Today seemed like an ordinary day until I saw the date on my cell phone. Every time I see that date, it sticks out at me like a sore thumb. Eight years ago today, everything changed for anyone who is an Aggie. Bonfire collapsed.
I still remember that day vividly. I had just turned twenty. I was a sophomore majoring in my new boyfriend who is now hubby. He was on hiatus from the Corps of Cadets because he had to work full time that semester. He had still planned to help build Bonfire, but couldn't find his pot that night. That turned out to be a blessing because, had he been out there, who knows what could've happened. One of his fish died that night, and another was seriously injured.
I still remember the phone ringing at about 6:30 that morning. My dad sounded so relieved to hear my cranky voice. When he told me that Bonfire collapsed, my initial reaction was "So? That has happened before. They still have time to build it back before it burns. Why are you calling me so dang early?"
It wasn't until I got up and turned on the TV that I realized the weight of the situation. People were actually dying under that stack as the cameras were rolling. The phone calls kept coming all morning. Hubby's mom called, best friend called, everyone wanted to know if we were alive. I had a test in psychology that morning, and I was trying to study. I had the news on and they were reporting updated lists of the injured and dead. As you might imagine, I wasn't concentrating very well.
I still made it to my class that morning only to find that the test had been mercifully postponed, so I went to the MSC to see what else I could find out. Media were everywhere sticking cameras and microphones in students' faces. Everyone was walking around in a daze. Campus was silent. In the flag room, a woman would periodically announce the updated list of dead and injured. It was very surreal.
Flyers were being posted advertising that Breakaway Ministries was planning a prayer meeting next to Rudder Fountain that afternoon. When hubby and I arrived, there was a sea of students waiting to pray. When Greg Matte began the meeting, the crowd hardly moved. The only noise was coming from the helicopters filming us overhead. He thanked everyone for coming. He tried giving some words of comfort to his grieving audience, but what can you say really? Just before we broke into groups to pray, he announced that he had just received word that three more students had died bringing the total to six. It was unthinkable. Six people!
That night, there was a service held at Reed Arena. The bodies were so packed in there that people were sitting in the aisles. The student body president of UT came and told us how his campus felt for us. Then, before the service was over, the crowd spotaneously began to put their arms around each other and sing "Spirit of Aggieland".
At the close of that bewildering day, just before I turned the news off, the total number of students who died had turned into ten. I felt so angry and helpless. Students just kept dying as the EMTs and volunteers were trying to move those massive logs and there was nothing that could be done.
Before it was all said and done, the total of students who died was twelve. A cruel irony considering the significance of that number to our school's history. Current students probably never attended an original Aggie Bonfire. The seniors would've only been 14 when it collapsed. They may still try to conduct their own off campus Bonfire, but the feelings of cameraderie, pride and tradition can't be duplicated - especially when they are charging admission.
It's the end of an era. And I think the things I saw and the feelings I felt that day will continue to haunt me for years to come.