September 11, 2001:
Where I Was & What I Will Never Forget About September 11th
I struggled with the idea of actually putting a post together that would recount my memories and emotions of September 11th. This was a tough day and while I do go into much detail within the following paragraphs, I am actually telling the short version. As I am sure you know, each of our experiences is unique and filled with our own set of emotions. Whether your story comes from the streets of Manhattan or across the country, each of us has a story to tell about where we were, how we felt, and the extreme emotions and terror that we felt in the aftermath of 9/11. Here is my story…
Born and raised in New York, I was here on September 11, 2001. I was a senior in high school, which clearly meant I was showing all of the identifiable symptoms for Senioritis. This incurable disease normally occurs in the middle to late months of ones 4th year as a high school student, but I was unfortunately stuck with a diagnosis within days of starting my 2001 school year. While I felt a bit of guilt for skipping school so early in my senior year, I would later learn that it was for the best and I was able to lead myself through the day in the comfort of my own home.
On the morning on September 11th, I woke up only to tell my mother that I had decided to take a ‘personal day‘. I wasn’t sick, but I thought that I had reached a point in my career as a high school student where I could simply deserve a day off. After all, I had attended a very difficult and strict Catholic high school. This meant strenuous, long, competitive, and difficult school days. I had succeeded thus far and therefore I felt like I was above the schools policy on attendance. I deserved a break, right?
My usual hooky days meant going back to bed until noon – at least! Something was very different on September 11th. It was as if my body and mind had a different plan, but my inner self kept thinking about how crazy it was that I was actually skipping school to watch television. I never did that! Calling out of school normally meant I needed a few hours extra sleep, or perhaps I needed a day to catch up on a paper that I was falling behind on as a due date crept up. Not on September 11th though; I had nothing to do and although I was very tired, I could not sleep.
I remember lounging around in my bed and staying awake since I announced my school skipping to my mom at 6:00am, which was early since I had stayed up studying until 12:30am the night before. I sat and watched Ricki Lake’s talkshow, which is oddly enough coming back this year!
It was a rare occasion that I would actually catch the Ricki Lake show, so I was having a fairly good and relaxing time home alone, but I still didn’t know why in the world I hadn’t fallen asleep just yet. The episode that day was discussing interracial dating, "Step Up! Keep It Real! Date Your Own Race", which seemed insignificant and unimportant several minutes later.
All of a sudden, I became agitated as a breaking news announcement came in during the Ricki Lake show. I remember feeling pissed off since these break-in’s were normally to talk about a local weather alert that didn’t apply to our area, or some other sort of news that never seemed significant enough to interrupt a television show!
This breaking news announcement was different.
I had been laying down in my bed when the breaking news announcement began. I remember the look on the reporters face – blank, lost, confused, scared, and his eyes seemed to gaze into the camera without end. Something was up; something had happened and it shook me so much that I shot out of my bed and sat on the edge of my mattress anxiously awaiting the words to come out of his mouth.
8:46am: A commercial airliner had hit 1 World Trade Center - North Tower.
I tried to soak in the news about the first tower hit, but it was impossible. Maybe I WAS dreaming after all. I knew that it was strange for me to be awake on a morning that I had skipped school. Should I pinch myself? This was crazy! I sat and flipped through all of the major news channels, which had all stopped their regular programming to discuss the tragedy here in my city. Most reporters were talking about this incident being a fluke tragedy. Perhaps the pilot (and co-pilot?) had nodded off. Maybe there was an engine malfunction? There had to be a good reason for this. Our towers weren’t hit like this without a reasonable explanation.
Something didn’t feel right. The more and more that I heard reporters try to compose a hypotheses around the possibilities that could cause an airliner to crash into the top of the World Trade Center North Tower. I prayed this was a fluke incident, but my gut once again told me this wasn’t over.
9:03am: Another commercial airliner has hit 2 World Trade Center – South Tower.
Things already felt wrong in my gut, but the confirmation that this was going to become something larger than anyone would ever imagine came at 9:03am on September 11th. Anyone that thought the first tower hit was an accident quickly changed their minds. This was a terrorist attack and the possibility or thought of another plane somewhere in our sky was terrifying.
