Ten years. It’s hard to believe it’s already been ten years. One of the most defining days in history for generations to come. It’s half of my life. I vividly remember the day. I think everyone does. There is not a single person in this world who doesn’t remember it who has the capacity to remember. Everyone has a story. Where they were, who they were with, how they found out. Some are more traumatizing than others. Most include fear. Fear of anything and everything imaginable. Were we going to live to see tomorrow? Were the people we cared about safe? What happened? No one really knew everything that was happening that day. I’m sure we still don’t know everything. But the hurt and loss and recovery stay with us.
My story is different than most sixth graders. The reason being that I was in New York. It was a perfect Tuesday morning. The first full week of school. Two days earlier, I was at a Yankees game with my parents, brother, aunt, and uncle. Four days before that, I was on a plane back to New York from an awesome family vacation in Disney World. There are pictures of my brother and me sitting in the cockpit after we landed. The date on them still gives me chills. If only the attack was planned four days earlier. There are so many if onlys. I usually don’t share my story of that day. Every year I write something, but it’s for my eyes only. Maybe one day I will share what I have written with others in the past, but the tenth anniversary poses another year that has gone by and another year that I will sit down and write my story. This year, however, I choose to share some of it.
School started as always. It was the second full day of classes and we were in our Social Studies class. It was just past 9AM when one of my classmates was called over the PA system to the office with all of his things. Not something that usually happened, but not completely out of the ordinary either. I had been called out of school early on numerous occasions ranging from my dad thinking me and him needed to spend some quality time together to having to visit my grandmother in the hospital. We didn’t think much of it at the time. About twenty minutes later, one of my best friends at the time – we’ll call her Jessica – and another friend had just gotten back from serving the 8:30 mass. I went to a Catholic school, so we were excused here and there from class if we were alter servers and were scheduled to serve a mass in the morning every month or two. My friend was more of the talkative ones and had no problem saying what was on her mind and thus informed our teacher – in front of all of us – that the Twin Towers had been hit by airplanes.
Our teacher, we’ll call her Mrs. C, – the same one I had for homeroom the year before and managed to make the fifth grade a little less enjoyable (not to mention calling me stupid in front of the entire class on one memorable occasion) – demanded my friend be quiet and stop lying. According to her, there was no way such a thing could ever happen. Now to give her credit (as much as I did not like her to begin with), hearing the concept for the first time, it did seem impossible. But Jessica didn’t exactly cower at teacher’s demands. There was a reason we had been such good friends, after all. She insisted it was true. That she had just gotten back from the rectory where it was all over the news. She had seen the footage before either of the Towers had fallen. Mrs. C told her to be quiet so she could go on with her lesson. Not that we were really learning much. I honestly do not remember what the topic was that day. I’m sure being the pack rat that I am, I have the notes somewhere, but it didn’t matter what she was trying to teach us. Everyone’s attention had shifted to wondering how accurate Jessica’s statements were.
As I said, Jessica was one of my best friends. We had sleepovers at least three times a month with each other. I believed her because she knew better than to make up such a thing. Her mother would have killed her. And I’m not talking figuratively. Her mother was – and still is – a tough woman. You didn’t mess with her and therefore, her kids knew better than to lie about anything really, but essentially this. I was sitting next to another good friend – we’ll call her Theresa – so we immediately began to discuss the idea of it. Well, we were in Catholic school, so discuss really meant pass notes back and forth wondering the same things the rest of the city was wondering. How true could it be? How much worse would it be? How could Mrs. C be so adamant that such a thing could never happen? The list went on. It didn’t take long for more people to be called down to the office with all their things. By 10AM, my class of thirty kids had shrunk to all of thirteen. Everybody in my class had been in school that day – it was day five.
By 10:30, we still didn’t know more than we did when Jessica came back from church, but now there were nine of us left in my homeroom and our principal had deemed that going on with the regular school day was not productive in the slightest. We were sent back to our homerooms to wait and wonder our fate. Would our parents come to pick us up too? Jessica, Theresa, and I were still there. I forget who else was there, but just as I was about to ask Jessica about things, she too was called to the office. Our homeroom teacher was new. He was cool and I think the general consensus was that everyone liked him so far. He tried to lighten the mood by telling us about anything and everything he could think of, but we were all in a confused state. We still had no idea about what was going on outside of the walls of our school. I don’t know if the teachers were told something or not. If they were, they never let on what was going on to us.
Just past eleven, though, my name was finally called. There were five of us, including Theresa, left. I said goodbye and headed downstairs, where I was directed to the auditorium to meet the person picking me up. It was chaotic in there. Chairs were lined against the wall as they always were, but they were filled with children being hugged by their parents and people crying – parents and children. I didn’t recognize anyone who would be picking me up, so I sat down and waited. Sad looks were everywhere from adults, but no one would tell me what was wrong. My dad finally appeared and he gave me a hug.
“C’mon, sweetheart, we’ve got to get your brother.” He told me.
