Thursday, September 11, 2008

Seven Years Ago Today

At our Humble High School back on September 11, 2001, the second class of the day was supposed to begin at 9:20 a.m.



But at 9:05, all hell broke loose. The slightly stooped but always salty Judy Harris, Grande Dame of the English Dept., came running down the hall. She stopped at each classroom door & hollered, "Turn on your TV! Turn on your TV!" Judy was one of slight stature & advancing age. No one had ever seen this guardian of grammar run so fast nor act so agitated.


Turns out Judy had been at the dentist, & was just arriving at school. She'd heard The News on the radio.


A little background: My school is located in the DC suburbs. We are one of the closest schools in our district to the Pentagon--about 10 miles straight down the Interstate. Because of this proximity, a full 75 percent of our students hail from military families. A good hunk of those kids have one or both parents working at that symbol of America's Military Might, wedged between Arlington Cemetery & the Potomac River.


No lingering in the halls between classes that day. Word of the first plane hitting the North Tower spread quickly through the school. I stood before 28 terrified AP English Language students, sitting mute in their seats. As high school juniors, they were all 16 or 17 years old. \


Dr. Dave, our beloved principall, came on the PA about 9:10. He knew the hallways were clear, & he knew his kids. They were in their classes, with their teachers, because they were scared & wanted to be closest to those they knew best.


Dave told us about the North Tower of the World Trade Center. but like most Americans that day, he was a little behind the curve. We turned on the TV just in time to see a replay of the South Tower getting hit (The plane hit the North Tower at 8:46; the South Tower was hit 17 minutes later).


Oh, God, the news kept getting worse. The kids were frozen in their seats. I squeezed the television remote so tightly it left bruises on my fingers that didn't disappear for days.


Dr. Dave came on the PA again, around 9:25. A sputter, a sigh, a "Hello again. I have some more news to report." Flight 93 had been hijacked. Rumors spread that the plane was headed for either the White House or Capitol Hill.


The kids devoured the wall-to-wall TV coverage. I prayed. At 9:37 a.m., Flight 77 hit the Pentagon. Dr. Dave announced the news from the PA about 10 minutes later. A slow intake of breath from both teacher and students, sort of that sucking noise that results when one doesn't yet know how to proceed. The kids looked as if each had just been told their lives were ending that very minute.



"Mrs. Scribe, what do we do?" Cristina blurted this question, then burst into tears. I asked, then, for a show of hands.


"How many have parents who work at the Pentagon?" Twenty-seven out of 28 students raised their hands. Most were crying by now.


"How many of y'all have cell phones?" Remember, this was seven years ago. Not everyone had a calling plan in 2001. Also, cellies are not supposed to be around during school hours, although most kids these days carry them anyway.



About 10 students raised their hands.


Of course, the phone lines were jammed. The school went into lockdown. Parents were allowed to come pick up their kids, but no one else had permission to leave.


My 28 AP Lang students alternated between trying to call parents and watching--sometimes screaming at--the television. Kelsey's dad called to say he was OK. Brandon's Mom phoned to say she had made it home. One by one, parents got in touch with their kids, or children reached Mom or Dad on a borrowed cellie. Within the hour, everyone had confirmed that their parentals were safe.


Except for Cristina. Her dad was Navy, and worked in the "D"-Ring of the Pentagon, which suffered the most fatalities that day. At first, Cristina could not get through to either parent. Then, her mom called. No one had heard from Dad. The phone lines all over the region were still impossibly dysfunctional.


We waited. One kid took a Bible out of her backpack. Others hugged. All eyes bored into the TV, mounted into its black metal brackets in the corner of the room, high above all the anxious faces. The contraption that I still, all these years later, hit my head on when I stand up too suddenly at my desk.


Mike's mom came to the classroom to pick him up. One by one, students trickled out the door. A wave, an expression of hope; then most disappeared down the hall, holding hands with their parents--even the macho football boys.


Cristina wanted to try one more time. She didn't have a cell, so I tossed mine to the frightened young woman with the straight, thick strawberry blond locks. She sighed. Flipped her hair out of her eyes. Shrugged her shoulders. Wiped the tears and mascara off her cheeks. Dialed.


Her face lighted up. "It's ringing!" She started to do a little dance around the desk. "Hello? Hello? Daddy?" She burst into tears again.


Her dad was sitting out on the lawn, by the Pentagon North Parking Lot. He had been at an appointment, away from the building that morning. Having his teeth worked on. Turns out a trip to the dentist probably saved his life.

54 comments:

Hippie Family... said...

thanks for sharing your day.. this is a day that I will always remember too.. I am linking your post on my blog.. :D

Gina said...

I'm linking to your story too. This event has impacted us all in some way but obviously some much more and much deeper than others.

Lynda said...

It is so hard to remember that day again, but it is so good to continue to do so. Thank you for sharing this slice of life. I am so happy that Cristina found her dad alive and well.

Mrs. Who said...

