This is where I was this day five years ago. I was teaching. We were having a weekly assembly called “town meeting” where the kids got up and gave annoucements. Another teacher walked by me with a boom box. I suddenly remembered that I had forgotten to reserve one for class that day and I asked her if I could use the one she was carrying when she was finished. She gave me a strange look since I obviously didn’t know yet why she was carrying a radio into her office. She slowly said, “sure.”
Another teacher came and tapped me on the back and said, “can I speak to you outside for a moment?” And because I had no confidence, I immediately started thinking, “what did I do wrong?” We went outside and she told me and as I started crying, I saw them gathering the kids whose parents worked in the Pentagon. We knew about the attacks before they were on the news because another teacher had been on the phone with a parent when the plane hit the building. They were discussing his son, his learning issues, and a new plan for helping him with his studies. This child was now being brought to a separate room while they tried to contact parents and see who was still alive.
And I’m writing this now as a mother and I am scared shitless. Of what has happened in the past and what could happen in the future.
I was given a few minutes to make a few phone calls and then I went back to the theater to sit with my students as the rest of the school poured through the doors for a special meeting. My students were confused. Why were the upper schoolers coming to our assembly? And why were they sitting in the back? And why was the principal coming in? And why were some of the kids being taken one by one out of assembly? They knocked shoulders with each other as they whispered like anxious cows sensing that they’re about to be led to slaughter.
The principal told them, and the kids began crying, and some kids just collapsed on the ground. And that’s where I was on September 11th–weeks before my wedding and watching children learn about the Twin Towers and the Pentagon and the planes.
Did I know before that moment that sometimes parents die and leave behind children? Of course. There is cancer, car accidents, and suicide. I have had other students lose their parents in other ways before. But nothing made me worry–even now, 5 years into the future–about leaving behind my children than that day. I didn’t even have children yet, but I worried about them nonetheless while watching these kids who strutted around the Commons with confidence on any other day cling to my sleeve like five-year-olds saying, “I just want my mom. Can’t you tell my mom to come faster?” And knowing that not all of their parents would be there to pick them up that day. I had never been with a child when they were waiting to hear if their father would ever be coming to get them.
The New York Times ran obituaries of people who died in the Twin Towers. I only read them for a few days because I couldn’t handle reading about 26-year-old widows who had lost their husbands before their first anniversaries during the attacks. But there was one that changed the entire way we lived our lives. This woman had gotten married in August and her ketubah (a Jewish wedding contract) was still at the framers. Her husband was now dead, and her ketubah was still being framed. I refused to relinquish the ketubah after the ceremony. I wanted to take it to the framers and wait there until it was finished and put it up immediately. Instead of waiting a year, we started trying to have children a few months after the wedding. If there was a chance that my husband was going to be taken away from me, I wanted to have a piece of him with me. His DNA in our children. That was probably what pushed me towards treatments rather than adoption. Isn’t it strange–how one path can seem like the right path and then suddenly there is a world events and it changes your life choices. I wanted his DNA.
And now it’s worse. Because once you have that DNA, you realize that it’s not enough. There can never be enough. There is nothing you can do to protect your heart or make it easier or not get hurt. And that realization is just so scary. And living while trying not to think about that reality is so hard. And my heart is going out to all of the women today–those who have the DNA and those who don’t. Who are hurting. So. Badly.