“Dad. What’s going on?” I asked. He wouldn’t say. We left the building and got in my grandfather’s car, who was waiting outside with it. We went over to my brother’s school and got him. My dad and grandfather were silent most of the time. I still didn’t know what had transpired. My grandfather dropped us off at home and he said he was going to go home and the first chance he got that he was going to drive to the house he had in Pennsylvania. My brother told me that kids from his school said we were under attack. Our dad wouldn’t say anything until we got inside. Then he told us. He tried to turn on the TV in the living room earlier that morning and it was all static. He thought my brother and I had been screwing with the TV, so he tried the one in another room and got the same result. I don’t know what possessed him to go up to the roof of our apartment building or what happened in between him trying to turn on the TV and going to the roof, but he ended up there with a camera and took pictures of, what he didn’t realize at the time, the second tower falling. The images are horrifying. They’re ingrained in my brain forever. The TV not working was a result of all of NYC’s antennas and whatnot being on top of World Trade Center 2. Phones didn’t work. Bridges were closed. We were trapped on an island. I don’t know how my dad knew all of this, but I didn’t ask.
After my mom got home, we went to Marty Golden’s office – the state senator at the time. Outside, the city had completely transformed. Instead of the tallest buildings of the New York City skyline, there was a cloud of smoke. That smoke. I will never forget the site of that smoke. I will never forget how it lingered over the city for days and weeks. Months even. A glaring symbol of what used to be there, completely gone, but covered in that smoke. It just never went away. There were no cars. There were no people. Sirens were heard hear and there in the distance, but it was eerily quiet. We lived six miles as the crow flies from the Twin Towers. At Marty Golden’s, we lit candles, we prayed, we worried. We learned of the other planes that had been hijacked, one crashing into the Pentagon, the other crashing into a field in Pennsylvania. So much was still unknown.
September 12th was worse. They had put up an antenna on the Empire State Building, so we had TV again and we could learn of the new events. There were only two channels, both of which were showing the same thing. Schools were obviously closed. We still had no idea what else could be coming. Having TV was scarier than not having it. The videos and pictures aired were not something anyone should see, let alone a ten year old. People had jumped out of buildings over a hundred stories high. There’s so much that has affected me from the events that day ten years ago. Most of these things, people don’t even realize. I don’t think my parents even realize how much everything from the memorable day affected me. I don’t even understand it half the time. I was one of the very lucky ones. Everyone I knew directly was fine. My parents knew a lot of people, though. I didn’t understand everything then. But I was old enough to understand how much the event would change the world. I was that perfect age where I still thought everything in life was fair and nothing bad could ever happen. September 11, 2001 completely changed that mentality. It ripped the innocence from my generation and slapped us with a cold, harsh reality. It did it for everyone, I think. Our TV did not go on for the next few weeks. The only thing in the news were reports of terrorism and lists of bodies that had been found that day. Image after image of the devastation. It was too much to see.
Later, in college, I learned of other people’s stories. The people who weren’t in New York. In my closed off, slightly sheltered world, New York was the only home I ever knew. I never even considered at that point what it had to have been like for the rest of the country, let alone world. The day before the sixth anniversary was my first year and my suitemates were telling me their stories. I chose not to say anything, but it did not go unnoticed. While I can appreciate their views and takes on the day, it wasn’t the same. On that year’s anniversary, I had dinner with other New Yorkers. I only knew two of them, but we all invited people we knew who had been there. Finally, there was some peace in my mind. We shared our stories and it synced better than with people from other parts of the country. Of course it did. How could it not? It was someone that could relate to that same fear and terror felt in a similar manner. We were there. We survived.
This year marks the tenth anniversary. Again, it’s nearly impossible to believe it’s been that long. I went home this weekend because I can. I got to see some friends, eat good pizza, help out with an Eagle project, and enjoy my city that had forever changed ten years ago. This morning I had to fly back to Houston. It was the one reason I was extremely hesitant about going home this weekend, but I decided to go anyway. If we become afraid to fly because of the events that happened, terrorists have won. That is simply unacceptable. I will not say I wasn’t afraid. I definitely communicated with beings higher than myself. But not doing something solely out of fear cannot be the way the American people move forward.
Today we honor those who lost their lives on that fateful day or in the time after because they risked their lives to save someone else’s. Today they are all remembered and thanked for the services they provided. But it is still a day. September 11th will always be the day after September 10th. It will be a day that will continue to hurt for most for quite some time. But we do move on. We are thankful to the heroes that were born that day. We should not only remember them on this day, however. They should be remembered and thanked everyday. The images I have seen on TV, from the pictures my dad took, the video clips of people doing the unthinkable, and more recently, the pictures my uncle has because he works at the Staten Island Dump, which is where most of the wreckage went, have scarred me forever. But the people who were physically there, who saw people literally jumping from buildings, who lifted rubble and beams only to find someone who did not survive. I cannot imagine how they feel. How forever they changed from such sights. But they continued on. Even if they helped one person, they saved a life. That is remarkable. And worth remembering.
The American people are a stronger group since the tragedy that day. We were united in fear and in sadness. Not exactly the way you want a group to come together, but effective, nonetheless. Americans aren’t seen in the greatest of lights these days. A nation that once was the top of the world is losing it’s ranks. But that doesn’t stop me or anyone else I know from being proud to be an American. I am extremely proud. And its days such as September 11th that show what we are truly made of. People can be stronger than imaginable when they need to be and we proved such a feat in the aftermath of the attacks on our country. We stand proud. We rebuild. We move on. But we will never forget. We will continue to raise our flag to half mast every year in honor of those who periled on this day ten years ago. UNITED WE STAND.