Today I thought I should mark September 11 somehow. I searched through some images online until I found one that I liked and with it I changed my Facebook cover image – I thought that was the best I could do while living on the other side of the world. But as I sat there looking at the 9/11 memorial, I was thrown back to September 11, 2001. It’s funny the things you remember and things that you don’t. I can barely remember what I ate for breakfast yesterday let alone remember my elementary school teachers names. Then, there are a few things that I could remember like it was yesterday – most are happy memories like when MJ proposed then our wedding, the birth of my children and some are sad like my mother’s death – some are noteworthy like when I was sitting in the middle of the school cafeteria when they announced that the Challenger shuttle had exploded but there is one memory that will forever be traumatic, 9/11.
I wasn’t feeling too well and I had thought about taking the day off to go to my doctor in the city near the village but because it was the start of my second week of a new job fresh out of grad school, I thought that it wouldn’t be a good start to my career in an elementary school, 20 minutes from NYC. So instead I went to work. I was sitting at my desk, organizing my schedule for the day when a co-worker in an adjoining office who had been listening to the radio came in and told me that a plane had crashed into one of the towers. I can’t remember what my first thoughts were but I’m pretty sure it would have been something along the lines of “damn, that sucks” then I went back to work. Shortly later, she shrieked and I went in to check on her. She told me of the second one. My thoughts then were “what the f**k?” I went into the staff lounge where I saw half a dozen people around the TV watching the news footage. Everyone was speculating about what could be happening…malfunctions? Terrorists? Then the 3rd plane crashed into the Pentagon and I felt as if the floor was falling away from me. I went back to my office where my office mates were sitting around the radio. Then the 4th one crashed in Pennsylvania. For some reason I went to the main office where the secretaries were just beside themselves. As I was trying to figure out what to do because it seemed senseless to go about my usual day now, I saw a hoard of parents storm through the doors coming for their children. They were frantic. They didn’t know what to make of the news other than the world was ending and they needed to be with their babies. To help the secretaries and the office aides, I volunteered to help get the children out of their classes. The teachers weren’t aware of what was happening as they were in the midst of their lessons. In the first classroom I went to, the teacher pulled me aside and asked what was going on, as several of her students had already been collected. I don’t remember the teacher’s name but I remember the look of horror on her face when I explained the little that I knew up to that point as to what was happening. And she had to go back to work to attempt her math or reading lesson to the remaining students. The rest is a blur. By some point that early afternoon, there were no kids left in school and the staff left early to go home to be with their families. I drove through nearly deserted streets to get back home. At home, I asked my mother if she had heard what was happening. She told me what she knew which wasn’t much more than I already knew. Then the phone rang and my mother answered it. I could hear my uncle on the other end, crying that he was stuck in traffic on Route 80. He was panicking. He needed to get home. He was scared. My mother was able to calm him and told him to just focus on the road ahead of him. I changed into my PJs and got into bed. At some point that night, I got a call from MJ from Australia. He had been trying to reach me all day once he heard what was happening but circuits were busy. I told him that I was fine which wasn’t quite true. I was utterly confused, scared, and angry. I didn’t get up out of bed for the next couple of days as I watched the news footage over and over again – as every channel dissected every detail of that day. The sky was quiet. No sound except for the occasional military jet that flew overhead. To this day I can’t watch more than a couple of minutes of the news footage of that day. My surroundings become surreal and I feel like I’m that 25 year old starting a job where she thought she could change the lives of children and families. I was safely tucked away 15 miles away from the pain and chaos and I was traumatized by that horrible event. So my heart goes out to the lost, to the survivors, and the heroes of 9/11 – I will always remember.