In a World of Yesterday
Iwill always remember that day as having the longest fire drill of my high school career in the freezing cold. For the beginning of September it was peculiar, but of course I had to be the only sucker freshman on the soccer teams that believed the captains when they told us we had to wear our uniforms on game day.I stood against an aging pine tree opposite the art room doors waiting for the principal to let us back into the clearly not burning building. It was the only place on that side of the school that wasn’t in complete shadow at 8:30 a.m.
My best friend Ryan Hughes found me after five minutes of the freezing fire drill. He was still wearing his over-sized goggles and plastic apron from biology class, but we both knew that the bio teacher was, basically, certifiable, so it was almost acceptable that Ryan would be clad in this fashion. He leaned up against the tree with me, our elbows almost touched, but we kept out distance, just something we always did.
“You are aware you look completely ridiculous with your soccer uniform on, right?” he said, chuckling to himself. “You have the most awkward skinny white boy legs I’ve even seen.”
“And the mad-scientist goggles do a lot for you too, Rye,” I snapped back.
“Yea but, this outfit is complete expected coming from Mrs. Kentland’s class Derek, you just look way too excited about the game today.”
We both laughed silently, never looking at each other, staring in opposite directions, this was how our friendship had always been.
“Mr. Reed!” I heard the strange Texan accent of my Spanish teacher yell in my direction.
“Mr. Reed, this is not happy fun time, this is serious business. I almost had to report you as missing to the authorities! Get over here you gummy bear brain!”
“Well I guess I’ll see you in Goodwin’s class then.” I said to Ryan as I walked away.
I wasn’t sure if he even heard me, but then again, what did it really matter, I would be seeing him in a half hour.
“Sorry Maestro, I was trying to stay warm.”
“No excuses!” The tiny man yelled as he hit me in the arm with his clipboard.
If he was over five feet tall I would have been pissed that he treated me that way, but he barley reached my waist so, I couldn’t really complain.
“Next time there is a fire drill, maybe you should wear some pants.”
“I’ll be sure to keep that in mind, sir. Just let me know the next time we have to wait twenty hours outside in the cold for no reason and I’ll make sure I have long pants on that day.”
I walked away, not waiting to hear his reaction. I knew it would be something just as sarcastic as what I said. That was something Maestro was always good for, giving it back to me.
I watched two of the senior volleyball players, a blonde and a red head, numbers 15 and 20 I believe, braid each other’s hair as the French teacher went on with her lesson. They conjugated words as they perfected French pigtails. The redhead then got the amazing idea to ask what the holdup was, since the building was clearly not on fire.
“We’ll Miss Murphy, there seems to be a student missing,” replied the hall monitor.
“How can you be sure, its second period,” The blonde asked.
“Mr. Jones was marked as present in his first period and second period class attendance sheets, but we can’t find him now.”
“Brandon Jones is missing again?!” The redhead yelled. Several fellow French classers looked in her direction.
“That kid has gone missing in literally every fire drill I’ve even been in.”
“Breathe Tracy, they’ll find him,” The blonde said, her right hand on the redheads left bicep.
“They always do.”I stood there next to my teacher wondering what the girls would have said if Maestro hadn’t seen me leaning up against the tree with Ryan, what if the hall monitor had told them that Derek Reed was the missing student, would they even care, did they know how I was. I daydreamed about the concern that would have passed over the blonde’s face, how she would
have looked for me if I were the missing student.
Amiss my daydream the Vice Principal appeared near the art room doors, “It’s safe to re-enter students of Kurtwood High. The fire has been contained!”
There was half-hearted laugh in the crowed as everyone pushed their way back into the building.
Then I heard something I wasn’t use to hearing at all, I looked up to see a helicopter heading quickly toward the seacoast. I’d never seen one so close, it was barely clearing the trees as it flew. I’d only ever seen a helicopter twice in life before that day, one was a military one at the Portsmouth Ship yard when I was a kid and my Grandpa took me to see the submarines, and the other time was the news helicopter when the Davenport boys robbed the Shell station on 125 and the police were chasing them. No one around me seemed even remotely interested in what was going on in the skies above our heads. It would be the last thing we barely noticed.
We got back into class at 9:01. Second period ends at 9:02. Maestro still somehow figured we were going to take a five-page test in this time. He was handing out test as we walked in the door.
