The day began as any other, rushing the children to school as I rushed for the bus, boat and train to Chelsea High School in Lower Manhattan. At the time, I was a paraprofessional or teacher's aide. I grabbed a quick and unhealthy breakfast at the corner deli store on 6th Avenue and Broome Street. Greeted my fellow pedagogues good morning and proceeded to my assigned classroom to prepare for the students entering at 8:30 am. My first student that morning was Jason, a bright intelligent young man, who exclaimed in his very calm and subtle voice, "Miss. A plane just hit the Twin Towers." I looked at him with utter confusion on my face since I know that Jason isn't one with a sense of humor. Doing the only thing an educator can do, I instructed him to write about it in his journal, which is our daily opening activity.
"For real Miss. A plane hit the Twin Towers," he insisted. Another teacher runs to my classroom and yells,"Oh my god! The Twin Towers were hit by a plane!"
(Over the loud speaker) "Attention staff. Please do not allow any students out of the classroom. Please close your doors and wait for further instructions."
"This is for real," I catch myself stating aloud as disbelief floods my face. I quickly went to the doorway and escorted any students still wandering the hall, into the classroom. There was a general murmur of unease as the students whispered their fear-laden thoughts to one another.
Five minutes passed and we hear a cry of disbelief outside the window from the crowd that gathered in the streets. I did not know this then, but that was when the second plane hit the South Tower at the World Trade Center.
In a panicked and almost desperate appeal, the principal makes another announcement.
"All staff please escort the students to the auditorium immediately."
I rushed to get the students in line and down two flights of stairs to the first floor lobby. Everyone was asking,"What's going on! What's happening?" It reminded me of the scene in Poltergeist when the oldest daughter returns from a date with numerous hickies on her neck, to her chaos-engulfed home. The students were told to have a seat. I left the students with the teachers and proceeded to the fifth floor and work my way down, checking for any lingering students.
As I passed the west facing windows on the fifth floor, I was horrified. It looked like something out of the seventh circle of hell in Dante's Inferno. The North Tower had a gaping hole, just above midway, with smoke and flames bellowing to the sky. The South Tower was engulfed in smoke and flames flared from the other side off of its center. I ran to the art classroom, where the art teacher was gathering her things to proceed to the lobby. I told her to come see what happened to the World Trade buildings. We stood there for an eternity and watched as the North Tower fell and then shortly thereafter, the South Tower collapsed. We cried and went downstairs.
Parents came on bicycles, roller blades and any other means they could think of. The transit system was completely shut down and most of my students lived in Harlem and Washington Heights. For those not familiar with Manhattan, that would be about a 100 to 200 block walk. The rest of the school day was a blur. I could not contact my family members on Staten Island to let them know I was fine. I could not find out if my children were safe with family or still at school. It was an unnerving and harrowing six hours.
The last student was picked up at approximately 4:30 pm. I didn't know how I would get home. Thank goodness, three other teachers also resided on Staten Island and offered to walk with me to the Staten Island Ferry and then drive me home from there. We walked east along Canal Street, through Chinatown and underneath the FDR Drive. The air was acrid with choking, chalky dust and smoldering ash. My shoes and the lower half of my pants were encrusted with this dust. As we passed the streets near the collapsed Towers, the air was suffused with a burning metallic odor.
We made it to the South Ferry station at Whitehall Street and boarded the boat. We made sure to get a seat towards the rear of the boat so that we could view the skyline of Manhattan. There was a huge gaping hole amongst the skyscrapers. The Towers were replaced with smoke and a great sadness was prevalent throughout the ferry. There were people crying, hugging, talking and simply looking for answers. There were others like me who did not utter a sound but the tears kept flowing. I sit here ten years later at my keyboard and the tears still keep flowing with many questions still unanswered.
Through the kindness and graciousness of my colleagues, I made it home at 7:00 pm. My aunt had picked up my children from school. I was given a lecture for approximately thirty minutes as I had not called anyone in the family and I was the only one unaccounted for. My husband, who was my boyfriend at the time, did not get home until approximately 9:00 pm. He was a bus paraprofessional, a teacher's aide who rides the school bus with students who require crisis management. Because traffic was at a standstill, the school had no school buses in which to send the students home. My husband had to wait until public transportation was resumed and escort the student home on the train before beginning the trek to his own apartment in Harlem.
We were the lucky ones. We actually made it home. There were 2,819 individuals who did not.
This is in remembrance of all those affected by the attack on September 11, 2001.