I woke up early as usual. I was a school bus driver for Van Meter School District at the time and had to be to work at 6:45 am. I woke up the kids to get ready for school. Sierra, our cat came with me, as she did every day, jumping on each bed as I turned on their lights and roused them. I gave them each a hug and then left for work. It was a beautiful September morning. I was thinking to myself about what I needed to get done for Alyssa's birthday supper. She turned eleven that day. It was her "spirit birthday" or so she was told by one of her teachers. A "spirit birthday" is the birthday where you turn the age that the date of your birthday is. Alyssa believed that that meant it was going to be a special birthday. Being newly eleven, which is still young enough to believe in magic, I'm sure she believed she would have a magical birthday.
I got to the school, got my bus ready and headed out. My route went as usual, I must not have had the radio on that morning. I parked my bus and went to my car. I wanted to go and vote in the school board election so I could get it out of the way so I could get on with my day. I turned on the car and the radio.
I turned off the radio, I turned off the car. I walked into the school. I walked into the cafeteria. There was a study hall of high schoolers in there. What would normally have been a buzzing noise of students talking, and lunch ladies working, was replaced with a strange hush. I looked around and went into the kitchen. I asked if they knew what had happened. The head cook, looked at me with a stunned face and said yes, and remarked on how quickly the study hall had changed. How quickly these high schoolers had changed. I looked through the kitchen serving window and looked at the students.
Faces, young faces, were dazed, fighting tears, reddening with anger. Boys, suddenly realized how quickly they may be asked to become men. Would their college plans change to a military future. Girls, some weeping openly, wondered what was happening to the world around them. What seemed important when they walked into school, fifteen minutes earlier, faded quickly to frivolity. I looked at the faces. I wanted very much to collect my children and take them home. I went to the office, the elementary principle was talking to someone, saying that counselors were saying it was important to let kids stay in their normal routine. Keep them in school, keep them busy. I left and went to vote. Suddenly, voting seemed even more important.
I went to vote, the people there hadn't heard. Shock froze their faces when they were told. I voted and went home.
I was riveted to the TV. I couldn't stop watching. I got on the computer. At that time AOL was the main way to get onto the Internet. I got on, and looked for more news even as I had CNN on the TV. I saw my brother was online and I IM'd him to ask where exactly my sister lived in New York. I wasn't very familiar with New York City, at all, and didn't know if she might be in danger. She was safe. As we were messaging back and forth I saw something that said that one of the towers had fallen and said something to him about it. He told me, no, he could still see the tower there, they had to be mistaken. After I finished reading his comment I turned back to the TV to see if I could see the tower through all that smoke. As I studied the screen, the second tower fell. There goes the second tower, was all I could write back. I turned away from the computer and just stared at the TV. I wondered if this was a bad dream, was it some strange "War of the Worlds" dramatization? The world seemed to have stopped for an eternity. Words left the reporters, people that you are used to hearing babble on and on, had nothing to say.
"You have mail" screamed my computer. It had interrupted me from my tunnel vision with a start. My heart jumped from my chest, it was like an alarm clock waking me from a deep sleep. I turned, it was an email from my friend Dawn. "All those people," are the only three words I remember about it.
Later that afternoon I went back to work to take kids home from school. I brought red, white and blue ribbons back with me. Each of us drivers tied one on our bus rear view mirrors on the door side of the bus so the kids could see them when they came out of the school. My afternoon route did not go as usual. I left the radio off.
Kindergartners to high schoolers were on my bus. The older kids sat, still in a stunned silence. Looking out the window as the world went by. A world that looked so much different than the world they went by just that morning. The younger kids asked questions. Questions I didn't know how to answer. Questions that had no answers.
I got back to the school, got in my car, turned on the radio, and went home. Conferences were that night at school. The principles decided to continue with them, again keep the kids in their routine. I got home, I asked the kids if they wanted to go to conferences, they said no. We stayed home. We tried to enjoy Alyssa's birthday dinner. I can't tell you what we had. I don't remember making anything. Willie's cousins were there. The four of us tried to make the evening as normal as possible for Valerie, Josh and especially Alyssa. Her magical birthday was not to be. We ate, we sang happy birthday, we opened presents. We watched President Bush address the nation.
Iowa usually seems so far away from New York City. Iowa usually seems like a different world than Washington DC. Shanksville, Pennsylvania, was not even known to me. That day, that horrid horrid day, suddenly they felt like next door. Suddenly, every single one of those firefighters, police officers, and people from many countries, faiths and creeds, they were all family. The world had shrunk exponentially that day.