Hushed whispers echoed through the two third-grade classrooms. Students would meet in the hallways and pass on the news, and those students would bring the information to their own friends inside the room, until a variation of the story was known to everyone. The teacher was crying in the teacher’s lounge. The T.V. was on. The screen showed two smoking skyscrapers. That much was known.
The teacher had hastily left the classroom a half hour ago, after the class had begun free-time. From there the rumors began to spread, until she returned and gathered the class in a circle on the floor.
“Class,” She said, as she sat, red-faced, in a chair before us. “Something very bad has happened this morning.” My heart panged heavily in my chest.
The teacher hesitated before speaking again; the class’s eyes were glued to her. “Somebody hijacked a plane, and crashed it into the World Trade Center. Many people died.” I didn’t know what many of those terms were, but I clearly understood what the sentence meant. The teacher cleared her throat.
“Hijacking is when somebody takes control of something; today somebody took over an airplane. And the Word Trade Center is a huge place in New York City; it takes up two whole buildings.”
I looked worriedly at my classmates, and they looked worriedly back. WE were all feeling something we had never known before. The feeling was urgent, upset, and deep. That feeling was fear.
My attention was focused solely on the teacher for the next few minutes as she explained the details to us. We shouldn’t be scared, we were safe. Yes, lots of people had died. And we were to absolutely not tell the kids in younger grades.
The teacher gave each of us a Jolly Rancher after talking to us, I had a blue one. WE then continued our free-time. The classroom filled with the sounds of children playing, but it was strangely quiet, too robotic to be real. We were only going through the motions of playing, our minds were elsewhere.
At recess, I sat alone in the sandbox, hunched over a hole and a shovel, a pile of smooth stones beside me. From my position, I could look up and see the entire playground before me. Older students were quiet, sitting alone on benches or wandering aimlessly across the blacktop. Younger kids had only heard the rumors, and were dashing wildly from friend to friend, trying to fit their bits of information together. Near me, two second-graders chattered. “Did you hear? We just started a war with England!” Her friend nodded knowingly.
I’ve had bad days in my life, but nothing could compare to the quiet shock I felt on September 11, 2001.