At that time, we had a video conferencing classroom in our school and I was in there with a class, connected to several other classes throughout the state. One of the teachers slipped in and whispered in my ear that a plane had hit the tower. I actually dismissed it because I thought it was just a small plane. But as the news came through, each of the schools we were connected with kept saying "Uh...have you heard..." "Did you all know..." Until everyone knew what was happening. It was truly a terrifying day.

Veggie Mom said...

Truly a poignant post. Thanks.

mybellringers said...

Moving post… Thanks for sharing your story. We must never forget.

Candy said...

What a story. You brought tears to my eyes. I, too, posted my retrospective of where I was. Though not nearly as poignant, it's the first time I've ever written it down. Perhaps because the media hasn't written as much this year, I wanted to do something myself.

Thanks for sharing your story.

Tara R. said...

Wow... brought it all back so clearly. I cannot imagine what it was like for you and your students, being so close to DC. I'm so glad Cristina's Dad was okay.

I need a moment to compose myself. Thank you for sharing this.

Dawn said...

This is probably the best story i've read today about 9/11. I'm sorry you and the kids had to go through that, but how awesome that it turned out ok for those particular kids.

Blog Stalker said...

Thank you for the touching story. Its stories like these that played out all across the USA that day. Nobody knew what else might be planned. I know it is hard for people to "remember". I think we should remember always. Just so we are vigilant all across the free world in rooting out those cowards who would do this.

Great post, I will wipe my tears now.

Mimi aka pz5wjj said...

Oh wow. You gave me goosebumps.

As an Army Brat myself, I can only imagine what those poor kids were going through.

So much of the nation is focused on the twin towers. We often overlook the pentagon and flight 93.

My old boss was also exmilitary. One of his buddies was in his office when the plane hit the pentagon. Unfortunately for him, the airplane went right through his office.

Kat said...

Wow. What an amazing post. I really struggled today with what to post about. And finally decided that I would do my list post. Because we do have to keep moving forward. And what a better way to do that than to be reflective, contemplative, and plan for the future - in my own twisted way.

Oh, and thank you very much for visiting me on my Georgia day through BATW!

Kelly said...

I can't even imagine how those kids must have felt that day. I'm sure they appreciate the teachers that stayed cool and collected around them.

MammaDawg said...

I'm completely struck, it almost felt like we were right there with you.

Truly, thank you for this. Thank you...

teachj said...

With Hurricane Ike bearing down on Houston, it has been hard to remember the significance of this day. I want to thank you for sharing that painful, yet joyous memory with all of us - your online circle.

MoziEsmé said...

Another amazing miracle of many I've heard from that day. Thanks for sharing and helping us remember . . .

Vicki said...

I can't even see the screen through the tears. What a heart wrenching time for your students.

Thanks for submitting another post.

Vanessa Rogers said...

It doesn't feel like it was seven years ago... but just yesterday. Time flies.

Koe Whitton-Williams said...

Melissa - I did as I said. I had not read this before. Of course we all remember exactly where we were. Your students must have been so frightened. To have parents at the pentagon must have been unreal for all of you to go through.

My children had started pre-school that day - a Tuesday. Their school is about a half-mile from the clinton's home in chappaqua, ny. I wondered if 'they' were going to attack the former president too. My wife and I sat in the car in the parking lot outside the school until noon, waiting for the kids to get out of school. Our son's classmate lost his dad that day. My sister-in-law's brother worked at the WTC. He escaped alive but has never returned to lower manhattan. He works in Long Island now.

My wife and I were in manhattan 8 days later on Sept 19, 2001 firefighters from all over the city were still working the site. . . we saw a few on the subway going back uptown. the dust and dirt on them was unreal. Everyone in the subway car was crying. I am now. It's been almost 8 years. It will never stop hurting. My brother's next door neighbor lost his son. His son called him from a floor or two below windows on the world to say goodbye.

You've written an marvelous posting. I hope you'll never write another one like it again. Ever.

Mrs4444 said...

You were right; I read this through tear-filled eyes. I, too, was in a high school classroom during that infamous hour of awakening to the disaster. In contrast, though, my students were those with emotional/behavioral disabilities. I remember one of them crying out, "YES!" in response to the plane crashing into the south tower. Unbelievable.

Jennifer said...

What an touching story, it brought tears to my eyes. That day still seems like yesterday when I read things like this but it is important to remember.

Mom of Three said...

It took me a long long time to finish reading this. I got so choked up along the way I couldn't continue... Thank God for teachers like you who supported fearful children on that day. They will never forget you...

Thanks for sharing this. I can't imagine what that must have been like...

tattytiara said...

Holy crow. What a difficult place to be on such a terrible day. I can't even imagine the tension in that room.

The Dapper Darling said...

Oh my...we will always remember. So many lives taken.

Hear Mum Roar said...

Oh my god, that gives me shivers! I'll never dread going to the dentist again! I can remember being up at 11pm in Sydney, Australia, watching the whole thing unfold live on the news in horror.

cat said...

Oh wow, what a situation to handle.

sweetjeanette said...

