September 9, 2010

F-16s overhead, ISTEPs below

While there's no place like home, I love New York. This photo was taken of me from Liberty Island in summer 1992.

I was walking around Dupont Circle when Ronald Reagan was shot. Six or seven black towncars flew past my group. We knew President Reagan was at the Hilton, but I didn't know what happened until I called my mother in Indiana from a payphone. No cell phones then, and the payphone only cost a quarter for a collect call. Mom had their lone RCA cabinet television on, and knew what happened before I did.

In 1986 I stood outside in Florida with some co-workers to watch the Challenger rise in the sky to the east. I remember that day very well, it was so cool that I wore a blue wool plaid skirt to work. Wearing wool in central Florida is most unusual.

Even a hundred miles away, the launch of a Shuttle never grew tiring. This one was confusing, a minute or so after launch something happened. Plumes of smoke flew asunder, and pieces of the ship followed. The long, white smoke trailed off forever. Again, we had to rely on the television in the hospital lobby to find out what had happened.

On the morning of September 11, 2001, I sat on the corner of my bed putting on my panty hose. I watched The Today Show, which isn't live in Central Time. Suddenly the view shifted, the anchors mumbled, and the camera on the roof of Rockefeller Center looking south showed a smoking World Trade Center. One of the anchors said something about a small plane possibly off-course, hitting the trade center.

My husband was in the shower when the first plane hit, our fifth grade son was already at school taking the Indiana State Acheivement Test (ISTEP) with every other schoolchild in the state.

Even in the heartland, miles from any of the four terror sites, it was an uncommon day never to be forgotten.

I never went to work. I couldn't leave the television, and I sat there half dressed for hours. My company called eventually and told us to stay home; most physician offices were closing. My husband went to work and the university held classes but students skipped and those who showed up were distracted.

At my son's elementary school, his fifth grade teacher wheeled in a television and turned it away from the students. She turned the sound down, but my son caught enough to know that something was up. The principal made the decision to continue the testing. At least every student tested on a level playing field, some with uncertain knowledge of the world burning.

The teacher's cell phone rang every three or four minutes until she put it on silent. She stayed on the phone throughout the day, while her charges took their tests in mathematics and grammar.

When my son got off the bus at 3 p.m. I was waiting at the end of the drive-way.

Later that evening I went to the store to pick up some groceries. Flying above me in formation was a squadron of F-16s. I only knew what kind of planes they were from the movies. We are located relatively near Ft. Campbell, Ft. Knox, and Scott AFB, and I had never seen planes flying so low and along the path of this highway near the Ohio River.

Somehow I knew life would never be the same in my eleven-year-old's lifetime, even in this small Midwestern town.