I was in fifth grade when it happened. It was a long time ago, and I don't remember much from that school year--my kinda boyfriend, the first Harry Potter movie premiere, the doll my mother made for me--but that day is burned into my memory. I will never forget the strange intruder alert lockdown my elementary school was put under, or the hushed voices of the teachers when they met at the door and spoke soft and quick, glancing to look across the children's faces.
I had the doll my mom made for me that day, wrapped in my arms as I tried to ask Mr. Harwich what was going on. I wanted my mother, and she was a teacher's aide in the kindergarten and first grade hallway. "You have to stay put. Don't leave your seat again." Normally cheerful, there was a roughness to his deep voice.
For how long we were on lockdown, I don't know. Why? Then I didn't know, and I'm still not sure. Maybe because the Pentagon was a hop, skip, and a jump away? No clue. But next thing I knew, I was on the bus waiting for my stop, confused as to why parents were storming the school, trying to pick up there children. Nothing was explained, nothing was said to any of us at all.
A woman was on her knees grasping at her sons clothing, pulling him in for a tight hug. She cried on his shoulder; he looked scared and confused. (It later became known that his father was one of the fallen at the Pentagon.)
No kids were allowed off at the bus stops without an adult to escort them home. I was terrified that I wouldn't be allowed to go home, because mom was still at the school. They wouldn't let me find her, and I didn't want to ride the bus. But there was quiet chaos as teachers and faculty members were hushed and quickly emptied the school without listening to any student pleas. My brother and I were ushered on a bus instead.
Thankfully, mom made it to the bus stop in time, and she hugged and kissed us again and again. Her friend and coworker Betty hadn't heard from her husband yet; his office was located near where the plane hit the Pentagon. Mom was scared for his safety--"Such a nice man, so generous and thoughtful," she said.
We walked home and sat in front of the television. Footage switched between the Twin Towers and the Pentagon, showing the destruction from an extremist Muslim group attacking a nation for differing in principles and trying to be open to all and any who wish to be American. The smoke that blotted out the sun, the concrete that fell like rain, people bloody and screaming, and those brave few who rushed forward to help instead of cowering in fear.
Dad came home early and he and mom watched the chaos erupting in New York City and Washington, D.C., as my brother and I tried to watch cartoons upstairs. But even cartoons were canceled and the broken nation flashed across the screen.
My brother and I tried to talk a little about it. All he mustered up was, "It's sad. All sad." He was in third grade at the time, struggling to speak his mind through a difficult speech impediment, but he summed it up well. It was sad. Sad that we were struck at the heart of our nation. Sad that these extremists hated us so much for being so different from them. Sad that so many died and suffered because of them. Sad, sad, sad.
We were quiet for the most part, because mom was crying as she watched from downstairs and we could hear her sniffle every once in a while. I know we teared up. And when I didn't cry any more, I tried. When that failed, I sat in a melancholic silence as I held my doll.
I don't remember the day before or the events for the remainder of that week. I remember only that day.