For my parents’ generation, everyone knew where they were when JFK was shot. For my generation, everyone knows where they were when they first heard about the terrorist attacks on September 11. Here’s what I remember of that day.
Sept 11, 2001 was my second week of my freshman year of college. I grew up in New York just outside the city and went to college at the U of Maryland, which is just outside of Washington, DC. When my alarm went off, instead of hearing pop music like I normally would have, there was a serious broadcast. Something about the pentagon in trouble. I was confused by what was going on and couldn’t make sense of if it was real, a scare, a joke. And not being much of a morning person anyway, I went to shower.
On my way back, I saw people gathered across the hall and asked what was going on. They said something was happening with the World Trade Center in NY. Nobody had enough details. One tower was hit by a plane, Pentagon was hit by a plane. Well, which one is it? I thought. Surely, it couldn’t be NY and DC.
Details were fuzzy and nobody knew if it was an accident, terrorists, international politics or what, so I did something I’m now embarrassed about. I went to French class. Like it was any normal day. And what makes me feel worse is that most of my classmates were there, too.
After class, there was a better understanding that it was indeed a malicious, horrible attack on US soil. And that it was 2 planes in NY going after the WTC. I was desperately trying to make phone calls home to my parents to see if everyone we knew was ok but all of the cell towers were busy. Busy. Busy. Busy. My sister lives in Manhattan. My friends live in Manhattan. But I was most scared out of my mind about my next door neighbor, the father of great friends.
Growing up, I was over their house every day – the two sisters roughly my age who became my best friends and their parents who treated me like one of their own. We played tag and caught toads together. We watched the 4th of July fireworks together while eating Baskin Robbins ice cream. Their mom would watch as we spent hours every day swimming in their pool. Their dad would play baseball with us and grill hot dogs. And nobody knew if he, or anybody else, was okay.
I was consoled by others who were from NY and also scared. I had new acquaintances who had family in the Pentagon and they were scared. What a way to bond as freshman, I suppose. But I understood nothing of world politics and who these attackers were or why they hated us. It didn’t make sense. It was when I started to really understand how much politics affected our lives and solidified my choice to be a Political Science major.
I went to a vigil that night and finally got word that my neighbor had escaped and survived without getting hurt thanks to his smart thinking. But could I say that he was ok? Not really. How could anyone be okay after that?
Looking back on those first few days after the attack, I remember the numbness people felt as we tried to understand. We watched videos of brave firefighters still digging through the wreckage. There were still survivors out there, buried or burning but not giving up hope. I remember the solidarity it brought to our country. We were all friendly and nicer to each other. We all came together with pride as Americans. We even supported George W. Bush.
To everyone brave who helped on the scene, or the families who were left without, or the families who had the trust removed from them, you are in my thoughts. To the families who sent their sons and daughters to Iraq and Afghanistan, and to the soldiers who believed suicide was the better option than living after what they’d seen in the wars, you are in my thoughts. To the families who are racially profiled now and discriminated against, you are in my thoughts. I’ll never forget.