Other than the look on my teacher’s face, I don’t remember much about that day. I wouldn’t come to understand the impact and consequences of 9/11 until my late teenage years.
I was in 8th grade. The bell had rung which signaled the start of science class with Mrs. Mroz. I scurried to the back table which had been my assigned seat for the year. As I retrieved my heavy books from my backpack, I looked around me and wondered why nothing was happening. Surely, by now Mrs. Mroz would of had something written on the chalkboard, and we’d be knee deep in terminology beyond comprehension and whatever experiment was in store that day. But today she was unusually silent. She turned on the television and motioned for us to watch.
Perhaps she had a tough weekend and was letting us off the hook with a movie day. Nope. News reporters appeared on the screen with a tower in the background engulfed in smoke. “A plane has crashed into one of New York City’s twin towers.” Words and phrases like terrorist attack, homeland security, and tragedy were continually scrolling across the bottom of the screen. Hand over her mouth, her expression was stuck between sadness and disbelief.
Confusion flooded the classroom, and like a game of telephone, whispers made their way from ear to ear. “You’re living through history. This is important. Watch.” She kept the television on and instructed us to read or work on other homework by ourselves. Minutes later, a plane crashed through the second tower, and we watched as it crumbled to the ground. Though I still couldn’t fully comprehend what was happening, I was horrified.
Things carried on as normal for the rest of the day, though the school had gone on lockdown, and the atmosphere was awfully bleak. We used the morning’s tragedy as an excuse not to pay attention in class, and for once, we got away with it.
I remember going home that evening to tell my parents, but it seemed as though everyone already knew. Based on the sad expression that had overcome my mother’s face as she read article after article, I knew this was serious. The following days, weeks, months, years, the government and American citizens would come together to use its best resources to uncover what happened, clean up, and provide whatever kind of relief was needed. Airport security would be a headache to pass through, and 9/11 would become a day on which Americans would be afraid to fly. Of course, with 12 years under the belt now, much of that paranoia and fear has subsided, but security hasn’t let their guard down.
Having occurred five years shy of my first visit to NYC, the city was just some insignificant, far-off land that I only knew about through television. Only after moving to New York and learning about the culture that breeds within the concrete jungle would I understand what children of the future will only read in textbooks.
Twelve years later, after having worked, lived, and traveled to New York and seeing the site where the towers once stood, the emotion runs much deeper. My connection to the city is stronger now due to friends, former colleagues, and old routines. I’ve met people who have unfairly lost loved ones and heard stories from others about how they were scheduled for a unique work-related commitment in one of the towers and ended up not going. The tears that streamed down their cheeks as the memories from that day came screaming back, the grief on people’s faces as they walked past the construction site, the imagery of news reports and photos. They’re engrained in my mind forever.
9/11 is the modern day wound that, while it may fade, will never disappear. We’ve learned the hard way from our losses and are much stronger because of them, but we will never forget.