Where Were You When…

When I was a kid, I remember asking my parents “where were you when” type questions. “Where were you when JFK got shot?” or  “where were you when MLK was shot or the protesters at Kent University were shot?” My parents didn’t have the best memories so I didn’t get actual stories about it or how they felt. They don’t really enjoy discussing troubling or controversial issues, so there was usually some sort of change of subject.

I’ll be forty in less than six months and I’ve begun realizing two things: 1. I am the age my parents were when I started asking questions like that and 2. I’ve lived through some pretty historical stuff.

The Challenger explosion in 1986 is probably the first I can remember. I was about Eddie’s age. We were not watching it live on TV like so many other students around the country, but I remember talking about it before and what a big deal it was that a teacher was going to space. Third grade was the year we had a student teacher that sparked a fascination with all things space-related, and when that horrific tragedy occurred, it was a big deal. We didn’t really talk about it in school, but I felt the magnitude through my teacher’s and student teacher’s facial expressions and avoidance of the topic.

Later in 6th grade, the Berlin Wall came down. I remember watching it on TV. I was too young to know the history of it, but the celebration and joy and parties they showed on the news did not evade me. I was able to understand that something bad had gone away.

In 7th grade came Dessert Storm. Some of my friends had parents who were suddenly gone, overseas to countries I had never heard of until we started studying them in Social Studies class: Iraq, Kuwait, Iran. I remember a good friend’s dad was in the Reserves and he was called up and had to go. I remember how scared my friend was. To us, wars were in our history books.  Our grandfathers fought those–not our own dads and moms.

In 10th grade I remember getting word that Kurt Cobain had shot himself. It was the first time a pop culture figure’s death affected me. And it was my first time dealing with suicide. Sadly, it would be the first of many: Shannon Hoon, Bradley Nowell, Layne Staley, Chris Cornell, and Chester Bennington would all follow.

The Columbine school shooting happened my junior year of college. I remember sinking to my knees in front of the TV in the house I shared with four other girls. I was weeping before I realized what I was doing. I was in the school of education only a year away from my own student teaching assignment. This was the first of many mass shootings I would consciously witness in my life time. I would watch the US public search for someone to blame: the music kids listen to, drugs, mental illness, parents, but nothing would be done to curb them because apparently our right to “bear arms” is greater than our right to “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.”

I was in the middle of teaching a 6th grade Spanish exploration class as a long-term sub when my principal came to the door and told me about the first plane to hit the Twin Towers. She told me not to turn the TV on. I was confused because why would I? By lunch all the teachers were crowded around one small TV in the art room in silence watching those images over and over.

I often wonder what from the present will fall away and what will endure to make it to the history books. What will my own children ask me about? What will right now look like twenty years down the road?

Will they ask “what was it like when Trump was president?” or “Where were you when you heard about xyz?”

What will I tell them?

About Katie

Just a small town girl...wait no. That is a Journey song. Katie Sluiter is a small town girl, but she is far from living in a lonely world. She is a middle school English teacher, writer, mother, and wife. Life has thrown her a fair share of challenges, but her belief is that writing through them makes her stronger.