Eighteen years ago my clock-radio alarm went off. Music played while I waited to hear if my mom was up yet. The morning talk show on my favorite radio station came on. Our house was quiet except for my radio.
It was the first full week of fifth grade.
One of the DJs said a plane crashed into a building. They weren’t sure what was happening, but a plane crashed as far as the reports told them.
I got up and stumbled into my mom’s room. She was diagonal across her bed, the dog taking up his own large corner. I told her to turn on the TV, a plane crashed into a building. She gestured for me to turn it on and found her glasses on the nightstand. The CRT TV started to warm up, the signal got steady as I adjusted the volume knob when the static grew louder.
The first tower smoked, the black smudgy line drifted across the city. We listened as the announcers tried to figure out what was happening, what had happened. Our dog whined so my mom headed to let him out.
Another plane entered the frame.
I yelled for my mom from the stairs. A plane crashed into the building. She said she knew, and I said, no another one. It hit the other one.
We watched from 3,000 miles away in our Seattle suburb. The falling debris, the flames, the blown-out windows. Sometimes the cameras zoomed in and you could see people in the openings, the people falling because it seemed easier to choose their own end.
An hour before school the second tower slid into the growing cloud that hung low in New York City. Peter Jennings continued to speak, his voice calm.
I packed my books and binder, added fruit snacks to my lunch box while eating my peanut butter toast.
At school, Ms. R paced around more than usual, drank her coffee with shakier hands. She sometimes went to the door and spoke to someone, one of the other staff members, a classroom aid. Ms. R asked if we wanted to talk about it if we knew what happened this morning. Instead of the spelling lesson we discussed everything we witnessed. The ones that didn’t see anything asked questions that Ms. R couldn’t answer. She assured us that we were safe here and that we could talk to someone if we needed to.
The news still played after school. Soap operas were put off. The talk shows were canceled. Peter Jennings sat with his suit jacket off, his sleeves rolled up.
Around the clock coverage of New York City in the search for survivors, turned into the recovery efforts, turned into the cleanup. The coverage turned to the war, into the soldiers killed every day. Around the clock, we heard about the weapons, and the evil far away. Commercials advertised Freedom Fries and every house in our neighborhood donned a flag.
The year after became two, became five, became ten. Now eighteen.
Around the clock we hear about lies, about scandals, about midnight tweets that dictate policy. People are told to fear the other, that if they don’t look or sound like you, they shouldn’t be here.
Somewhere a kid has started fifth grade, waking up to their phone’s alarm.