Who or what was going to be hurt by this tragedy in the next few minutes?
Was this the last of the planes and terrorists preparing to attack?
Could there possibly be THREE airplanes hijacked and involved in todays attack?
It didn’t seem possible that there could be more to come on that dark and dismal day
…but the idea of this happening at all seemed highly impossible.
Anything was possible on September 11th.
I sat and watched the coverage all day. My jaw stood dropped for several hours as I sat and watched my city diminish and fill with smoke. It was an awkward feeling; I don’t think I could possibly ever feel, describe, or reenact the feelings that I had on 9/11 simply because this was an unusual, unique, and terrified set of emotions that I never want to relive or go through again.
All of the images and news coverage displayed in news coverage on television and in print is forever embedded into our memories. These are images that we will never be able to erase from our memory banks, which are nestled next to all of those feelings and emotions surrounding all of the other unforgettable moments in history.
Since I was out of school that day, I had no means of communicating with my friends. Only one of my girlfriends had stayed home for the day and she was going through her own set of emotions. Her father was on the way to work around 8:00am. He was an employee inside of World Trade Center North on the 97th floor, which was one of the directly hit.
*We would later learn that her fathers train was delayed 5-6 minutes, which placed him in Manhattan around 8:35am. He would stop at a local bakery while walking to work, which was a decision to cheat his diet, which placed him exactly 15′ feet from the entrance when the first plane hit. His gut instinct told him to take a day off since he had well over 2-weeks left for vacation time in 2001. These decisions and delays would save his life.
Once the planes had hit the World Trade Center towers, I began to put together the pieces of what had literally just happened here. These weren’t just two buildings standing on the tip of Manhattan. These were two landmarks and pieces of the Manhattan skyline.
[World Trade Center being constructed; circa. 1970]
There were people inside. These people had families, wives, husbands, friends, nieces, neighbors, and children. I considered those that were directly affected by the first hits to each building. I prayed their families wouldn’t feel pain, but it was evident this was going to be a horrific feeling of loss for those with loved ones that were housed on the office floors hit directly by the airliners.
I thought about those that were working below the floors that were hit. Were they running out, or were they still concerned about getting their reports on the bosses desk before 10am? Was someone telling these people to stop thinking about their work, but to worry about themselves?
Then I thought about the employees on the top floors of each tower, which sat above the floors hit in each of the towers. Was there an open space for these people to escape? Could they get through the floors that were burning where the planes had hit?
Were my family friends and relatives on the floors above, below, or directly hit?
I remember feeling my gut fall as the South and North towers began to come down one by one at 9:59 and 10:28 respectively. The silence was deafening and I could feel the buzzing in my ears as Manhattan nearly turned into a silent ash-filled city. The "city that never sleeps’ was never silent nor did you ever experience an empty street anywhere in Manhattan, but things were different on September 11th. People were giving strangers rides, thousands flooded to our bridges and shorelines seeking an escape out of their city. Fearing the soil that you lived and worked on hurt and truly terrified all of those that were standing within the island of Manhattan on 9/11.
SEPTEMBER 12, 2001
I learned all about how the events of September 11th unfolded inside of my high school on the following day. September 12th happens to be my brother and best-friends birthdays. September 11th is my uncles birthday, FYI. The first thing that I did on the following day at high school was wish my girlfriend a very happy birthday, but apologized for my decision to skip bringing in balloons. She agreed and I promised that I would deliver her birthday balloons when we celebrated over the weekend. I debated purchasing balloons earlier that morning, but I decided it would be in poor taste.
My friends told me that the mood and atmosphere inside of the high school on September 11th was nothing like they had seen before. They said it became routine to have a guidance counselor or one of our Deans knock on the door every few minutes. They experienced interruptions throughout all nine periods that day, which was normally something we would love!
A knock on the door and interruption from a faculty member meant someone’s family member was missing, deceased, or there was reason for concern. One by one, students were removed from their classes. Most were in tears instantly as their names were called. They already knew why they were going to the Deans office.
