9 years.
September 11, 2010, 12:07 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized

9 years ago, I was in 10th grade. In the past 9 years, I have had a lot of time to grow up, reflect on the events of that day and process it. The day of, I was in shock, like everyone else was. That day changed the world forever, and changed our lives. I maintain that my childhood ended in many ways that day. I was 15. My entire sentient childhood, we had been at peace. I have vague memories of the first Gulf War, but I was 5 and it was so brief that it didn’t register significantly. I remember my father making me watch footage of the Berlin Wall being torn down. I never had any true grasp of what the Cold War was like. My life up until 9/11 was peaceful, and I naively thought it could always be that way. Those of us who were coming of age at that time will forever have the end of our innocence marked on that day.

It’s important to remember. It’s important to reflect. It’s been 9 years, and I don’t have clear memories of what I was thinking that day. I’d like to take this space, today, to record what I remember now, because in another 9 years, who knows how little I’ll remember?

I was in 10th grade, sitting in chemistry class, during the first period lab. It was the beginning of the school year, so we were talking about the periodic table, I believe. My 9th grade earth science teacher, who had the room next door, came running into the classroom. He didn’t say a word, he just flipped on the TV and turned it to a news channel. We all stood in silence watching, not grasping what was happening. And then it hit us: a plane had just hit the first tower in the World Trade Center. We knew less than 10 minutes after the first strike, which means we saw the 2nd strike live. I watched the plane fly into the second tower live and I screamed. We all did; we couldn’t stop it. The smoke pouring out of the top of the building was unbelievable. The whole thing was unbelievable. Chemistry class stopped at that point. Before 2nd period was over, the 3rd plane had hit the Pentagon. It then hit us that this was not just one attack, this was a concerted effort and who knew where else they were going to go? During third period, we heard that the 4th plane had crashed in Pennsylvania, only a few hours west.

We felt like we were in the center of the attacks. New York City was 3 hours north, DC was three hours south, Shanksville was 3 hours west.

When I started to grasp the enormity of the attacks, I realized that my cousin worked in New York City, in the World Financial Center, right next door. She’s my godmother. I called my mom at work, and all I could say was “Mom” before I started crying. She was shaken, but she pulled it together to help me pull it together. I was only fifteen; my childhood had just ended; my godmother might be one of the victims.

In 3rd period, we watched the small, elongated figures falling to their deaths from the towers. During the footage from the ground, we could hear them hitting the ground. It was nauseating.

Then we watched them fall. Watching a building that large, one I had toured only a year ago, crumble into the ground, seemed unreal. It didn’t seem possible it could just disintegrate into a pile of dust. Watching it happen to the second building was absurd. How do you comprehend that? I don’t know if you can. I don’t think I have yet.

My cousin was fine. She and most of her department were in Florida for a meeting or something. They watched in horror from a distance like the rest of us. Her husband worked in midtown Manhattan. He walked home that day, to Hoboken. It was a long walk. After that, they decided they needed to bring some good into the world. Their first daughter was born in October 2002.

I remember how weird it was to not have planes flying over head for a few weeks after. I remember how even weirder it was when we did see planes flying: they certainly were not commercial flights.

I went home that afternoon, after school. My dad was home, watching the footage. I’ve never seen him so angry. He was white, silent.

My mom didn’t get home until close to midnight. She went to the local Red Cross. We were so close to NYC, getting blood up there wasn’t hard. Everyone who could donate flooded them. The wait was hours. She’s tall, loud and domineering. Instead of waiting to donate blood, she helped the overwhelmed nurses and staff organize everyone, and get the lines moving faster. She didn’t donate until the very end, and then she came home. She needed to do something; she’s good at ordering people around. The nurses were grateful.

My dad and I ate dinner in silence, and then continued to watch the footage.

That night, I had dreams about a city on fire. I had that dream over and over for the next few weeks.

I was in the marching band. That Friday we had our first game of the season, against Ephrata. The schools agreed to have a moment of silence and special memorial in honor of 9/11. Our best trumpet and their best trumpet stood outside the stadium, playing Taps, coming into the stadium with the honor guard and flag. It was eerie and moving; the whole stadium was in tears. Football players knelt and cried.

Six months later, the honors English classes took a special field trip to NYC to see The Crucible on Broadway. Our first stop was ground zero. We stood in silence, in line, reading the graffiti covering the particle board dividers. Prayers, well-wishes, poems, signatures. Thousands of people, needing to leave their mark on that terrible scar. We stood on the viewing platform. Much of the wreckage had already been removed. It was an empty whole. We watched the workers find what they thought were human remains. As they were removed, everyone saluted. I cried. They still had the huge beams of light, the “Tribute of Light”, shining into the sky in memory of the towers and the victims. We could see them as we left the city. The whole bus had their faces plastered to the windows, watching those beams reach into the heavens, and get smaller until they went out of sight. I’m so glad I was able to see that in person.

I apparently didn’t use many tissues in my bedroom between 2001 and when I left for college in 2004, because there is still a tissue box with a picture of the pre 9/11 NYC skyline, and the date, and “In God We Trust”. It seems a little crass to put that on a tissue box, but there it is. I hope it stays there for many years to become.

That day was hell. The weeks and months and years after it have been hell. Never forget. Never again. So much of our lives since then have been defined by that day, and so much of who we are now has been defined by that attack. And yet, I know, we can never let it define us.

But we still have to remember, and I want to be able to tell my children about that day. I want them to understand just how terrible that day was. And I don’t want them to forget.

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