It was a warm, sunny September morning, the second week of school. I took my first graders outside for snack and a short recess to help them get started on the right foot for the year. A delivery man walked by me and asked, “Did you hear? The twin towers fell!” I told him that wasn’t funny, and then a mom came up and said it was true-that they had each been struck by an airplane and had come down. Before I could answer her, the principal came out of the door and sternly told me to the get the kids inside. Now. I lined them up, walked them in, and settled them in the room with some books to read. Then I stepped out into the hallway. Across from me was a first grade teacher standing outside her room crying. Others were hanging around the doors, one eye on the kids, asking what was going on. No one knew. The principal came over the intercom and announced that we would have indoor recess for lunch, and that the the water fountains were to be taped up and not used. Rumors circulated that the water system might have been poisoned by the terrorists, and that there were still four planes in the air unaccounted for. As soon as I could get in front of a television, I heard and saw what the world had already heard and seen.
We had an emergency faculty meeting at lunch. The children were to be told nothing. Parents were beginning to come and pick them up. We had to conduct ourselves with professional decorum in front of the kids at all times and stay calm. At this point, several of the teachers had not heard from fathers, mothers, husbands, siblings who either worked in the area of the trade center, or were fire fighters and police officers. By three o’clock the children were all gone, and we were released from the building. Neither my husband, myself or any of my children had cell phones at the time and I was frankly freaking out. I got to the car and turned on the radio. News, news, and more news, all bad on every channel. It would be two weeks before there was an advertisement heard on the news stations again.
I raced home to find my kids had been released early from school. The girls were in ninth grade and our son in seventh, and they were waiting to tell me what had happened in school. As the morning progressed, students had been called to the office and did not return to class. The curiosity among the other students must have been intense, and someone with a rare cell phone got a call from his mother and spread the word. The kids who had been called to the office had parents working down at the trade center.
My husband and I were glued to the television to the point where my son asked if he could please go outside and play. There we saw signs of an apocalypse of breath-stealing proportions. A traffic sign posted at all bridge crossings: NYC CLOSED. People running uptown covered in ashes. Empty EMT gurneys waiting for wounded that never came. Video of burning bodies falling a hundred stories. It was all too much.
When it was over, we personally lost our next door neighbor- a retired man who had gone to Windows of the World that morning for a breakfast meeting; the father of one of our girls’ classmates; a firefighter father of one of my students; the husband of one of my husband’s employees. The stories of who died and how they died were the talk for a long long time. There were memorials at the high school where Glenn Close, a local resident, sang; dinners prepared and brought to grieving families, worries about my police officer cousin who spent two weeks in rescue and recovery. One of my husband’s clients worked for Con Edison, who had to be one of the first on site to shut down electric and gas, and came home after two weeks unable to get himself out of his car in his driveway from shock. The photos he gave us are haunting beyond belief.
Eleven years later, the wounds are still fresh. The horrors are easily relived. I could not bring myself to even approach the trade center area for nearly four years after it happened. The first time I did, I went into a minor rage at the tourist families taking souvenir photos in front of the gaping hole. I took a cousin visiting from Europe inside the church to see the temporary memorial, and almost suffered an anxiety attack. The towers came down just before the Jewish holidays, and on our way to Grandma’s for dinner we drove over the Whitestone Bridge- the skyline without the towers was an eerie flashback of my childhood before the towers were built. Walking south on Fifth Avenue, where the towers could always be seen is still bizarre.
I doubt these feelings will ever go away. And so each year at this time, we remember.