The atmosphere on September 12th was different than any other day in my career as a high school student. While we mostly had a teenager-rules attitude in the crowded and rowdy hallways, I noticed an aura of kindness and appreciation floating around my classrooms.
Everyone was somber and the halls were filled with sorrow. Although I cannot quite remember the specifics, I recall an appalling statistical rate which placed over 86% of our student body directly affected by a relative or friend missing or killed in the WTC attacks. Either way, 100% of our student body knew someone that was killed in the towers. Living THIS close to Ground Zero meant that everyone around you was affected.
The days and weeks following September 11th didn’t get any better. While we bonded together, hung our flags outside of our homes, and displayed poster board on our lawns praying for the lives lost, I still remember how difficult it became to watch the faces of my friends and peers turn from hope into fear, denial, loss, and anger. Many students were awaiting the news of a parent or loved one buried under the rubble. We prayed they were alive, but things grew very difficult and confusing.
I remember watching one of my girlfriends stare at the classroom door during class. While you did not want your name called on September 11th, students prayed for a knock and name call on the days following. This would hopefully mean your father or mother was found. Maybe she had a broken neck, or a sprained ankle. Perhaps her ribs were crushed, but she was alive and wanted to see you. The door knocks eventually stopped and my peers started to display signs of anger and loss.
Whether you were in New York, Washington D.C., Pennsylvania, or any other part of the world on September 11th, fear of being wherever you were at the time was a rampant and contagious quality of our everyday lives. Every time an airplane flew over your head, your attention peaked into the blue sky and wondered if that would be the cause of another sky filled with black ashes. Every night that I laid my head down to sleep, I couldn’t but wonder what would happen as I slept soundly through the night. Would there be another tragedy? Was I going to wakeup to find the morning news channels discussing another terrorist attack?
As time went on, I remember watching as the street signs were renamed to memorialize lives lost throughout the city and all boroughs and counties here in New York. I was invited to the naming ceremonies of too many streets, which were being named after my family, friends, neighbors, and acquaintances’ memory. I watched as more and more of my friends held memorials to remember their lost and still missing fathers and mothers. Life went on, but things were far from normal.
PRESENT DAY: 2012
I decided to write this post because I have never discussed my whereabouts on September 11th here on MamaNYC. It never seemed to be the right time, or appropriate. Now that it is 2012, I truly felt it was the perfect time to sit down and rattle off my experiences as a high school student here in New York.
The events of 9/11 will forever be etched into my memory. While I forget what I did last week, where I was last month, and can barely recall the last 3 movies that I have watched, I can walk you step-by-step through the events, emotions, and aftermath of 9/11 in a detailed format.
A lot has changed in New York and my personal life since September 11th. I graduated high school nearly 9-months later (No, I wasn’t able to cure my Senioritis. However, I continued to sleep well past noon on all of my days off except for 9/11, which was a 6:00am awakening). I was admitted into my first choice college as a graphic design major.
I left that school and changed majors one year later. I attended another college and received my Bachelors degree in business and marketing. I tried to get a job. I tried to get a job. I tried to get a job. I went into debt. I tried to get a job. I also tried to get a job. I had a baby in April 2009. I will have another baby in January 2013. I attended my 10-year high school reunion in June 2012.
Things haven’t been easy; I have struggled to get here…
… but I never forget that I am fortunate to be here and tomorrow is not a guarantee.
[Taken aboard cruise ship; Hudson River; May 2012]
The view that I see in my memory of our Manhattan skyline never seems to change. I still see the skyline that I knew as a child, which included two of the greatest towers, which I could only tell apart by the "big needle thing on top" (as my younger-self would say). Although I have come to accept, recognize, respect, and appreciate the rebuild and construction of the Freedom Towers, I will forever recognize my skyline to include the WTC towers that are now only a part of our history books.
When a person you love passes away,
Look to the night sky on a clear day.
The star that to you, appears to be bright,
Will be your loved one,looking upon you during the night.
The lights of heaven are what shows through
As your loved one watches all that you do.
When you feel lonely for the one that you love,
Look to the Heavens in the night sky above.
– Author Unknown