August 2001 I got a job teaching fifth grade in a little district south of Houston. Fast forward about a month and I’m standing in front of my morning group discussing something, probably reading or grammar (I taught language arts) when the teacher across from my room came to my door and called me over. She explained that some planes hit a building in New York, don’t tell the kids, get on a news website on the computer in your room and keep up from there. Thinking that surely it was an accident, I nonchalantly strolled over to my computer and tried about 6-7 times to get on CNN or MSNBC. I finally got on and could see photos of the devastation but didn’t have time to read anything before I had to take my kids to PE.
I dropped my kids off and already they were acting weird. Kids are amazingly perceptive individuals. No one had said anything to them but they could sense the tension from the teachers and were reacting. While my kids were in PE, I went to the literacy coach’s classroom and turned on the TV to the Today show and watched smoke billowing from lower Manhattan and I cried and cried. I’m pretty sure I just missed seeing the WTC collapse by minutes…thankfully.
I called Ryan, who I was dating at the time, who was attending law school in downtown Houston. I was worried that it could happen anywhere and begged him to leave. Then I called my brother who was a freshly minted 2nd LT stationed at Ft. Knox to see if he was going to be sent to NYC or the Pentagon. He had no idea where he’d be going or what would happen (little did he know he’d get sent to Iraq twice and Afghanistan once and my husband would get sent to Iraq once).
By the time I picked my kids up, they knew sketchy details about what had happened and were full of questions. When I took the job of fifth grade language arts teacher I knew I’d be teaching my kids a lot of things that weren’t in the textbooks. I never could’ve imagined that terrorism would be one of them. I can’t help but think that I took a bit of their innocence away that day by explaining that terrorists are people who try to get their way by using violence to scare people.
Every year on 9/11 I have an overwhelming urge to be with those kids again. They’re juniors in high school now and I wonder if they think of me.