Ten years ago at 8:50 am, a bell rang and twenty-two teenagers wandered into my classroom.
“Mrs. S, a plane just crashed into the World Trade Center. We were watching on CNN in my first block. Can you turn it on?”
“Really? You guys were watching TV in 1st block? I’m sure it was just an accident. That’s crazy. Yeah, sure.”
It was 9:02 am on Tuesday, September 11th, and in a classroom filled with fourteen-year-old kids, I turned on the television. And we watched. We watched live on television, and the next moment is vividly etched into my mind. I will never forget it.
“Mrs. S…that wasn’t an accident, was it?”
“No. No, that wasn’t accident.”
I don’t know why I did it—maybe shock, maybe a desire to make things seem as normal as I could make them. I don’t know. I remember trying to teach grammar for maybe fifteen minutes, maybe twenty. I don’t know. I had the television on in the corner of the room, just behind my right shoulder. No one was really listening to me, and in all honesty, I don’t know that I was saying anything that could ever be considered of consequence. Who cares about grammar when the world as you know it is crumbling before your eyes?
When the news of the Pentagon was announced, I stopped and walked to the telephone, and I dialed home. I remember actively trying to speak as clearly and evenly as I could, willing my voice not to break and refusing to let any tears fall in front of my students.
“Are you awake?”
“No. I wasn’t. What’s wrong?”
“You need to get up and turn on the television.”
“It doesn’t matter. Just turn on the television. I have to go. I love you.”
And I hung up.
I’ve asked myself many times why I waited so long to call B. I don’t have a satisfactory answer. I guess it’s the same reason I decided I should teach grammar that morning. I didn’t want it to be real. Denial? Shock? I don’t know. I just don’t. It makes no sense now, but it’s what I did.
When the towers fell, I sat down in a student desk and watched with my kids.
I don’t remember much else about that school day. I don’t know if I taught or watched TV the whole day. I honestly don’t remember.
I know that when I left school, I met my husband and his boss at the local Red Cross. We stood in line for more than an hour before it became clear that we weren’t needed. I have no words to describe that feeling—the futility, the sadness, the confusion, the overwhelming WHY of it all. That week was the longest week I can ever remember having. Every moment was spent in the car, listening to NPR. Every moment at home was spent staring at CNN. All of it, looking in vain, for answers that were never truly satisfactory.
A week ago, I watched the National Geographic special—Zero Hour—where they recounted that day, beginning to end, moment by moment. For the first time in ten years, I watched. And I remembered. And I cried. I rejoiced for those who survived, and I mourned those who did not. And, again, I found myself still not understanding the incomprehensible.
I don’t think I ever will.
And I’m not sure that I want to.
“Mrs. S… that wasn’t an accident, was it?”
“No. No, that wasn’t an accident.”