Where was I?Posted Sunday, September 11, 2011, at 11:38 AM
Up until then, I'd always believed that nothing bad could ever happen in my country. We were invincible. We protected the weak and we defeated the evil. The bad guys didn't come to America. They stayed in far off places Daddy sometimes went to.Mom wakes me up at 7:30, right on schedule. The itinerary tells of an 8 a.m. takeoff, right on schedule. I walk into Mrs. Everett's third grade class, right on schedule.Mrs. Everett tells us our itinerary. Today the blue group will be in reading first, the red in math, and the third in art. I'm in red group this week and happy because the first group is the shortest. I fix my rocket power t-shirt and walk over to my group. We pull out our times tables and get started. It's about 8:13.At 8:13 the tower loses contact with Flight 11. A panic begins.A minute later, another plane departs, dozens of people ready to get where they're going. I can't remember what five times seven is. I also need to go to the bathroom. Mrs. Everett gives me the "potty pass". I walk fast, ready to get where I'm going. On the way back, I stop and look at the prizes people get for trading in their Accelerated Reader points. I'm ten away from the stuffed bear. I've gone off course.At 8:20, Flight 11 goes off course.I depart from math at 8:40. Two minutes later, Flight 93 departs from the Newark Airport. As if in response, Flight 175 is taken hostage.Announcements are at 8:45 every day. We say the Pledge of Allegiance, then the office lady tells us what's for lunch.
8:45, Flight 11 smacks into the North Tower of the World Trade Center at 470 miles per hour.
We begin our second group, reading. This week the book is Midnight on the Moon by Mary Pope Osborn. We just started it on Monday. I really like this book. We open to where we left off. The clock ticks past 8:50. Flight 157 heads for New York City.I get a paper cut. Minutes after my own accident, President Bush is alerted of the crash. "What a horrible accident," he says. As he communicates, communication with Flight 77 from Dulles International Airport in Washington, D.C. ends.Seven minutes later, Flight 157 hits the South Tower. Carrying the youngest victim, Christine Hanson, age two. She was with her parents."THE SCHOOL IS NOW IN LOCKDOWN," announces the office lady. Mrs. Everett leads us to the corner where the picture of a Rottweiler sitting by a dog house is posted. Three years of attending Bethel Manor Elementary school has taught me that going to the "safe corner" is never a good thing, unless it's just an intruder drill. A classmate asks if it's a drill. My teacher looks nervously at her phone and whispers, "I don't know."Fifteen minutes later, Flight 93 is hijacked.
Mrs. Everett tries to calm the class. Most of us are crying in fear. No one knows what's going on.
Transit is closed in New York. But for all the students huddling the the safe corners of this elementary school in Langley Air Force Base, Virginia know, the world could be ending outside.
Ten minutes later, the office lady reports that it is okay to come out of the safe corners, but all rooms are to be locked, students escorted through halls, and windows must be covered. President Bush announces to the world that a terrorist attack has occurred in New York City. But that announcement does not come through the speakers of our school's PA, and we remain uninformed.
Mrs. Everett tells everyone to get back in their groups. As she struggles to get her distressed students back to learning, Flight 93 heads for Washington DC, just before Flight 77 crashes into the Pentagon. All learning is stopped, and instead my teacher has us watch a movie. All air traffic is stopped. 10:05, the South Tower Collapses. 10:10, a portion of the Pentagon collapses. 10:10 we are still unaware of what's going on. 10:10 a successful overthrow of Flight 93's hijackers ends in Somerset County, Pennsylvania. In ten minutes, heroes, terrorists, and helpless victims die. Ten minutes and we still don't know.10:30, the North Tower collapses.
We're escorted to the cafeteria for lunch and then are rushed back to our classrooms. The teacher pulls out board games. The United States declares a state of emergency. We continue our state of unawareness. 1:48 reads the clock as President Bush departs Barksdale Air Force Base en route to Offutt Air Force Bse. At 2, we finally depart from our lack of information.
A receptionist delivers a stack of letters to the classroom. Mrs. Everett breaks down in tears after silently reading one, and then passes them out.
I learn how wrong, innocent, and naive I was.
The United States is not invincible. Innocence is not invincible. We are just as weak as the rest of the world. Men with box cutters and certificates from Arab Flight Schools brought us to our knees. A third grader learned that that day, watching the news, watching two of the largest buildings in the world come crashing down.
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