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The Day Everything Changed

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I had taken a teaching job, and we had moved to the hills of Eastern Kentucky just a week before. The four of us crammed as much as we could into our new one-bedroom apartment on the assurance we’d get a two-bed unit in about six weeks. None of us were too thrilled about being so far from home — five hours — with a new preemie baby, but teaching jobs in our area were hard-won. And I needed to work.

It was a normal Tuesday morning. It’s weird how all days are normal till they’re not. I slipped out of bed and sneaked past the baby in her crib and the three year old on our floor. I felt my way down the hall in the darkness and down the stairs. Two cups of coffee later, I sneaked back into our bedroom and kissed my wife goodbye.

I left the teacher work room with a stack of pages still warm from the copier when Mrs. McKinney paused to say, “A plane just flew into the World Trade Center.”

She was speaking so quickly I wasn’t sure I heard her. “What?” I asked.

She repeated herself and added, “Its all over the news.”

“On purpose?”

“Nobody knows,” she said before scurrying off to her room.

I went the other direction to my classroom and flipped on the TV. CNN or Fox News or somebody was recapping the impact. I saw the second plane hit. At first, I thought it was a replay. But it was live. Alone, in an unknown environment, I stood watching the world change.

The bell rang. Students filed in. I still didn’t even know all their names. Some stood. Others sat. We all watched. I leaned against the combination. air conditioner-heater unit on the back wall of my classroom. Had I turned around I could have seen a glorious fall landscape of hills and trees. A scar of coal seam where the hill had been cut away to set the school. But I couldn’t turn from the TV.

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We watched the tower collapse. And the second. We heard news of the Pentagon. And Shanksville. Students asked questions. I had few answers. What kind of evil…? I didn’t know. I still don’t.

I watched till I physically ached. I turned it off sometime after lunch and tried to teach. I couldn’t teach even had they been able to learn. The TV came back on. We watched the unfathomable.

I worried about my wife. She was completely isolated, miles from home; we didn’t know our neighbors. Our phone wasn’t even connected yet. She sat, watching the events unfold — preempting the Little House on the Prairie rerun on TBS. I never really noticed the irony — a simpler time devastated by the present.

I got home; both of us were bone-weary from the news. We played with the girls, ate supper, tried to be normal until their bedtimes. We tucked them in. We talked and watched some more. Finally, our bedtime came. We tiptoed past our sleeping babies and crawled into bed. I don’t know if I slept or dosed or rested at all. But I do know day dawned on September 12.

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