I was in another life on 9/11, still teaching school. I was in the middle of starting my AP Lit class on Sons and Lovers and I barely knew students' names yet. Second period: that's when the attacks happened. I was unaware. Then, the bell rang and I went upstairs to the English Department office through oddly hushed halls. A line of parents snaked out of the principal's office, and I wondered why. None of my colleagues were drinking coffee at the long table where we usually gathered to hoot over various classroom silliness. My boss was on a personal leave day--that I knew--so I answered her phone when it rang.
It was her daughter, who worked in midtown NY, and just wanted her mom to know she was alright. When I told her I was delighted she was alright and asked why she might not be, she told me everything all at once: the towers on fire, the Pentagon, the plane down in Pennsylvania. I had a hard time taking my breath for a minute, and then snapped back to being Ms. Potter instead of Christine. I reminded her that her mom was off work that day and probably reachable by cell, but that I'd try to get in touch, too, and leave a message at least.
Of course. The other teachers were off where there were TV's, probably up in my friend Dave's video department. And the parents? Taking their kids home from school of course. I knew right away that I couldn't watch TV news or I wouldn't be able to stand in front of a class. I walked down the stairs and past a bunch of classrooms. My principal was standing in the hall, arms crossed over his chest, looking grim but calm.
"Whatever do we do?" I asked him.
"Teach the kids," he said. "Don't let your classes be too much about the attacks. Get through the day. Teach the kids."
It was the right advice, and I followed it.
Eight years has blunted the sense of the world turning over, but nothing can put things back the way they were before the attacks--for me or for any American.
A few years later, I retired from teaching, and now I do a cocktail radio show on Randoradio.com. I play music, and I talk about drinks. We had Manhattans at our house that awful night, I remember--and strong drinks though they were, it was like sipping iced tea. Today on Cocktails with Chris, I intend to be respectful but rocking. I'm thinking a whiskey sour might be soothing. I tasted an excellent one of them in Seattle this past weekend, where I went to the Bumbershoot festival. I'll be playing some music from there, too.