9/11: A Day ‘The Whole World Could Have Fallen Apart’

A Gaither teacher reflects on the day she could have lost everything.


Photo by Yacob Reyes

Yacob Reyes, Staff Writer

On Sept.11, Gaither teacher Karen Hough watches students pile into the hallway at the sound of the bell as she remembers a day 17 years ago, a day she says her “whole world could have fallen apart.”

She remembers working as a guidance counselor at a Virginia middle school, and the principal pulling her aside to tell her that the Pentagon had been attacked.

She remembers running down the hallway into a 7th-grade history classroom to watch CNN and seeing the towers fall live on television, her heart racing with anxiety as she pleaded for the Pentagon to be shown.

She remembers the panic setting in as she saw the building ablaze, the same building where her husband Paul was supposed to attend a meeting, and the frantic dialing on her Nokia block phone that followed.

She remembers the merciless tone of busy lines, and the 15 emails she sent in about five minutes trying to reach him.

She remembers the hopelessness she felt when nothing went through and the teary phone call from her sister-in-law in Panama City, who worried she’d be the only sibling left alive after the death of their older sister 15 years prior.

She remembers the chimes of her ringing telephone, the countless scenarios flooding her mind and the way her stomach turned with the thought of her three-year-old daughter growing up without her father.


Photo by Yacob Reyes

She remembers placing the phone to her ear, and the way nothing else seemed to matter at that moment.

She remembers the way his voice sounded during the brief phone call, the tears that ran down her face as he told her he was safe; how she had “never been happier to hear anything” in her life.

Nearly 20 years later, Hough sits at her desk beneath an American flag and beside a picture of her husband Paul, retired United States Air Force Colonel, standing in his navy blue uniform.

Wearing a pin on her dress that was dedicated to 9/11 survivors a month after the attacks, Hough reflects on a day that ended in tragedy for thousands of families, and yet for her stands as a reminder of all the things that she is grateful for, and all the things she had the potential to lose.