I remember going to my kid’s elementary school a few days after the September 11th attacks. I had asked my daughter’s teacher if I could come in to help out and she informed me that there was a schedule for such things. Still, she took mercy on me because she knew about the stir I had created on that horrible Tuesday morning when I called the school and spoke to the principal. I was at work as the news kept coming about another attack, somewhere else. There were all these rumors about more to come, and while schools didn’t seem to be a target, all I knew was that the world was burning and I didn’t have my kids.
So I called the school because I wanted to come by and pick them up early. Things did not go well. The principal attempted to reassure me that the kids were safe and I was having none of it. I told him in no uncertain terms that I didn’t need to be fucking comforted, I needed my kids. I’m not much for pretty words when my hard drive goes Chuck Norris. He didn’t miss a beat, keeping calm and talking me down from my crazy ledge. His was the voice I needed right then, even though I trusted nothing of a world that could produce the kind of morning we were living through.
I listened, and eventually I agreed with him. I was ten minutes from the school in the event some other catastrophe signaled the end of the world as we knew it. If I had to fucking walk to get there, that’s what I would do.
So my visit to the school was a need to be close to my daughter, my kids. I wanted to apologize, to the secretary and the principal. They hadn’t deserved my storm of curse words. They had jobs to do, jobs that became more difficult once the attacks began. And they had children, and families of their own. They didn’t need some irate father reminding them that the world was a mean place.
As I walked to my daughter’s classroom that morning, the walls were lined with crayoned pictures. Planes in the sky, buildings, people running . . flags . . caskets . . birds, peace signs. All those little, innocent minds had created a mosaic of that horrible morning. The definition of heart wrenching, it was in those little crayoned pictures.
” . . . we wanted the children to be able to process the event . .” Explained a teacher as we walked down the hallway.
I wanted to ask her how a child might explain that which has no reasonable explanation, but I had already used up all my grace points during that phone call a few days earlier. It made no sense to me, any of it. I felt so hopeless as I perused those portraits of the horror hanging from the walls. I felt as if the world had gotten lost and there was just no finding it.
The world I knew had been replaced, with this. With a place where my kids would come to expect death in the deep blue skies, and in malls and workplaces . . and classrooms. It was as if Dante’s toy chest had been opened and now, inside this horrible now, there was no going back.
My prevailing thought was that these kids were too young for this shit. There was no processing such a thing as this. As an adult, I didn’t even know how to process it. I struggled with how I was supposed to explain the attacks when they finally got around to asking me, and so when they did, I began by talking about monsters. Even though I understood that such analogies were simplifications of a much more sinister truth. The truth being that bin Laden had been a boy once. The truth being that Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold were boys. The truth being that somewhere along the line, all those individuals had lost their better angels to the demons within. The fact that they were not monsters, that they were actual human beings . . this was the truly frightening thing. For me.
So I colored the story with talk of monsters, because that was the way I had to process these horrible things. They had become monsters, somewhere along the way, and so that’s where I picked up the story. For them.
And then my son asked me if the bad people wanted to blow up schools and I told him no.
“They only shoot in schools? . .” He said.
I still don’t know how to answer that one.