The Hour I First Believed
April 19, 1995. A Ryder truck carrying 5,000 tons of explosive materials is parked in front of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. At 9:02 am, the truck explodes and 168 people, including 19 children, are killed and another 800 are injured. I was 24 years old, a transplant to Minnesota from Oklahoma, and my hometown had been devastated.
April 20, 1999. Two high school seniors at Columbine High School in Littleton, Colorado, open fire upon their classmates and teachers in what would appear later to be retribution for the injustices they’d endured through acts of bullying. Nearly 100 bombs had been set to detonate at intervals within the school and the surrounding area by the gunmen, Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold, and – by day’s end – thirteen victims and the two gunmen would be pronounced dead, with dozens more injured. It was the day that changed the way our nation’s schools would look at the safety and security of our children..
September 11, 2001. Two planes, commandeered by hijackers, fly into the two towers of New York City’s World Trade Center. Shortly thereafter, another plane would fly into the Pentagon and yet another would crash into a field in Pennsylvania. The total number of deaths was staggering; nearly 3,000 people, including the nineteen hijackers, were officially pronounced dead. The world as we knew it had changed forever.
When tragedies like these occur, the number of dead and physically wounded are easy to count. What isn’t so easy to count, however, are the number of victims who walk away with no physical injuries, but who have been deeply and irrevocably injured nonetheless. These people have no scars to show, but their scars run deep below the surface and occasionally can be hidden for short periods of time. As a result, many of these “walking wounded” are forgotten or, at the very least, overlooked. They are the victims, the victims’ families, or even empathetic strangers who suffer the long-term emotional injuries caused by the event, and frequently manifest in symptoms of flashbacks and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.
In his novel, The Hour I First Believed, Wally Lamb uses extensive research to tell the fictional story of Caelum and Maureen Quirk. On the day of the deadly massacre at Columbine High, Caelum – a teacher at Columbine – was in Connecticut dealing with the sudden death of his favorite aunt. His wife, Maureen – a school nurse, also at Columbine – had stayed behind and planned to meet up with him on the evening of April 20th, but those plans went awry when the two gunmen opened fire. In the school’s library, Maureen was forced to seek refuge in a cabinet where she hid for nearly three hours as she waited for the terrifying ordeal to be over. But for Maureen, leaving the cramped confines of the cabinet for the safe arms of her family and friends was only the beginning of her traumatic ordeal. For the next decade, she would suffer from flashbacks and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, and the life as she once enjoyed it was no longer.
Narrating the story, Caelum Quirk struggles to help his wife deal with the flashbacks and emotional turmoil – the “what-ifs” – of that terrible day. But what he hadn’t expected was his own emotional struggle and the vicarious flashbacks he would experience in empathy for his wife and their friends. The Hour I First Believed is, effectively then, an in-depth look at the forgotten victims of tragedy; those whose wounds go unnoticed.
As a reader, there are some books you love, and others you respect. The Hour I First Believed would fall, for me, in that second category. It’s difficult to love a book where so many tragedies befall the main characters; however, I respected the book for the valuable spotlight it placed on the silent victims – those without scars to show for their pain.
For more information about this book or the author, visit the Harper Collins website dedicated to Wally Lamb by following this link.
~ Catherine H. Armstrong