I was in the first grade when it all happened.
It was a typical day for me as it was for everyone else too. I remember it being a crisp morning in the Fall. The leaves on the trees were a plethora of colors and I remember the crinkling sound they made when I walked to the car. The chill of the morning air greeted me as soon as I opened the front door. My mom packed my backpack making sure I had all of my materials and homework. She filled my power-puff girl lunchbox with my favorite snacks which were usually gushers, fruit-roll-ups, or fruit snacks. My Catholic school uniform was always clean and ironed. My mom did my hair differently every day. She made sure I wore my jacket and we were off.
Our teacher, Mrs. D, greeted all of us as we entered the classroom and made sure we were all present as she took attendance. She began explaining what we would do for the day. I had my friends Brittany and Chelsea who I would often get in trouble for chatting with. I always looked forward to snack time. My mom would make sure I ate breakfast before I left the house, but I was a hungry kid. My best friend Brittany and I had matching hello kitty necklaces and that marked how important our friendship was. Our mothers hung out a lot, so we ended up becoming close. We would show them off to our classmates every morning like, “Hey guys, look what we have!”
I would often doodle in my notebook while Mrs. D had her back turned. Back then, we had those desks with the tops that would lift up and you could put all your materials inside. I would put my snacks in there and I was always organized with my pencils and crayons. Mrs. D was big on neat penmanship. She would have us practice every day. She would write sentences on the board and we would have to practice writing them in our notebooks. Even as a 1st grader, I wanted to have the best handwriting in the class. I could smell the aroma of lunch being cooked in the cafeteria. I think that day it was chicken sandwiches and vegetables. It was about 9am.
Chelsea would slide me notes from pieces of paper in her notebook. One of them read, “Do you think Scott is cute?” Circle yes or no. I circled Yes with an exclamation point and a smiley face and slid it back to her. Mrs. D often caught us in the act but that did not stop us. We were sneaky.
We would have our snacks at around 10am or so. It was about 9:45 and Mrs. D told us we could have snack time 15 minutes early. Thank goodness I thought, I didn’t eat my morning oatmeal, instead I snuck it to my dog when my mom was getting ready for work. She wanted me to grow big and strong, so it was oatmeal every morning and I hated it.
During snack time, we would trade snacks. “Hey Eddie, you want to trade me your goldfish for my fruit roll-up?” Mrs. D would monitor this because there were certain allergies, she needed to be aware of. There was a list posted in the front of the classroom with of each of our names and our allergies written next to it. She would give us the head nod and we would trade our snacks.
We would move from our desks to the big round tables on the carpet right next to Mrs. D’s desk. When we were done with snack, we had to clean up after ourselves, push our chairs in, and return to our seats. Now it was time for math, my least favorite subject. As Mrs. D started her lesson on our multiplication tables, I was distracted by the loud voices coming from the hallway.
Mrs. D was standing in front of the blackboard when she got called to the door by the teacher across the hall. We were busy taking this time to talk to one another, but the whispers seemed serious. There was a shift in Mrs. D’s mood. She covered her mouth with her hand and her eyes widened. It seemed like the halls were getting crowded with teachers and school staff now as they peeked their heads out their doors to get in on the conversation.
“Chels, what do you think is happening outside in the hall?” I asked.
“Not sure, I’m just waiting for recess.” She said.
Mrs. D came back to her desk. She held the chair in front of her like her legs were about to give out. She closed her eyes and sighed deeply. She clapped her hands three times like she always did when she needed to get our attention.
“Class, I have some very terrible news.” We all silenced our conversations and looked over to her.
“We just received news that there has been a terrible accident in the city.”
I used to go to the city with my parents a lot to see Broadway shows, eat pizza, and explore. I loved it.
“Your parents will all be coming shortly to pick you up.”
As excited as we all were to go home, we were all confused as to what was happening.
“All I ask is that you stay calm and remain in your seats. Finish eating your snacks and when finished find an activity to do. Please keep your voices at a low level and when parents arrive, I will escort you to the front office. While I do so, Mrs. J will be monitoring you guys. We will combine classes with Class 1-202 who will be joining us shortly.”
