Saturday, September 11, 2021

20 Years Later...

"Where were you when the world stopped turning, that September day?"

20 years ago, I was sitting next to my friend Tracy in my high school Pre-Calculus class.  I remember looking up at the clock as class was winding down.  After it ended at 9:50, we had 10 minutes between classes for a break after our first morning period.

Like everyday, I made my way downstairs to my locker outside of Madame Fineman's French classroom.  Once I put my books away, I slid across the hallway to my best friend Katie to chat by her locker.  (Our lockers were literally across the hallway from each other.)  At the time, I didn't know that day was different than any other day.

I quickly learned that something wasn't right.  Katie said something about the World Trade Center being hit by a plane.  I'm not sure why, but my mind immediately conjured an image of the Staples Center in LA and I was standing there confused about why a plane would hit the Lakers stadium.  After Katie clarified, I knew that something was wrong.  (In hindsight, I remember seeing Mme. Fineman talking with a few of the other teachers on the side of the hallway in hushed whispers... and at the time I didn't realize how bad it was, but I could tell something was definitely off.)

I don't remember anyone saying anything to us, but I could tell that the teachers were visibly upset.  There was a tension in the air that was palpable... and I really didn't know what was going on.  It's hard to think of that now, but back then cell phones didn't carry the power of the internet in the palm of your hand.  I didn't use my giant brick of a cell phone unless it was to call my parents.  And I certainly didn't have it on while I was at school.  I was completely unaware in my protective bubble that was MDIHS.

As the day wore on, eventually I made my way to the library.  When I entered, I saw one of the televisions was set up on it's rolling cart in the middle of the room.  (Looking back now, it might have been the only room of the school with cable.)  Both students and teachers were gathered around it... staring at it in what can only be described as horror and shock.  It was there that I first experienced the horror of watching the towers fall.  I don't remember much after that... I think I was in shock myself.  

I remember drifting through the motions and all of the teachers being laid back with students and the attendance sheet.  I think we were allowed to go home early if our parents called in or came to pick us up.  If we wanted to go to the library, we could.  I really don't remember much... but I remember it being a really weird school day.  

At the end of the day, all after school activities were cancelled.  Katie and I would have usually stayed after school to go to volleyball practice.  Instead, we both packed up our backpacks and walked to my car.  After dropping Katie off at her house, (she lived on my way home so I usually took her home) I made my way home.  It's really all a blur.  I don't even remember if Jeremy was in the car with us... he must have been because I was a junior and he was a freshman... cross-country would have been cancelled too.

When I got home, more of the story unfolded.  I quickly learned how much our teachers had shielded us from the day's events.  My Mom had seen it happen live on the Today Show.  She had CNN on so I sat down and learned what happened on that terrible day.

It was a planned attack.  There were two other plane crashes- one in a field and one at the Pentagon.  Both US Disney parks were closed as officials feared they might also be targets.  Every plane in entire country was grounded- flights completely cancelled.

I didn't even know what to think.  I was numb.  I was hurt.  I was furious.  Waves of sadness, anger, and confusion washed over me in the following days.  I experienced a lot of the stages of grief.  I was devastated that something so horrific could happen.

In the aftermath, we all did a lot of growing up.  My parents and our teachers tried to explain what happened to us- even though they themselves were at a loss for words sometimes.  We learned a lot about the world and hatred- and how it could consume a person so much that they could do something that terrible. 

Our volleyball team made red, white, and blue ribbons to wear on our sneakers.  It was our own simple way to honor those who died that day.  I remember our volleyball coach's little girls asking me what they were for.  She shot me a look and I knew they didn't know.  I told them that we were all proud to be Americans and we wanted to show it.  They're all grown up now, and I sometimes wonder if they remember those red, white and blue ribbons.  Like many others too young to understand at the time, I'm sure they know the sad truth behind their meaning now.

There's one thing that's certain and it's that time keeps moving forward.  A few years passed and before I knew it, I was going to New York City for the first time with my yearbook staff and the newspaper staff.  We were there for a media conference, but we had free time at night.  Some of the others wanted to go to Ground Zero so I went with them.  The crews were still cleaning the area up.  It was still a big hole.  

I remember sitting there surrounded by so much sadness, loss and devastation.  We each found our own little patch of walkway and we sat there in silence... all together but also alone.  So many thoughts were swirling around in my head.  I'm pretty sure that I cried.  I don't know how much time passed by.  It felt like forever.

A few years later, I went back to New York City with Eliot, Katie and BJ.  I'd been back to NYC a few times between these trips, but I never went back down to the World Trade Center.  This time, the four of us went there and we saw a church filled as a memorial.  We saw the gnarled statue from the World Trade Center on our way to the Statue of Liberty boats.  This time, it wasn't as raw and fresh.  This time I felt like I was able to process everything better... able to mourn and to remember those lost.

It's hard to believe that it's already been 20 years.  There's a memorial at the site.  The Freedom Tower has been built.  US troops are out of Afghanistan.  Time marches on.

But those of us who experienced it will never forget it.  We'll never be able to get the horrific images out of our minds.  We'll never forget where we were or how we found out about it.  And I'll never forget the devastation and confusion that I felt that day.  

We'll never forget the heroes who stepped in to help.  In all of the sadness, loss and devastation of that day, there were so many helpers... so many people who wanted to lend a hand.  It feels like that's the last time we were all truly united as one. 

Most importantly, we'll never forget all of the lives lost on that terrible day.  

Never Forget 9-11-2001  °o° 

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