Nine years ago, I was about a week into my first year of teaching high school, young, ambitious, and naive, when something happened that would change my life forever. It was at the tail end of my 1st period English class when the principal broke into class with a loudspeaker announcement. As soon as he said, “good morning,” my students started to remove their blazers, thinking that the warmth and beauty of the day had inspired our principal to permit them to remove that bulky outer layer of their Catholic school uniforms for the day. That’s not what the announcement was about.
“Two planes have crashed into the World Trade Center.” I went numb. I could see one plane crashing into a building, on accident, but two? My ninth graders didn’t really know how to process this information, and my classroom erupted with a flurry of noise. “Quiet!” I demanded loudly. “If you are quiet, I will turn on the radio and we’ll listen to the news.” Sure enough, the news on the radio confirmed my fear. A terrorist attack was in progress.
As the day progressed, more and more terrifying things happened. It was during my 3rd period prep that I somberly watched the first tower fall live on television, then the second. Frantic parents rushed up to our school, which was a mere 20 miles from the site of the World Trade Center, and took their children home to be with their families. Horrendous news started to flow in, including a very sad “goodbye” call that came to a colleague’s family as her husband realized that he wasn’t going to make it out of the burning buildings to safety. Somewhere in the middle of the day, I took a shaking mother to her son’s homeroom, my classroom, to pick up his soccer bag. Her husband was a battalion chief in the FDNY. She said, “I haven’t been able to reach him, I don’t know where he is.” That woman’s husband was one of the hundreds of souls lost on that day. My student was never the same after that.
When the school day was finally over, I drove home on the Long Island Expressway in near solitude. The only Westbound traffic coming towards the city was a dismal parade of fire department trucks and ambulances from various towns on Long Island, driving into the city to assist in rescue, and eventually, recovery.
I’ve written about my experiences on this day many times before, and I tell the same story. I speak of my lesson plan, of how it involved playing music (which is why I had a boom box in the classroom to turn on the radio), I speak of standing in silence with my colleagues, who were not quite yet a family, watching our world and our lives change right in front of us; I speak of the mother and her fourteen year old son who would never see their husband and father again, and I sometimes speak of the candle lighted sides of Deer Park Avenue, of waiting at my boyfriend’s volunteer firehouse for news of their brethren in the city, and of the funerals I attended days after.
As nine years passes, the events of the day are still very fresh in my memory. It shaped who I eventually became as a teacher and as a woman. Let us never forget 9/11/01.