You know the one. Every generation has one, that day, the one you can ask about and no one needs to know which day you mean. For our generation, it’s 9/11.
I think about it every year on the anniversary, I’m always aware of it, but this year it’s different: this is the tenth anniversary. I was only thirteen years old in 2001. In some ways it seems like it happened just yesterday; in others it seems like it was ages ago. In any case, I remember that day.
It was a Tuesday, an ordinary one. I don’t recall any drama that morning, so I’m fairly certain we all woke up on time and got to school and work when we were supposed to. I think I was wearing one of those Old Navy flag shirts, although I don’t remember for sure. It was my 8th-grade year. Right around this time, exactly ten years ago, I was sitting in my language arts classroom. The teacher, Mr. West, was one of my favorites. It was right around 9 AM, and our teacher’s daughter, who also went to our school, came to the door and said a plane had just hit the World Trade Center. Mr. West didn’t believe her, insisted that couldn’t have happened. He stopped what he was doing and turned on the TV, and there it was. He didn’t even have to change the channel to find it. According to this site, the first plane had hit at 8:46 and the second at 9:02; we heard the news and tuned in sometime shortly after 9:02. For some reason I remember looking at the clock, but I can’t recall exactly what time it said.
We all just sat and stared at the TV. You could have heard a pin drop in that classroom; I doubt it’s been that quiet either before or since. It’s hard to put into words what I was thinking and feeling at that point. No one seemed to know exactly what had happened, or why, and at first I believe I was thinking oh no, what a horrible accident. Of course, it didn’t take long before all the newspeople began talking about terrorists. This may have been the first time I’d really heard of a terrorist, but I didn’t need to ask anyone what it meant.
At first, I watched all of this – footage of smoke billowing over the New York City skyline, people wandering around covered in dust and soot, papers flying through the air, planes buried halfway in the sides of the towers – with a kind of detached sorrow, similar to what you might feel when you drive past a wreck on the road. You can see something bad has happened, you feel sorry for those involved and hope they’re okay, but it usually doesn’t touch you too deeply. That’s how I felt at first. As we continued to watch, however – as the first tower collapsed, as we heard about other hijackings, about the plane hitting the Pentagon, rumors of more targets – that detached sorrow became a very real, deep horror. I couldn’t believe what was happening, and I certainly couldn’t process it all. Before we left that class, our teacher turned off the TV for a moment to speak to us. He seemed just as shaken as I was, as I’m sure we all were. He told us not to worry and assured us that we were safe. I didn’t really feel that was true.
The rest of the day we moved around the school as usual, but there was nothing usual about it. Every classroom had the door open and the TV turned to the news, and I vividly remember the silence. Everywhere you went, it was so quiet. Even the cafeteria had a hush over it, as if we were afraid to be too loud even when we could. No class took place that day; one teacher (a social studies guy that was pretty much universally disliked already) made us turn off the TV while he taught, but none of us heard a word. We were just angry at him for making us miss out on what was happening and eager to get into the next class to see what was going on.
I always walked to my mom’s office after school. It was only a couple blocks away, and in my small town I was never scared. That day, I was. I think I half expected to look up and see planes flying low overhead. I practically ran down the sidewalk, and when I reached Mom’s office I burst through the door and gasped out, “Did you hear?” Of course she had; no one could have made it that far through the day without hearing. That evening my family went to my aunt’s house where we all sat – my parents and I, my little sister, my aunt, uncle and baby cousin, and my grandparents – and kept watching the news. I think we all wanted to be together. That’s all we did for weeks after, watch the news. I’d never been interested in the news before in my life, and now I couldn’t get enough of it. I don’t remember how long it took us to go back to watching anything else, but it was a long time.
The Internet will most likely be inundated with people’s memories and stories today, to the point where I’m sure some will be really tired of hearing about it. I don’t think I’ll ever tire of hearing the stories, and I think if we ever stop telling them, we’ll be doing a disservice to ourselves and to those we lost. Everyone who was old enough to have a memory of that day has a valuable story to share; none of those memories are mundane or commonplace. Where were you? What is your story of that day?