There had been prior warnings. There was the first truck bombing of the World Trade Center. There was TWA 800. And what was a Palestinian-Jordanian man doing assassinating Robert F Kennedy?
9/11 was a wake-up call the way my melanoma was a wake-up call. Mortality is hard to face head-on. “For Whom the Bell Tolls?” It tolls for thee.
The district moved me to the Middle School a few weeks after 9/11. Rosalinda had been my student when she first came to the U.S. in the middle of second grade. She grew up in “el campo” in the Dominican Republic. One day she was barefoot and riding a horse. The next day, she found herself wearing winter clothes, shoes, and holding a pencil for her first ever day of school. I was her ESL teacher.Now in October 2001, I was standing in front of the 7th grade ESL class. I was supposed to be teaching a class in Social Studies in order to support the kids so that they might have a shot at keeping up. We were reviewing ancient civilizations. I drew a mountain on the chalkboard.
“Every civilization rises and falls,” I explained. “Every empire ascends, reaches its peak, and starts to crumble.”
Now a pretty teen, Rosalinda was sitting in the back of the class, trying to act cool. Ten minutes went by. I was onto explaining the ancient civilization of Sumer.
“Mrs. Becker,” she said, “can we go back to that drawing on the blackboard? Mrs. Becker, where are we on that mountain?” she asked.
I gulped. Clearly 9/11 was on all our minds. “I honestly don’t know,” I answered.