Lesson in Red This work is considered exceptional by our editorial staff.

November 10, 2009
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Red. Deep, rich, flowing red. Back and forth. Back and forth. I carefully colored in the lines of the apple that housed that week’s spelling list. Back and forth went my little red crayon, the perfectly sharpened tip blunted by my precise strokes.

It was a beautiful September morning, I was in fourth grade, and my apple looked great. It just needed a little bit more red around the corners to really make it pop.

I was pondering whether a green or brown stem would be more appropriate when my thoughts were suddenly interrupted by our teacher’s voice.
“Some of your parents might be coming early to pick you up. When they come, don’t make a fuss and distract the class, but just leave quietly,” she told us.
I failed to notice the expression on her face.
I was still coloring intensely when my friend Angela’s mom came to pick her up. It didn’t really matter, the day was still fresh and there were apples to color. I continued on.
Lunchtime came, and with it a sudden sense that things were not right. Kids were talking in tense, whispered rumors. What was going on? Why were people leaving early? Why were all of the adults so tight-lipped and stern?
As the afternoon progressed more and more parents began to show up. A pattern developed: the phone on the teacher’s desk would cough to life, a student’s name would be announced, then the lucky student would be dismissed with a jerk of Mrs. Rutledge’s thumb. I awaited my turn, certain someone would come for me though having no idea why.
Eventually, however, my sister and I were summoned up to the front entranceway. We climbed into my mom’s green van and pounded her with questions. What was going on? Why weren’t we riding the big yellow bus home? Would I have time to finish my apple tomorrow?
A few miles down the road my mom took a deep breath and pulled over. We were right next to a field, and a red barn. I liked the barn- it reminded me of my apple. Deep, rich, glorious red. It was the perfect accent for the warm green tones of the grass and trees and the blue sky- summer was still hanging on.
For the second time that day, my thoughts were interrupted by a terse adult voice.
“Girls, America has been attacked,” my mother forced out.
I was frozen. I processed nothing else she said, and though she went on carefully to explain that we were not in immediate danger, suddenly all I could see was soldiers crossing the very field next to the barn, marching at our holly-colored van.
The afternoon unfolded after that around the television. My sister didn’t really understand anymore than I did about what had happened, but it made her feel grown up to sit and watch the smoldering gray wreckage on the TV- black smoke billowing up to cover the blue sky- with my mom, so she stayed inside. I, however, went out into the sunshine that was no longer warm, tried to read a book but ended up just staring at the sky. Air traffic was forbidden for the rest of the day. Would I be the one to spot an unauthorized plane?
Moments later I was crying. I had been stung by a bee. My mother scraped it out with a credit card, kissed the top of my head, gave me some ice and sent me back outside.
It was outside, alone in the frozen sunshine, that I suddenly began to understand my place in the universe.
Nobody cared about my bee sting. Nobody cared about much that I did. No matter how perfect my apples were, or how much I cried about the bee, everyone in the world would still be looking the other way that day- towards New York.
September 11th, 2001 will live in my memory as a day covered in red. The drawing of a fourth grader, the grief of a nation- I learned that day that there are things much more important than apples, or coloring in the lines perfectly with a rich, dark, flowing, blood red.

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