Michelle Haseltine

I remember standing outside on my deck before leaving for school on that Tuesday morning gazing over the blue sky and loving northern Virginia. I’d moved down south a year earlier, from Massachusetts, and I was in love with my new home.

The school day began like any other day…lunch count, announcements, getting ourselves settled into our new fifth grade routine. I walked my students to Art and returned to my classroom to get some work done. As I was quietly working, a colleague walked into my classroom and declared, “A plane flew into the World Trade Center.” I furrowed my brow and thought, how could that happen? She turned on the television in my classroom and we witnessed the second plane hit. This was no accident. When the plane hit the Pentagon, it occurred to me that we should let someone know. We turned off the TV and found the principal and told him what was happening. The office knew so we were prepared for what was coming. Now it was time for me to teach again and teach I did…at least for a little while, I pretended that everything was normal. I couldn’t do that once parents started showing up. My classroom was by the front doors and we saw lines of parents pouring in to pick up their kids from school. We overheard snippets of conversation until I closed the door. My fifth graders knew something was going on, but they couldn’t figure it out. Only a few of my students were picked up that day.

Since we were an elementary school, we were not allowed to tell our students anything. I fought that. I told my principal that my students were terrified and I begged him to talk to them. He agreed. The students started writing. I invited them to write about our day and what they thought was happening. I walked around and read their worries…kidnappers were waiting outside the school. That’s what they all thought, they’d discussed it at lunch and that was the most logical conclusion for them. Our principal promised them it wasn’t that! He told them that their parents would tell them what was going on when they got home. I walked some of them home that day. We held hands. We held our breath. We hugged. Once the students were safely home, we cried.

I returned to my apartment after school feeling numb. Glued to the TV for days…frozen with nowhere to go. On the twelfth, we tried to give blood, but the line was too long. School was cancelled for the next couple of days, as to give our first responders a chance to help out at the Pentagon. I watched what was happening. I called my family and for the first time, I felt scared and alone. I walked back out onto the deck that afternoon and looked at the sky. It was blue and empty and silent…it was the same sky, but a different world.

1 Comment

  1. “…blue and empty and silent…” <3

    Thank you for sharing these memories, Michelle. I work in a preschool in an elementary school (now) and I still don't think we know the best way for communicating and handling news on days like this.

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