Visiting from Sits. Oh my! I was literally sitting on the edge of my chair, eyes welling with tears! We all can say we knew where we were at the time, but to hear from someone,first hand how this affected our children...I'm so touched. Thank you

sweetjeanette.blogspot.com

Quasi Serendipita said...

Wow. You have managed to present yet another angle to such an awful day.

Elizabeth a.k.a. Type A Mommy said...

Wow. You almost had me in tears this morning. It's hard to believe that this happened eight years ago - it all feels so fresh when I read stories like this. What a well written post.

Kelly at Home said...

Melissa,

I just found your blog through SITS and I clicked on this post to read right away. I was in college, earning my elementary education degree, when September 11 happened. The memories are all too real, and I distinctly remember thinking about how I would teach about the attacks someday. Your perspective as an education really brought all of that back for me - but in a positive way. There are people at the centers of these things, and some of them are the ones offering steadfast support and comfort to others. That'd be you!

Mandi Miller said...

My eyes are tearing up now after reading this. It was bad enough for us in Texas I can't imagine what it must have been like for you and those students...
Happy SITS...

Michelle said...

OH MY GOODNESS. You have me over here bawling. PRecious young girl. What a relief!!!!!

Jessica Nunemaker said...

What a wonderful story.

I am so glad that she, at least, had a happy ending!

Joy said...

SO well-written and really brings that day back in the forefront of my mind, where it will continue to stay.

Congratulations on your SITS day.

:o)

glenna said...

We, as Americans need never forget that day. I pray our country never forgets. Thank you for helping us to remember once again.

Sherri @ Luv a Bargain said...

Oh my gosh. How scary to have been so close and having parents of your students there. I will never forget that day and the helplessness I felt.

Karen & Gerard Zemek said...

What a scary time you went through with that class! So glad all their parents made it through safely! That is amazing!

Congrats on your SITS day!

Kristina said...

What an amazing story. I waited with bated breath to find out about Cristina. Glad her dad was okay.

Congratulations on your Sits day!

carma said...

Thank God for a dentist apt. - I bet you were a great source of comfort to your students that day.

MamaOtwins+1 said...

WOW - what an amazing story. Thank you for sharing your "that day" with all of us!

Helene said...

I can only imagine how frightening it was for you all, being so close to the Pentagon. Here in CA we just watched the news and prayed for those people in the towers and the pentagon, as well as the workers who were helping them.

I was so relieved at the end to read that the girl's dad was okay.

Stephanie Stearns Dulli said...

Oh my gosh, what a chilling account of the day. I was far away in LA at the time and it's was terrible. We always hear about how it was for New Yorkers...but never about the kids here in DC (I'm in SC now) I really was moved by this post.

Holly said...

That is an amazing account of the events at your school. I do and always will remember exactly what I was doing that day. Whenever I read or watch an account of the day, the feelings come rushing back.

Lucy said...

I'm so glad Cristina's dad was ok. I heard it all begin on the radio while in the car with my mother. Then we switched on the TV and simply gaped and wept.

The Mom @ Babes in Hairland said...

Wow - that gave me goosebumps. Wow, to be so close. I'm glad her dad was ok. I still remember what I was doing that morning. What an awful day it was for everyone in this country. Thanks for sharing. Hope you enjoy your day in the SITS spotlight.

Two Normal Moms said...

Enjoy your SITS day!
And yes, after all the years, I still cry every time I read a story about it. To be so close, and have kids with parents there, must have been so incredibly hard.
***Ally

Fallon said...

What an incredibly touching post. The fear of not knowing whether or not a family member is safe was heart-gripping on that day. My favorite aunt was a flight attendant at the time, and when I frantically called her house I was grieved when I unable to reach her. Fortunately, in a few hours my grandmother called me back and assured me she had been in flight classes all day, and never had been in the air. A truly terrible day.

Jessica Jones said...

This is really well written...don't worry I am not crying...to hard

Masala Chica said...

Thanks for sharing your experience that day. I was in NY for work and it was an absolute nightmare. And all my friends were in VA - and I kept learning of loved ones being in both buildings (NY) and (DC) and having died that day.

Never forget . . .

Brandi said...

I was in lower Manhattan. It's hard to talk about that day sometimes. Thank you so much for sharing what you experienced.

AmericanTribal said...

Terrifying and so tragic. I was reading this post with my stomach in my mouth and was so glad at the end when I found out Cristina's dad was ok.

Jenn Erickson said...

Nail biter! What an incredible, heartwrenching ordeal. Thank you for sharing your personal experience so candidly, eloquently, and cleverly. I'm so glad that your class's chapter of the 9/11 saga had a happy ending. Your students are very lucky to have you.

Marie said...

Wow, I won't ever forget that day, I can't imagine having been so close to the action how that must have felt. Glad everyone turned out okay in your school.

Ash said...

Chills. Those poor kids. Good for the school to allow coverage and free flow of information.

My boss, a Texas state senator, was angry the we were glued to the tv. The thought of her face still makes my blood boil.

LinkWithin

Blog Widget by LinkWithin