“Is this take home Maestro?” Chad asked in his “I’m too good for this class” voice.
“No Mr. Warren it is for now!” Maestro yelled. “Now sit and take it, I will not have any more shenanigans today!”
The bell rang; we stood up and left our untouched tests on Maestro’s desk as we left.
I stopped at my locker on my way upstairs to algebra, hoping that I would, by the grace of God, have a sweatshirt in there. But alas, it was the second week of school, so I was out of luck. I slammed the door and continued to my class.
Even with my pit stop I was the first one to room 209. The room slowly filled with my classmates, people I had known since I was seven years old but never bothered to get to know. The basketball players punched each other in the arm, saying they’ll see each other at lunch, boyfriends reluctantly kissed girlfriends, and the popular girls blew kisses to each other for reasons I will never understand.
Mr. Goodwin entered the room and ran his hand along the chalk tray. As always he was dressed like a tootsie pop, brightly colored polo shirt and tan pants, today’s color was raspberry. “I swear that middle school-ers eat this crap,” he waited for a laugh that would never come as he went to the next room to retrieve chalk.
Ryan came in as Mr. Goodwin disappeared. He took his customary seat next to me. Without looking at each other he explained himself, “Freaking whack-job tried to have us do a lab in thirty-five seconds.”
“Maestro wanted us to take a test; we all left it blank on his desk.”
“Nice,” I could hear the smile in Ryan’s voice.
Mr. Goodwin was gone much longer than he normally was, long enough for the popular girls in the corner to take out there compacts and start checking they’re already clearly made-up faces.When he finally did return, his face was so ashen I was almost concerned for his health. But when I noticed no one else was I only shifted in my seat a little bit.
“How many of you have been to New York?” he asked, we all raised our hands. We’d gone for our class trip the year before, Mr. Goodwin knew this, he was our chaperone, something was clearly not right.
“Good.” He walked over the board and drew to large rectangles on the board. Then a giant jagged hole in the one on the left.
“Cuz it’s never going to be the same.”
“We’re still on fractional division, you can’t go throwing volume at us the second week of school, Captain,” Patrick said, his basketball clones laughed to themselves.
“Something is obviously wrong, you idiot,” Kelly said shutting her compact with a snap that made Goodwin jump a little.
“There has been a terrorist attack on the World Trade Center,” Mr. Goodwin said it as quick and painless as possible.
At that moment I memorized every detail of that room, the broken green-grey file cabinet, the way the third light from the door flickered a little, the horror struck look on the other seventeen faces in the room. Everything was perfectly clear for the first time in my life.
“How?” Robbie asked. It would have gotten a laugh at any other time but that moment.
“What happened to them? How do you know?”
“Mrs. B is watching CNN with the middle school-ers next door. Planes flying from Boston were hi-jacked and flown into the towers. That’s all I really know guys. Don’t worry though, there is no safer place than Kurtwood New Hampshire, no one has ever heard of it.”
Mr. Goodwin was never good at jokes, but he tried his damnedest to lighten the mood in the classroom, for he had the hardest job of any of us that day.
“Where were the planes going?” Ryan asked, something was weird with his voice. I turned to him. For the first time in our thirteen-year friendship, I saw him cry. I had seen this kid nailed with a soccer ball in places that would have made anyone else show some kind of emotion, but he never did. But something about these planes made him lose it.
“Shouldn’t you find out, I mean that important info ya think!” Ryan yelled the whole class was looking at him now. He would have tried to hide himself in any other situation, make sure no one saw him emoting, but he didn’t.
"I have a class to teach right now. You’ll find out everything you need to as the information is passed onto us. Right now we have some math to learn.” Goodwin wrote up two sets of five problems on the board.
“Reed and McMullen, you’re up.”Elaina stared at me waiting to see what I would do. I of course went up to the board. I was a mathematical genius I lived for these moments.
“You’re kidding right,” She said from her seat in the front row. “I’ll be racing Derek Reed in fractional division while the rest of the school watches a national tragedy unfold on television?”
“Come on Elaina,” I coxed. She slowly got up and walked toward me, I noticed she has the most beautiful emerald green eyes, complemented perfectly with her light make-up, nothing like the popular girls in the corner; Elaina was more than just regular pretty. I wondered to myself why I never noticed before.
