The Alarm Went Off

It did something to all of us, even people like me. I’ve never been to New York City, and I didn’t know anyone who was in New York City that day. No one I loved was on the planes that crashed. (Nor was anyone that I hated.) I was 25, and I was waiting for my alarm to go off. For whatever reason, I was sleeping on the floor of my studio apartment, less than a foot from the clock, covered by a red sleeping bag.

The classical music I used to lull myself awake was interrupted by a news report. One of the Twin Towers had been hit by a plane. I thought that was strange and went to take a shower. I got dressed for work and drove myself there. I went upstairs to sign myself in. There were teachers in the hall and they told me that a plane had crashed in to the Pentagon. “No,” I thought condescendingly, “it’s the Twin Towers.” One of the women, a plump blonde lady, said she knew just what had happen: We were having our radar taken over by terrorists.

I went to get the kids in my class out of the short bus. I was assured there had been three attacks. A few parents drove their kids to school. One asked me, “Business as usual?” Yes. No matter what day it was, I had fourteen developmentally disabled students, and five aides in my charge and I would care for them well. We went to a colleague’s room where they were showing CNN’s coverage. We heard the screaming and saw the smoke over and over again. The children were getting more upset. I think they thought each clip was a new attack. In the mean time, I made some phone calls.

I knew that B would be on his way to work, and he was, so I couldn’t reach him. I called my parents. My mother was happy to hear from me, but puzzled at the hour. Wasn’t I at work?

My voice quivered, “Two planes crashed in to the World Trade Center. Another hit the Pentagon.”

“We never turn on the tv in the morning. We didn’t know.” I told her I loved her. She told my father to turn on the tv.

I believe these few seconds were the seconds in which I grew up. I knew something my parents didn’t know, not uncommon, but this was a very important thing. For many people “the events of 9/11” made them go from a child to an adult, and I was one of them.

I felt a little like I was stealing someone else’s grief. Like I said before I hadn’t lost anyone, I hadn’t even known someone who had a close call. I’ve never been what anyone would call patriotic, and that day didn’t change anythings. I don’t have even a flag to hang out in front of my house. All that to say, the events still mattered to me.

We tried to keep the day normal. One of the whack jobs I worked with believed that our school, an urban high school in a large city, would probably be a target for the terrorists. I shuttled my students out of her class and put them to work writing and talking and playing. We had lunch in the classroom. We cleaned up the halls and the cafeteria. During the last period we had an exercise where I wrote on the wall what we did that day. I wrote about two sentences, turned around, and saw all of my parents who knew how to drive cars waiting behind the students to pick up their children and take them home.

There is more than that to the story. It was supposed to be the Youth Group’s Fall Kickoff, and we showed up (B and me) and a few other kids. Everyone wanted to be with their families, and B was not quite my fiance, but we wanted to be together and to help anyone else who might need helping. Instead of filling up the bounce house with air we prayed.

We heard about all these stories of churches filled to bursting and people being kind to other people. I am a cynical person, and I tell you, I was cynical about all of it. I was so sad it happened, I think I cried, but I knew, although there was much rejoicing, it would fall away and we would all wonder what went wrong. People were looking for answers and thought they’d find it holding hands in a circle singing or holding candlelight vigils. I’m not trying to hate about those rituals. Ritual means a lot to people and I am one of them. Things like communion and baptism and even marriage are soothing and important. I think they can only give you so much. I can criticize others for their beliefs, but I am trying not to. There are answers, but like a happy marriage, it takes some effort to get them in a way that is true and real.

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