Bearing Witness, A 6th Grader's Memory of September 11th, 2001
I had just started 6th grade in September of 2001. I was 10 years old, one week away from my 11th birthday. The day was just getting started and I was in "Home Room" which was the period at the beginning of each day when we would listen to morning announcements on the school's intercom, teachers would provide any important administrative updates or announcements and student's prepared for the day's classes. At some point my Home Room teacher, Mrs. Holden, she got a call on the classroom telephone. As she took the call it was just a bunch of 6th graders chatting about as we waited for her to return to the front of the classroom to resume normal home room stuff.
All the sudden I heard her shocked scream into the phone...I can't recall exactly what she said but I just remember how.... frightened she sounded. I guess someone told her to turn on the news because she immediately hung up and ran to the big TV we had in the corner and turned it on.
This T.V. was one of those big square box sets that was strapped to a cart that sat just a little higher than eye level. Typically, this T.V. was used when there was no lesson plan, or a substitute teacher was there, and we just watched movies. Normally a good sign that filled me with excitement because we could watch a fun movie instead of learning! But that was not the case as she turned it on a tuned to the news. I also remember, as she ran to the T.V. to turn it on some in the class started laughing and poking fun at the way she ran and the frantic way she was behaving. In my mind I remember feeling a sense of dread at her reaction and wondering what happened on the phone to cause her to become so upset.
As she tuned the T.V. to the news other teachers from classrooms across the hall started poking their heads in, all with a heavy sense of seriousness that was making the dread I was feeling grow. I could also hear chatter growing louder from the other classrooms around us. I think, at this point, both planes had already hit the Twin Towers because I just remember seeing the images of them on fire. We sat and just watched. Teachers and other school administrators kept coming in and out of the room and we all kept watching. A room full of 10–11-year-old 6th graders we didn't really understand what was happening, all the teachers and other grownups coming in and out of the room never stopped to explain anything to us, they were probably in shock... I remember my classmates and I just kept chatting away, a little amused and appreciative of the break from the repetitive school routine that morning. It wasn't until we noticed the news cameras zooming up and showing bodies falling from the buildings that we started to get quiet, and the room took on a more serious vibe. Yes, we watched as people were jumping from the top floors and falling to their deaths. Then, all the sudden one of the towers started collapsing. I heard gasps, from classmates or Mrs. Holden I can't remember. After a few more minutes she ran over and finally turned off the T.V. I guess she finally decided we had seen enough or didn't want to subject us to anymore of the horrible events happening live on the news.
We sat in home room for a little while longer, well past when we should have been off to First Period classes. The chatty buzz returned as we sat and waited for our school day to resume. Sometime later I started to notice commotion in the hall outside the classroom. Parents started showing up to pick up their kids, some more panicked than others, that's the moment I think I realized something really, really serious had happened. After a while they finally resumed a regular schedule for those of us left. At this point we were into Second Period, so we just skipped the Frist Period classes that day. For the students still there, we went on like normal. except for some between class, hallway chat about seeing the towers fall. I ran up to a friend of mine at the time who was in another home room class and we talked frantically about what was saw. I remember talking about seeing the antenna on top of the collapsing tower as it was slowly enveloped in the smoke plume... the last part of tower visible before it was all gone.
When I got home off the bus that afternoon I walked in the door and immediately started complaining to my mother, who worked from home at the time, for not coming to get me out of school early like other parents did. I feel guilty now thinking about how selfish and annoying I was being. My mom was glued to the TV watching news coverage. She tried to explain to me that she thought the safest place for me was at the school and she didn't want to be one of those parent's rushing down in a panic to the school. Some years later I learned that, in the ensuing confusion around the attacks the Piedmont Triad International airport, which was maybe 5 miles from home and the school, and the Colonial Pipeline oil farm, also within miles from the school, were put on high alert and thought to be potential targets. That could be why so many parents rushed down to pick up their kids.
My father worked for American Express at the time and had just been on a business trip up to NYC a few weeks prior. The Amex offices used to be in one of the other WTC buildings nearby and was badly damaged in the collapse of the Twin Towers. Thank God he wasn't up there when it happened. Thank. God.
While I am thankful, I was able to watch and bear witness to history that day, I still don't understand why the teachers and school staff let a bunch of 6th graders watch live on T.V. as thousands were dying. Even though I didn't really register the gravity of the events as they were happening, I can still remember so much about the morning, the memory is still vivid even
years later. I don't know why my brain decided to hold onto those memories when I didn't even really understand their significance as they were happening, but they are there, and I will never forget. For me, September 11th, 2001 was just another ordinary day of 6th grade with a little bit of morning excitement/ distraction before we just...carried on.