look in the mirror. His forehead is speckled with scabs and scars. A crimson gash runs down from his eyebrow past the bridge of his nose and under his left eye -- an angry, swollen wound that looks as if it was made last week.

Cuts on his legs and arm, also glowing red, are healing. A CT scan weeks after the explosion found a piece of glass "the size of a carat diamond ring" that had gouged its way into the muscle under his crushed eye socket.

"They say I'll be pulling glass out of my face for five, six years."

A plastic surgeon smoothed out his right earlobe and sewed shut the V-shaped flap cut into his lower lip. Doctors have operated on his left hand and have rebuilt his left eye socket.

One eye muscle, cut by glass, is shortened and prevents his left eye from focusing properly. Sergeant Jocsing, 30, will have double vision the rest of his life.

He'd been in the federal building only a few minutes that morning when the bomb went off, at 9:02 a.m. "The building rolled," Sergeant Jocsing said. "Then it fell. I saw the glass come at me" from a shattered window.

In photos taken the next morning in the hospital, Sergeant Jocsing looks like a man who's been beaten by a mob. When he got home from the hospital, his toddler daughter, Victoria, didn't recognize him.

Painkillers left him uneasy, dark reveries plaguing his sleep.

He was obsessed with thoughts of death. But that passed. Now, he gets upset only when he thinks of one of his Marine colleagues falling to his death that day.

'Still happy-go-lucky'

On leave for months after the bombing, Sergeant Jocsing began jogging in late summer to rebuild his strength. Soon he will transfer to a new base in North Carolina.

He insists he is unchanged: "I'm still happy-go-lucky." But in a tone of amused exasperation he says that his wife and friends, concerned that he was carrying an emotional burden, convinced him to talk to a professional therapist.

"Everyone says, 'Go to counseling. Go to counseling. Go to counseling.' So I finally went." The session left him cold. He does not see the need to discuss it endlessly.

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