As I completed the third problem, Elaina was still on the first, Kelly’s phone rang in the back of the room, “I Want it That Way” by the Backstreet Boys, we all knew it was hers it had gone off some many times before.
“Answer it and make it quick,” Goodwin said. “Let your parents know everything’s under control and you know what's going on, and then hang up. You have ninety seconds.
“Yea Mom, everyone’s fine, Goodwin told us... I know, Goodwin told us... Yes Mom I understand… I’ll be fine you don’t have to come get me I’m safe at school. I really have to get back to class though… I’ll call you at lunch… I’m sorry… I’ll talk to you later… Bye Mom.”
She hit the end button then mouthed “sorry” to her staring peers.
As I finished my last problem the monotone voice of our principal interrupted the silence.
“I am sorry to inform you all of a national tragedy that has taken place in New York City and Washington D.C. this morning.” His voice lacked the appropriate emotion for horrible news breaking. It didn’t matter what he was saying, his audience just wanted to sleep, but today we all sat and listened as if we were being paid to do it. “Planes have been flown into the World Trade Center and Pentagon. I will try to keep the staff posted and ask teachers with the technology to do so to, please, watch the news with your students. Because of this state of emergency, many of your parents are calling the school and asking to dismiss their student. I ask that all teachers be patient as we figure out the best way to deal with this. We also ask that teachers allow students to answer their cell phones, although cell phones are against school policy. That is all, thank you.”
“The Pentagon too!” Patrick yelled. “Ya think that would be important Goodwin.”
“I can’t tell you things I don’t know Standgartner,” Mr. Goodwin said.I looked over to Ryan, his head was flat against his desk, I shook him slightly. It was the first time I can remember touching him that wasn’t punching.
“Ryan, are you okay?”
“My uncle Troy, my Dad’s kid brother, works there, at the Trade Centers,” Ryan whispered so only I would hear him.
“I don’t know where or even what he really does, I just know he’s there.”
“Call your mom,” I suggested. “She’d know. Right?”
“Yea, but I don’t want to disturb Goodwin, and she’ll be here to get us in a few minutes anyway. You know Rita.”
As Goodwin let the popular girls call their friends downstairs, the PA system started up again.
This time it was the soothing voice of the secretary, Mrs. Gilligan. “Nathan Ascusion, Corbin Belfour, Quinn Belleview, Alexis Carson, River, Roxanne, Kennedy, Harper and Cash Davenport, Brandon Jones, Kevin and Christi O’Conner, and Rayell Smith to the office please…”
“That officially ends the learning for September 11th 2001,” Mr. Goodwin said, almost sounding annoyed. I knew how seriously he took education, but his emotion seemed too miss placed. I wondered if, like Ryan, he had someone that could be injured or dead and didn’t know how to talk about it.
Ryan and I were in the fourth round of students called to the office that period, shortly before the bell rang. As we walked down the staircase Ryan stopped at the mural that we made in April of sixth grade. He easily found our hands, mine was the only green one, and his intersected mine, so that no matter what we’d be touching, always.
“I thought the world changed forever on that day,” I said thinking back to the tragedy of April 20th our sixth grade year.
“The world changes everyday Derek; it just takes something big for anyone to notice.” He ran his hand over its smaller version and we continued down the staircase.
The bell rang as reached the last stair. Any other day, there would have been a rush to get out of the rooms, but today everyone was moving slowly. The volleyball players from the fire drill ran toward each other crying and hugging as if they would never see each other again. The basketball boys searched each other out; everyone was making sure everyone was okay, like what happened has happened directly to us. And it a weird way it did, because no matter what, we would never be the same.We stopped at Ryan’s locker, he throw a grey blob at me.
“I was going to give it to you in Goodwin’s class, but being late and everything I forgot.”
“Thanks,” I said, pulling it over my head, I had forgotten how cold I was.
The main office was a mob scene. Mrs. Gilligan was frantically taking names from concerned parents and called students down in groups of ten or twelve.
“Just sign out boys, Ryan’s mom is waiting outside I think.”
“Thanks Mrs. G,” I said, signing both our names on the sign out sheet, and then seeking Mrs. Hughes blue Ford minivan in the parking lot. She hugged us both like she hadn’t seen us in years.
As we left school that day, a blue jay sat on the top of the welcome sign. It made the blue of the sign look pale and old. I memorized the contours of that bird. Just one more thing that I wouldnever look at the same again.