My Dad got on a plane to New York at 7am on September 11, 2001

Always say goodbye.

Being in a French immersion program, my classes were always small, the same dozen children that I had grown to love. In fourth grade, we had all our classes in the school’s sole portable. It was not near the main building and no one ever came out to visit us. Barely ever.

One Tuesday, after our lunch break, my teacher, Ms. Cino, stood at the front of the class. We could tell that it was important. She explained that two planes had crashed into large towers in New York City. I have always worn my emotions clear on my face. Without even saying a word, she singled out my fear. My desk was even at the furthest corner of the class. It was probably my wide eyes.

Don’t worry, Jessica. It happened far away. We are safe here.

“No… it’s not that. My dad was on a plane this morning.”

“I’m sure he is fine. Where was he going?”

“New York.”

“It happened early today. When did he leave?”

“7:00.”

She didn’t respond for a few moments.

“Don’t worry, Jessica. If anything happened, the principal would come let us know. Try not to think about it.”

I’m sure that she will always regret using those exact words. No more than three minutes later, we had a knock at our door.

Silence. No one talked or moved or even breathed. Ms. Cino didn’t reply to the knock. We all sat frozen in shock. Maybe it was because we never had visitors. Or maybe it was because we secretly hoped if we were all quiet enough, whoever was on the other side of that door would go away.

My heart sank in my chest when I saw who opened the door and walked in: our principal. Without a word to anyone, even a ‘hello’ to our teacher, he slowly and methodically started walking to the corner of our class, to my desk.

I knew that he was walking to me but I didn’t look at him. I didn’t look at my poor teacher, who later told my mother that she was then on the verge of a panic attack. I wasn’t even looking at my classmates, although every single one of their eyes was on me. No, my eyes were straight ahead. I was looking at the wall and thinking of that morning.

My dad sometimes traveled for work. I always hated it. So, early that morning when he came in to say goodbye, I ignored him. I was angry.

I didn’t say, “I love you.”

I didn’t say, “I’ll miss you.”

I didn’t even say, “Goodbye.”

Despite the numerous thoughts that could have run through my 9-year-old mind in that horrendous minute, I was strangely focused on one. I didn’t even say goodbye. Those words just kept repeating in my mind until the principal was directly in front of my desk.

I looked up to meet his eyes. I didn’t feel sad. I didn’t feel fear. I wasn’t on the verge of crying. I felt empty.

“Jessica, your mom called. Your dad is fine.”

Although I should have been relieved, my mind exploded: What? You couldn’t have said that at the door? You couldn’t have just called? Don’t you realize how this seemed? You are torturing me.

But I wasn’t really mad at him. I was angry that I had been so stupid and been so close.

It has been over a decade since that day. I was shot in the head with a lesson. Now, I always say goodbye. I try to leave on good terms, even if I am angry or hurt. I take every opportunity to tell my loved ones what they mean to me. Many people that day didn’t get a second chance, but I did. And I won’t waste it.