New York Stories: What September 11th means to me
Third period. Biology with Ms. Laureria. She was going over the syllabus. I was wiping down my T-Zone with some loose powder. My best friend Rob sat on the far right side of the classroom. She was discussing Regents prep in the slow, labored voice of someone who smokes too much. Rob and I exchanged glances of “What the hell is this?” and started laughing.
Father Joe came on the loudspeaker.
“Students and faculty members. We have just heard that a plane has crashed into the Twin Towers. We will announce more information as it comes. Let us pray.”
He probably said it more eloquently than that. At 6 foot 2, Amazon of a teenager Kate Manton shrieks and begins sobbing into the palms of her hands. The other students in my class sit silent and stunned. I’m confused – how is this different from any other plane crash? We get announcements like this for when Presidents get shot, not flight malfunctions.
“You could see the smoke from the window this morning,” Ms. Laureria says, gesturing to the large, bright panoramic windows of the biology lab. “It was that clear, and that much.”
We shuffle to our next few classes. Every teacher has CNN.com loaded onto the classroom computers. We discuss theories. I’m introduced to Al Queda, and Osama Bin Laden, and what Middle Eastern terrorism means to the United States. At first, I think it’s all speculation based on racism and past events.
But then Father Joe comes on the loudspeaker again.
“Attention students. A second plane has flown into the Twin Towers.”
Could this honestly be terrorism, and not a coincidence?
Students’ names are called over the loudspeaker periodically. My friend Kathlyn is asked to leave the our social studies class. My skin starts to goosepimple, and I wonder if someone in her family has been affected by this.
The day is sober and quiet. We make nervous jokes on the bus ride home and I remember walking into my house, my stay-at-home mom in the living room with the same television program that I’m sure was on everyone’s television sets at the same time.
I look at her – neither of us is crying but she knows what I’m about to say.
“Is dad okay?”
“I haven’t heard from him yet,” she replies calmly.
“Does he – does he work in that area?” He was an internal auditor at GHI. I’d visited his office a dozen times, but couldn’t quite remember where it was located in the city.
“No,” she says. She is visibly relieved. “His office is in Midtown, far from where it happened. He works three blocks from Penn Station.”
I am also relieved, although something told me he was going to be okay.
He comes home around the same time he normally arrives after work. “They shut everything down and evacuated the city,” he tells me. “I had to walk over 59th Street bridge, to Jamaica Station.”
That’s over ten miles for an obese man to walk, in a trench coat, in the heat.
From there he was able to catch a bus back to our house. I couldn’t believe how lucky I was to have him home when who knows who would come back.
The names started trickling in after that. A few fathers of students I didn’t know at my school. Some firefighters from my town. Kathlyn’s mom worked in the Twin Towers but that day, played hookie and called in sick when she was actually quite healthy – she just wanted a day off.
I wasn’t directly connected to any of the deceased, but I still felt the burn of sorrow that I think only New Yorkers, and those from New Jersey and Connecticut, feel every year at this time.
Months after it happened, we were still affected in ways that others across the country and around the world, were not. My dad lost his job. It took them years to get rid of the debris, destruction, and dead bodies. Ground Zero was a massive pit of dirt and iron for us to remember what had happened. Only now has it been filled in with a lovely fountain as a memorial.
Twelve years later, how do I feel? Heavier than twelve years ago. I think it’s hard to comprehend the affect September 11th had on me in the moment. While I’m not patriotic by any means, I am fiercely loyal to the City that Never Sleeps. And I know that what happened has shaped its citizens into the city we are today. Nowhere else will you ever find a group of people as resilient and connected in the entire world.
That’s what September 11th means to me.