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Where We Were

9-11 - what do I tell the kids?

“Honey, there's been a terrible tragedy.”
  • “Honey, there's been a terrible tragedy.”

The phone rang around 7:40. I was standing just inside the open bathroom door tucking my black Land's End T-shirt into a gray knit skirt. Eight-year-old Rebecca and six-year-old Angela had dressed themselves in their school uniforms. I had dressed baby Ben before I took my shower. Ben toddled around the bedroom in jeans and a white Old Navy polo. Johnny and Lucy, who are three and almost five, were rolled up in the crumpled comforter on my still-unmade bed. “Lucy,” I announced, "choose something to wear and get dressed. Johnny, come here. I'll help you put your shorts on."

Angela answered the phone. “Hello. Albright residence. This is Angela speaking." She smiled a moment later. “Hi, Daddy" She paused. “Getting ready for school.”

Angela handed the phone to me as I pulled Johnny’s khaki shorts up and handed him a T-shirt. "Put this on,” I told Johnny.

“It's Daddy." Angela whispered.

“I know." I whispered back. My husband lack leaves our home in San Marcos every week day morning at around 5:45 for his job in Santee. He rarely calls me before 10:00 or 11.00. I thought he'd forgotten something at home or needed me to look up a phone number for him.

“Hey, sweetie." Jack said. His voice sounded shaky.

“Hi." I answered.

"Have you turned on the radio yet?” Jack knows that I listen to talk radio most mornings while I fix the kids' breakfast.

"No. We're still upstairs.”

“Honey, there's been a terrible tragedy,” Jack said. "Don't turn on the TV. You might not even want to listen to the radio while the older girls are still at home." Jack paused. “This morning someone flew a plane into the World Trade Center. I was listening on the radio on my way into work. The plane exploded and started a huge fire. Then, while they were reporting on the first crash, someone flew a plane into the second tower."

I felt goose bumps rise on my arms. I stood up and walked out into the hall. Rebecca and Angela followed me. “What is it, Mommy?” Rebecca asked.

I waved her away.

"The second crash caused another horrible explosion and fire. We’ve been watching it on a TV here at work." Jack paused. “Both towers have collapsed."

"They collapsed?" I thought I might have heard Jack wrong. When I was in law school, I visited New York to see a girlfriend from college. During my visit, we rode the elevators to the top of the World Trade Center and looked down on the city. I’d never seen a building so massive as either one of the towers.

"It's just unbelievable,” Jack told me. “A third plane crashed into the Pentagon and killed a bunch of people there. They're halting all air traffic in the United States. They don't know how many more there might be."

“Did they get the White House?" I asked

“I haven’t heard anything about the White House "

“What is it, Mommy?" Rebecca clung to my arm. Ben toddled over and lifted his arms to be picked up. Lucy appeared in a dress and asked me to tie a bow in the back.

My mind spun forward. Are we at war? Is whoever did this done? Do they have anything planned for the West Coast? “What do I tell the kids?” I asked Jack.

“Tell them there’s been a terrible tragedy and lots of people have died and that we need to pray for the victims and for their families and for the horrible people who would do this."

When I hung up the phone, I gathered the kids around me. Kneeling in the upstairs hall, I told them that some bad people had crashed planes into some big buildings in New York and Washington. I told them lots of people had died. I told them we needed to pray.

We said a prayer together and went down stairs for breakfast.

I stumbled through the day. I listened to the radio. I talked to Jack a few more times. I prayed a lot.

Around 8:30, after the kids were in bed, Jack and I finally turned on the TV. We watched the now-familiar images over and over again. I had the jarring experience of seeing something I couldn't believe. I wept at the stories of the firemen and policemen who had run into the burning buildings and disappeared beneath the rubble.

Jack and I turned off the television around midnight and climbed into bed. I fell asleep scrunched into his side. I dreamed of flames and airplanes and buildings toppling.

In the morning after Jack left for work, Angela called out from her bedroom down the hall. "What is it, sweetie?” I asked in the early gray light.

“I had a bad dream, Mommy. About the bad men on the plane.“

We walked down the hall together and snuggled into Jack's and my bed. I stroked Angela's cool, dark hair. "I had bad dreams, too, sweetie,” I told her. "But you're safe here with me." I almost believed myself.

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