I had just gone back to work, teaching special ed half time at a public school in one of Baltimore's worst neighborhoods--which is saying something. The school hadn't quite figured out what to do with me yet--funding for a half time special ed teacher had come through at the last minute. I didn't have a classroom or a schedule. When I went to work on Sept. 11, I was asked to cover for another teacher while he checked out a strange news item on the computer--apparently, some pilot had flown a plane into the World Trade Center in New York. How bizarre was that?
Shortly after the first morning bell, the principal came to the classroom door and beckoned me over, "I need to talk to you for a minute, Ms. McCarthy."
"Oh dear," I thought, "I hope there's not something wrong with my paperwork and licensure, I hope they're not going to try to make me work full time."
Her voice was very low, so it wouldn't carry, "They've flown planes into the world trade center," she said, "And they're bombing the Pentagon."
All the background noise faded away while I stared at her. Who were "They?" The Pentagon is less than forty five minutes' drive from Baltimore. There were a lot of rumors and exaggerations that day, such as "they're bombing." Behind me, kids were throwing pencils and writing curse words on the chalkboard. "I think..... I think I'd better go get my son."
"Yes," she said. "Go as soon as Gerald gets back. Check the radio in the morning, I don't know whether school will be open."
A few minutes later I was in my car. The local public radio station was broadcasting which freeways were closed for security reasons. I was pretty sure I could get home by a back route, and barring that, I figured I would walk--I was only about four miles from our home and the sitter's house. I regretted my shoe choice--red sandals with a thick wedge heel. They were frivolous shoes I had bought to celebrate my new job--it could have been worse, but they were not exactly designed for a hike. As it happened, I was able to drive the whole way.
I stayed with the sitter for a little while, listening to the radio. The toddlers in her care were strangely subdued, crawling through a pile of cushions and playing peacefully with blocks. No one cried or bit, or maybe we just didn't notice.
I took my little hooligan home, changed shoes and strapped him into his stroller. I did not want to spend the day alone with the news. We walked along the silent streets to a friend's house. The neighborhood was as quiet as six a.m. on a Sunday morning. The babies played and napped while we sat numbly on the couch, looking at the screen with the sound off.