It was a morning like any other, still too hot to be considered fall, but school had already started so it didn’t feel like summer either. She’d gotten up early for the marching band practice that tended to start before the sun had fully woken up. As the practice came to an end and the rest of the student population started filling the buildings on the high school campus, a boy came in saying a plane had crashed into a building in New York. He didn’t know the details and from what he said, coming from a suburbia town instead of a big metropolis, it sounded like some little private plane, perhaps a little crop duster, had merely clipped the side of a building. They stood around the band lobby, with it’s brown and tan 70’s plaid style couches, murmurs and jokes filtering through the air wondering what kind of pilot could possibly miss seeing a building.
The girl moved on to second period biology. While she got A’s in all her classes, this wasn’t her favorite. It wasn’t that the class was particularly hard for her, but that the teacher, rumored to hate anything of the male gender, was often unpleasant. It was even rumored that the highlight of her career was dissecting a penis. No one knew if it was actually true, but in hindsight, it probably wasn’t. As the students filled their seats, they realized the teacher was no where to be seen. A few minutes after the bell, the biology teacher burst into the room, pushing a tv on a rolling stand, a panicked expression on her face.
To this day, the girl can’t remember what was said, or if there was any explanation given while the tv was turned to a news station, filled with scrolling banners and alerts, frightened newscasters on the screen. At the time, cell phones were a fairly new thing, especially for anyone still living with their parents. Quite a few kids already had them, but they were not allowed to be taken out of backpacks during class, and the teachers were certainly never on theirs either. This day however, the teacher, phone clutched in hand, ran in and out of the room, a few seconds of distraction from what was being shown on the screen. According to records it was 9:28 am central standard time when the second tower fell, and the girl remembered watching as the smoke and debris cascaded to the ground.
Today she can’t remember whether that north tower actually fell during that biology class, or if it was only the replay of the event, but it looked like a bad dream. She’d just visited the city for the first time she could actually remember the previous year. Her mom had taken her and her sister for a girls trip over spring break. They all stayed with her uncle, who while he was born in Texas, had always claimed New York City as his home. They’d done all the tourist things: gone to the UN, took the ferry to Ellis Island, went to the top of the Empire State Building, gazed up at the Statue of Liberty. She took lots of pictures of their trip; years later they’d all be scrapbooked into an album, including a couple taken of the skyline, not knowing it wouldn’t look the same again.
What came after the tower fell was complete and utter silence in the school. No chitter chatter when the teacher left the room, no fidgeting in their backpacks. No one walking down the hall to go to the bathroom or grab something forgotten out of a locker. The classroom was more quiet than when a test was being taken, all students completely transfixed by the terror that was unfolding before their eyes.
The girl, who still had brown hair back then, doesn’t have much recollection for the remainder of that school day. She never rode the bus and it was too far to walk home. She didn’t have her driver’s license yet, but always got a ride either from another band kid or her French horn playing, cross country-running boyfriend. Throughout high school a Krispy Kreme was built on the west side of town, and being all the rage, the car full of kids would detour on their way home to get a free hot & ready donut. She can’t remember if this was the case or not that day, let alone who took her home.
What she does remember is that her step-father was away on a business trip. He was a type of government researcher that constantly got called to Washington for meetings and presentations. As the girl sat transfixed in front of the tiny box tv found in her bedroom, it never occurred to her that he could potentially be in danger. She didn’t know that meetings had led him to the Pentagon that day. Instead her thoughts wandered from the fire and chaos to thinking of her uncle. He didn’t go into Manhattan daily, it being quite a trek over from The Bronx, but he did run lots of errands and had friends all over, so one never knew what he could be up to on any particular day. She watched the replay over and over again, too many times to count. The second plane crashing, the towers falling, the people screaming, wondering if she’d ever hear from him again.
It’s been eighteen years since the hijackers boarded those planes, changing the face of our nation forever. While many of the details of the days that followed have gone blurry over the years, there are others which are crystal clear. It seems like a whole other lifetime ago, when I sit down and realize there is a huge portion of the population who can’t fathom what those days felt like across the country. Friends that had never uttered a word about being interested in the military were talking about joining, while others were figuring out how to graduate early so they could serve their country. Rumors flew about whether the government knew it would happen. We were going to war, and while many of us had no clue what that would entail, certainly we didn’t have any idea how long our solders would be fighting. American flags were plastered everywhere your eyes could land. Businesses that previously had empty windows were now displaying red, white and blue. Cars had bumper stickers and magnets of Old Glory attached. Pride with a strange sense of anticipation and fear filled the air.
For the first several years, on the anniversary of 9/11, I would write down my thoughts and emotions, or simply what I remembered of that day. It seemed like the sort of thing one should document for the history writers. Over the years, the habit faded away. Jobs changed and so did the cities I lived in. There were large periods of time where I didn’t participate on social platforms at all, in fact many years I didn’t even have a journal. So why start back up with an account of the events now? I couldn’t honestly tell you, other than so much life has happened since that September. So much change, so much loss, so much celebration and excitement. However, amidst all the challenges life has to offer, I want people to remember, I want others to learn. We can’t treat life as a carousel, carrying us in circles, never daring to jump off.