We remember tragedies in great detail. It's unfortunate. I have a clearer image in my mind of those fucking planes than I do of my daughter taking her first steps.
I cry for the innocent people who lost their lives that day. And for our fallen heroes. The firefighters, the police officers, the paramedics, the pilots and flight crews, for anyone who did anything to help another human being on a day when humanity stopped being humanity. The day the sirens wailed, and the dust fell, and the people screamed, and the buildings crashed, and the smoke billowed, and oh my God, look at those lost faces on TV, those beautiful child-like faces, covered in ash and scampering across the Brooklyn Bridge. My home, the streets my parents ruled as teenagers, the city my grandparents and immigrant great-grandparents built. Broadway. The Harlem Globetrotters at Madison Square Garden. Central Park. The F Train. Staten Island Little League. The Mets, the Jets (the fucking jets), the Giants, the Yankees. Babe Ruth. The rides at Coney Island. With my big brother watching me because that's what big brothers do. They watch your back. But who had our backs then? Who protected us when the lights went out? When the sun finally set? Where's my daddy? I want my daddy. Where are you, New York? Fucking New York. I love you.
For the countless schoolteachers, like me, locked in classrooms with students who wanted answers but were given none.
That fall, I started teaching English at the local high school. I'd spent the previous year cursing fate at the neighboring middle school. I knocked on the principal's door that summer and inquired about starting up an after-school theatre program. I loved that woman. What a champion of women's rights! To my knowledge, the first female principal in the state of Tennessee (long before my time as an educator and prior to our relocation to North Carolina). She accepted my offer (I told her I'd kindly repay the $500 she put up for my production of Frankenstein out of ticket sales) and I spent most of the first month of school cleaning out backstage. The chorus teacher, a crotchety woman working on her doctorate, found me in the bowels of the auditorium (where theatre guys spend all their waking hours, it seems) and told me a plane had hit the World Trade Center. I'd heard stories of the prop that hit the Empire State Building in the 1940s or whenever, so I didn't think much of it. I continued shifting scenery and organizing props until first period ended. Then, I turned on the classroom TV, shocked into truth with the rest of our nation.
We cried and clung to one another but remained strong for the children entrusted to our custody. That's what teachers do, and mine is ultimately a teacher's story, after all.
The only thing I can compare it to is when the Space Shuttle Challenger exploded, and my high school calculus teacher held our hands as we watched events unfold on live TV. That's probably the first time I ever realized how important the surrogate relationship is for teachers. We answer the call as best we can, pinned on our backs with our hearts in the dirt.