I was one of many who watched the entire Waco incident unfold on television. I was on maternity leave at the time and the death of so many children touched me deeply. Ten years later, I wrote this fictional account of what it may have been like, in this case, for someone who escaped at the last minute. I can’t recall, but it may have been inspired by an actual story.
April 19, 1993
I remember the fire–the delicious warmth of it licking the tips of my fingers as I stood mesmerized. It singed the surface of my eyeballs as I stared, transfixed, the final words of Father echoing in my head. “Some day we have to die. We have to hold up the bloodstained banner. We have to hold it up until we die.”
The young girl beside me began screaming. Her long dark hair, once the envy of all the other little girls, had suddenly ignited. A sickly sweet smell filled my nostrils. I turned towards her and saw my 13 year-old reflection in her dark eyes as she stood there, paralyzed with confusion and fear. I reached out to her as she stretched her jaw into the widest, longest scream I’d ever heard. But, then she turned away and started running in circles. It seemed that I could do nothing but watch her silently as the fire devoured her clothing.
Next to me, my sister Alyssa had fallen to her knees and begun praying. Her eyes closed, she repeated the familiar passages as she’d done thousands of times before during her short eight years of life in the compound. She seemed oblivious to the heat, while all around her parts of the building fluttered eerily through the air, like floating candles on an invisible lake. Beyond the roar of the fire and the screams, I could hear the sharp metallic sounds of bullets ripping through the walls of the building. I inhaled and choked on the harshness of the smoke as it scorched my lungs and coated my throat with soot. As I looked at my sister, I remembered the beatings, the hunger and the touching. I turned to the life-size picture of David Koresh on the wall and yelled, “No more.” The edges of the picture were ragged and blackened but Father’s playful eyes stared back at me. His lips curled sardonically as if to say, “I knew you didn’t have it in you.”
I reached down and lifted Alyssa over my bony, adolescent shoulders and despite her pounding fists against my back, stumbled into the smoke and confusion, searching for a way out of the hell that had become our lives.
October 4, 2004
Revised Nov. 8, 2004