Tuesday, September 11, 2007

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I was teaching at a local inner-city middle school, and was very, very pregnant with my daughter, Olivia. I had a bad cold and a headache, and was getting ready to start my class. I had a group of really rowdy sixth graders, including a group of special ed students who traveled with an aide. The kids were all especially hyper, and I was trying to get them calmed down so I could start class. The aide was trying urgently to speak to me, but I couldn't hear him over all the commotion. I finally got the class quieted, and he asked me if he could turn on the television. It was a weird request, so I must have looked confused. He said, "M'am, you don't understand, we're under attack. Can we turn the TV on to see what's happening?"

The only TV I had in my classroom was a really outdated model that had never really worked. The knob was broken off, so I had to adjust the picture with a pair of pliers. It was still fuzzy, and the sound was broken. The kids sat down and stared at the TV. You could have heard a pin drop, except for the occasional question or nervous giggle (kids are weird like that -- they giggle when they dont' know what else to do.) It was just surreal, to have that large of a group (around 30 adolescents) in a room watching a screen with no sound and a terrible picture, in so much silence.

I didn't want to just spend the day watching TV with the kids when I couldn't even answer their questions. Without sound, I didn't know what was going on. For a long time, I didn't realize both towers had been hit -- I thought they were repeating footage of the same strike over and over again from different angles until they brought up the snazzy graphic with text reading "second tower hit." We watched the silent TV until lunch, and then I tried to do a little art therapy with them, just getting them to get their feelings out onto paper, regardless of right or wrong, or artistic technique, or quality of drawing. Some kids couldn't even draw... they just sat there, looking out the window, as if waiting for a plane to hit the school, or smoke from the towers to fill the Charleston skyline. I would sit with those students and try to get them to talk, but it was just too soon to even start putting ideas together for them. That was kind of a relief for me, because it was almost too soon for me, too.

At lunch, I called my Dad who worked at the Air Guard. Of course, he was very busy and couldn't explain much, but reassured me that he was safe, I was safe, and that he would probably get mobilized, but nothing had been said for certain, yet. This, of course, wasn't so reassuring, but it felt good to hear his voice.

I had a doctor's appointment after school with my OB. As I was listening to my daughter's heartbeat on the doppler, all I could think about was how different the world was that she would be born into. I couldn't promise her safety. I couldn't even guess what life would be like for her. Would her childhood be spent in a war zone? Were more attacks on the way? And when did people become capable of doing something so random and violent -- of feeling such deep hatred for people just because they live and work in this country?

I felt the tears well up and tried to stop them, but they just came. My doctor didn't even ask me what was wrong, he just sat there and held my hand and nodded, knowingly. He finally shook his head and said, "My God...all those people on those planes...in those buildings..." and his voice cracked and trailed off. I nodded back. We both wiped our eyes, and laughed nervously at how difficult it was to talk about anything, much less go about our normal lives, after that morning.

Driving home, I saw people going through the drive-thru and taking their kids to football practice, just like it was any other day. The sky was a beautiful shade of blue, with white puffy fairy-tale clouds. Children laughed and played. Semi-trucks hauled their loads down the road. The trademark scent of Autum was just beginning to appear in the breeze. It all seemed wrong, like I was watching the stage version of my evening commute with actors paid to pretend everything was OK.

That evening, I crawled into bed with my two sons and held them tightly. I fell fast asleep like that -- the three (four!) of us crammed into a tiny bunk bed. I wanted to explain what had happened, but they were too young to understand. I wanted to apologize for the world they would grow up in -- it wasn't the one I had picked out for them. I wanted to promise them that I would keep them safe, but I felt pretty vulnerable, myself. I couldn't think of anything to say except "I love you."

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