(A version of this was originally written on 9/11/03, in my personal journal. It has been edited for this posting. I have reposted it every year since 2003.)
I can’t forget. This morning, between classes I was sitting in my car listening to the radio. I listened to the children read off the names of those who perished in the WTC disaster. As I listened to the small voices read the thousands of names, tears ran down my cheeks. I managed to miss hearing the names of anyone I knew, but still…….
I can remember that day like it was yesterday. I remember eating breakfast with one of my best friends, Erin (we barely even knew each other at the time, having moved into our freshman year dorms only a few days earlier). The dining hall had talk radio playing over the speakers and they were talking about the WTC bombing. I remember Erin and I wondering why they were talking about something that had happened in 1993. We tuned out the radio as it became nothing more than white noise in the background. Quickly, we finished breakfast and I went to my Women and Public Policy class.
As my classmates settled into seats in the small lecture hall, our TA, Jen, apologized for having to keep her cell phone on during class. She explained that she had flight reservations later that day, and she needed to keep up on any airport delays due to the incident in the city. That was the first that I heard about a plane crash. But everyone in class seemed fairly calm. We talked about what had happened for a few minutes, but most of us assumed it was just an errant pilot; a tragedy, but nothing too life-changing for the majority of us. So from 9:50-10:30am we continued on with our normal class schedule, discussing women in the current political system. As class ended I remember walking back to the dorm, over the Hickman Bridge, and hearing people around me say classes were canceled for the rest of the day. Yet I still really had no idea what was going on.
I walked back to my dorm on the other side of campus planning to turn on the news while I got organized for the day. Then I remembered that I didn’t even have a tv (stupid no cable in the dorms). As I walked into the building, you could sense the panic. The stress and tension in the air was palpable. I walked up the 3 flights of stairs to my room and immediately saw that my answering machine was blinking wildly. Each message was from my mother, trying desperately to get in touch with me. I grabbed my cell phone to call her back, but by that time the lines were down.
As I kept hitting the redial button I watched my floormates pace up and down the halls. One of the girls walked past my door no less than 20 times in 2 minutes. She was trying to get ahold of her father, who worked in the Towers. Others were just trying to find their parents even if they didn’t work in the city. Unable to get through to anyone on the phone, I took my cell phone and walked back downstairs to the lounge and sat on the couch with my dormmates, staring at the images that were being flashed on every station on our TV. No one spoke.
Still dialing, I headed back upstairs to my computer, sure that I would be able to find more information on the internet. The news anchors were so unsure and so frightened. I finally got through to my mother (while reloading news sites over and over) and she was relieved to hear from me. She told me you could see the flames from the beach by our house, and that there was a huge cloud of smoke and a smell enveloping Middletown. She asked if I wanted to come home, and while I considered it, I chose to stay. I wanted to be with my friends, and admit that the idea of driving home was frightening. None of us knew what was happening or what would happen.
The panic in my dorm just increased all afternoon. My friends and I sat in stunned silence watching the television coverage. At one point, military planes flew over the campus, and people ran for the basement. No one knew what would happen next. That sense of terror was something unimaginable only hours before.
We watched the news for hours on end. I IM’ed and recieved IMs from friends who were at school in the city. People I hadn’t talked to in months came to mind. I went to a tiny high school, 60 kids to a graduating class, and our network of students was reaching out to one another. We just needed to know that everyone was all right. I remember the anxiety we felt while we checked on all the Maryland people, friends who went to school near the Pentagon and Washington, DC. Eighteen years old and we were frantically searching for people just to make sure they were still there.
I will never forget signing on to our high school email network and reading the the public announcements, a forum usually reserved for messages about upcoming school dances and PTA fundraisers. The newest message was from a classmate, a few years younger than me. Her father was supposed to be on Flight 93. Reading that message, as she begged anyone reading it to look for his name on ANY list, my heart sank. This was a classmate, a high schooler. She should not have been going through this. And the tragedy began to hit home. As new lists were posted it became more and more apparent that he had probably been on the plane. I had never met the man, but I went to school with his daughter. This wasn’t supposed to happen to people you knew…
Only a few minutes later my mother got through to me again, telling me that my brother’s best friend’s dad was missing. That’s when I made the decision. I went home.
I stayed home. School was canceled. The next few days were filled with phone calls “Did anyone hear anything? Any word?” My mother told me how on September 11, ferries came from the city to the local harbor. Ferries that were based all over NY just packed with passengers from NYC. People who just had to get somewhere besides Manhattan. They stumbled off the boats- people covered in ash, people in shock. They were hosed down immediately by men and women in hazmat suits, for fear that they were carrying biological agents.
The papers talked about how Middletown was the town in NJ hit the hardest by the tragedy. We lost so many. So many people from my church, people I knew from middle school and high school.
Then, my worst fears were realized. A friend was put on active duty. Along with all this tragedy, I had to deal with the idea that one of my best friends could be sent into the city. At that time, it was a terrifying thought. Would NYC be hit again? Were we safe?
Later, I learned that another friend had worked at the pier in Jersey City on September 11. Unloading and loading ferries and boats, for days at a time. But her story had a happy ending- she became engaged when she grew closer to a friend who took care of her at the time.
My brother spent days with his girlfriend and their best friend. A sophomore in high school and he was trying to hold up his friends while they learned that a parent was never coming home. I admired my brother immensely for the strength he showed in those days. He grew up more than I ever knew he could.
We all grew up.
And we will never forget.
God Bless all those lost on 9-11-01……
My current students were four and eight in 2001. September 11th is a distant memory for them, something their parents and other adults talk about. For me, it is hard to fathom not being able to articulate exactly where I was that day, that hour, that minute. While I am glad they have no memory of the terror our nation, especially the tri-state area, experienced that day, it still leaves me stunned. It’s such an integral part of my life that I can’t imagine it not being a cornerstone in others’ lives. Yet I am grateful for that blessing, too.