I was a 7th grader in a Catholic parish school in Washington, D.C. The bathrooms were down a short stairwell from the main floor, and had no windows. I was terrified after December 1, 1958 that if a fire started in the bathrooms or basement, we would have no way to escape. The pictures in Life magazine didn't help.
Not talking about the fire was obviously the accepted way to deal with it, as I don't remember any grownups counseling any of us. I was utterly horrified by what happened, and had a strong sense that "there but for the grace of God go I." When Michele McBride's book was published I was obsessed with finding a copy. Then, when To Sleep With the Angels followed, I compared details between the two books. It isn't just a morbid curiosity or fascination with others' misery, though. In an odd way, I think many of us who were school kids that day, especially in Catholic schools, suffer from a kind of survivor's guilt when we think about what happened. Remember how we Catholic school kids had a kind of camaraderie against "those public school children"? I wonder if it might have caused us to feel more of a bond with the OLA boys and girls who suffered in so many ways on that day and forever after.
Even for those of us who were not there, it remains "the fire that will not die." I keep those who were there in my prayers.