I was sitting in the sink, like I always did when I was getting ready for school. I liked to be up close to the mirror and use the medicine cabinet to see the back of my hair. I was in high school, so getting ready for school was always a production; a production best accompanied by my favorite radio station. You know, the one that played more music than all the others. From the moment my alarm went off until I walked out the front door, the music blared from my bedroom.
My grandparents sat at the breakfast table. Even though Grandpa was retired they still got up at 5 AM every morning to read the paper cover to cover and enjoy a pot of coffee together. Occasionally, when an inappropriate song came on or I had cranked the tunes a decibel too loud, they would yell back to me to turn it down. Being a teenager, I always ignored them, waiting for my grandfather to get irritated enough to put the paper down and walk back to me sitting in the sink and tell me to turn it down. Aside from that, and a, “have a good day” as I walked out the door, we shared little conversation in the mornings. I can’t blame them. I was a particularly sassy in the morning.
It had only been about month since I had returned from a modeling trip to New York City. Pictures of me and friends in front of all of the major NYC landmarks covered my walls. I couldn’t wait to go back.
It was just about 6 am. I had A hour, a class that was before regular school. Most kids took it because they used a class hour for seminary. I took it so I could have a half day my senior year. I was just putting the final touches on my mascara when I heard something that didn’t make sense. Usually I tried to tune out the babble of the DJ’s, but something was wrong. I climbed down from the sink and went into my bedroom to make sure I heard things clearly. “Early reports… Plane crash… World Trade Center… Accident? Terrorism?”
How could a plane have crashed into a building? I ran out into the living room and turned on the TV. My grandparents looked up from the paper, alarmed that I was willingly turning on the news.
It had to have been an accident. Terrorism doesn’t happen here. I tried to explain what I had just heard and they looked at me like I was crazy, but not for long.
Within seconds of turning on the TV, live footage of a second plane hitting the second building flashed across the screen. The news room was the most chaotic I had ever seen captures. No one knew what to say. No, this wasn’t an accident. How many more planes were on their way to a final destination? I was glued to the TV. I didn’t understand how this could be happening.
My grandmother drove me to school that morning. I sat in the car listening to coverage. No new news. I got out of the car praying it was over.
Within the minutes I walked from the car to my classroom, another plane crashed, this time into the Pentagon. Then the first tower fell. One of my classmates was in the hallway, holding back emotion as he talked to someone on his cell phone. He left soon after. Later we found out his uncle worked in the WTC. No one could reach him.
My science teacher had already brought a TV to the classroom and we all sat in near silence, eyes unblinking at images of an icon crumbling. It was everything I imagined chaos would look like and then some. People in suits covered in debris dust. People screaming, crying, heroes in uniform running into the unknown. Those images will live with me forever. Another tower, falling to pieces. A giant pile of rubble, where a symbol of American spirit once stood.
For the first time in my life, I was scared. I was scared of what else was going to happen. I was scared of what these events would mean for the future. I was scared that someone I knew was there. I was scared of something that once seemed so foreign, terrorism. For the first time in my self absorbed, oblivious little life, I felt a need to protect my country and thank God for being an American.
We spent the whole day watching the news and talking instead of or planned studies. A lot of parents came to pick up their kids early. It was surreal. Even across the country in Arizona, we knew the day September 11th, would mean something new from now on.
Eleven years later, I can still remember the uneasy adrenaline I had that day. I’d imagine 9/11 is for me what Kennedy’s assassination or the moon walk was for my grandparents. A day that will forever be with me.
After writing all this, I am regretting that my pictures of a happy bunch of teenagers walking in and around the World Trade Center are boxed up in AZ. Images of another time. A time when terrorism was something that happened in almost imaginary places. Not in places I felt attached to.
I was lucky. I didn’t know anyone personally that perished that day. I mourned for those who did. I didn’t include any images in this post, out of respect for those that still mourn every day. Besides, the images we all have filed away in our own minds are more than enough. Looking at them again is too horrible, too sad.
Today we remember, a day we’ll never forget.