“This does seem to be surreal but in fact it is real.” ~Tom Brokaw, NBC Live Coverage
Tuesday, Sept. 11, 2001. I have worked as a teacher for one week, but I didn’t make enough time during that span for bathroom breaks or drink refills and a now kidney infection stabs at my back. It’s almost 9 a.m. and the sophomores in second hour take their seats. A teacher pokes her head in the room and says, “Turn on the TV.”
Katie Couric reports as smoke billows from one of the twin towers. Our minds try to adjust psychologically to what’s happening as we watch a plane fly into the second tower. Soon Jim Miklaszewski confirms that the Pentagon shook and windows rattled there. We see smoke plumes filling the sky in Arlington. This can’t be coincidence. Our fear thickens like curd.
“I have a cousin in Manhattan,” says Kendall*. “I can’t stay here. Please, I need a pass to Guidance.” She calls home from the guidance office and talks to her dad. He tells her it doesn’t matter who’s in New York because within hours the whole world will probably blow up. Kendall returns to class crying.
I wonder what I should say to the students, or what I shouldn’t say. I wonder if I’m causing further panic by leaving the TV on, but I don’t want to turn it off — I want to know what’s happening and the students do too.
With buzz cut hair and scars winding like ant trails around his head, Frank* can’t handle the chaos. He folds lined paper into triangles to make claws for each of his fingers. He fans the claws in front of his face like Freddie Kruger. Frank scratches at Kendall’s back while she hunches over her desk. Kendall gets out of her seat and Frank follows suit, fanning his talons at several other girls. They get out of their seats, too, and Frank chases them around the room. I try to stop him, but Frank is determined to control how the events unfold in our class.
My sixth day as a high school teacher. Our eyes move from Frank back to the TV, where Tom Brokaw says we are at war.
“This does seem to be surreal but in fact it is real,” Brokaw says.
We all watch, horrified.