I thought to myself, Mrs. D’s husband works in the city. I remember because she spoke about him often and how much they loved each other. It would make us all happy that she was happy. I hope he’s okay, I said to myself.
I practiced my writing while Brittany and Chelsea worked on coloring pictures.
“I can’t wait for my mom to get here,” Brittany said.
It seemed like each of my friends were getting picked up one by one. I was of the last remaining few. I walked up to the front of the classroom. Mrs. D and Mrs. J were sitting side by side at the front desk.
“Mrs. D, when will my mom be getting here?”
“Your mom is stuck in traffic, honey. She is trying to get here as quickly as possible.”
I thought to myself, she didn’t mention my dad. Where was he?
It turned out that the remaining children whose parents did not arrive by the ringing of the last bell had to be escorted to the gymnasium to wait with the rest of the school. The announcement came over the loudspeaker. Mr. G, our principal announced, “Attention all teachers, please escort your remaining students to the gym until parents arrive.” He repeated the same thought.
Brittany and Chelsea had left much earlier in the morning. I was scared. I had finished all my snacks and I was hungry. The pit in my stomach was grumbling and I was trying not to think about it. I packed my book bag and placed it on my back. Felt like I was carrying the world in that bag at the very moment.
I sat in the gym with Justin, Mrs. D, Mrs. J, and the remaining 3 students she had left. The gym was basically empty and there was still no sign of my parents. It was almost 3pm. Mrs. D started making phone calls to parents to see if they were in-route.
“Teachers, if certain parents have not arrived, we will be making arrangements shortly to have a school bus take them to the home of their emergency contact,” Mr. G announced. In this case, that would be my brother and I had no idea where he was either. I almost forgot teachers needed to go pick up their kids too. I felt lost. Mrs. D tried to keep us occupied by playing Simon Says and I Spy.
Finally, at around 3:10pm my mother arrived. She rushed into the gym searching for me. I stood up quickly and waved my hand.
“Mom, I’m over here.” She jogged over.
“Hi,” she said sleepily. She sounded like she had been crying. Mrs. D gave her a paper to sign stating I was picked up by a parent and taken home safely. We left the gym. My mom was rushing towards the door and she held my hand too tight. We walked down the long hill to the car, she got me into my seat, and buckled me in.”
“Mommy, what is going on? Why didn’t you pick me up sooner?”
“Mama, I tried getting here as fast as I could. I was stuck in traffic because they had the bridge closed.”
“All my friends left, and I didn’t know where you were.”
“Listen,” she said. “There’s something I have to tell you and I want you to be strong, okay?”
She continued. “You know those two identical, tall buildings we had seen in the city when we went to see Aladdin on Broadway?”
“Yes,” I muttered.
“Two airplanes flew into them today and now they are no longer there.”
“What!” I yelled.
The confines of this safe little bubble I was living in would burst with the next sentence that escaped her mouth.
“Daddy went down there to help rescue people. That is why I’m picking you up.”
The next few hours were a blur. Daddy did not come home until about midnight. I tried staying up with Mommy, but as much as she pleaded for me to go to sleep I could not. I needed to know if my dad would come home.
It was way past my bedtime, but Daddy finally made it home. His clothes were filthy, and he could barely walk. He looked as though he had worked for days with no sleep.
I ran towards him to give him a hug.
The next couple of days school was closed. Mommy didn’t go into work so she could stay with me. Daddy went to the city every day that week to help find survivors.
I had seen the clips on the news even though Mommy did not want me watching. The buildings had went up in flames and shortly after collapsed. You saw papers flying everywhere and the scariest part, people jumping out the windows to save themselves from the fire that engulfed the buildings.
You heard sirens and the many people yelling for their loved ones.
Each day that week, I barely slept. Mommy let me sleep in her bed.
I would fall into a light sleep, wondering if my dad would ever come home again.