A Writer's Journey

September 11, 2011

September 11, 2001—A Decade Later

Filed under: journey — mackenziew @ 12:00 am
Tags: , , , ,

I’d like to take the time out to mark today. I am a native New Yorker. Though I fortunately did not lose anyone close to me, I was still affected by the events of the day.

Here are my memories.

They start on the Friday prior. My grandmother wasn’t feeling well and didn’t know if she would be okay to celebrate my sister’s birthday the next week. So, we drove to Astoria to celebrate it with her. Our route took us via the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway. This leads to a stretch that runs along the East River. As we drove along, I looked out the window at the New York City skyline. There, standing against the blue sky, were the Twin Towers.

The image is forever seared in my memory.

As most remember, September 11th was beautiful. I can still the clear blue sky overhead, barely a cloud in sight. It was my second full day of sophomore year and I was already counting down the days to Christmas break. My friends and I rode the train to school. I cannot recall what we discussed.

At 8:46 AM, I was sitting in my Global History II class, discussing the French Revolution. Afterwards, several of my classmates would swear the heard the explosion of the first plane hitting 1 World Trade. I do not doubt that they believed they heard it. However, there was heavy construction occurring outside our school and there were loud bangs every time a large car drove over the metal sheet in the street.

At 9:02 AM, I was sitting in my English II class. The following announcement was made over the loudspeaker: “There has been an accident at the World Trade Center. Please take a minute to pray.” (I went to Catholic school). I remember praying the prayer for the dead. My classmates and I were trying to figure out what was going on. In math class, I remember hearing sirens all throughout the period. My high school was located on a major road and right by a bridge. Police cars, fire engines and ambulances all passed by us.

After third period, a classmate informed us of what was going on. She said a hijacked plane had crashed into one of the Twin Towers. We were flabbergasted. But French class had to begin and we were soon learning. I don’t recall what we were discussing, but I was smiling widely when the principal entered the classroom. We also weren’t supposed to sit with our legs crossed, so I quickly dropped my leg to have it crossed at the ankle. She saw the motion and thought I figured we were getting out of school. I wasn’t, but it didn’t matter. We were on lockdown.

Sister told us everything that had happened. About the Twin Towers collapsing. About the attack on the Pentagon. About the bomb in the National Mall (later proven to be untrue). About the terrorist alert. My class sat there in stunned silence. God bless my French teacher, she knew how to talk us through the news and let us turn the class into a group therapy session.

Lunch was a surreal experience. People were in the hallways, on the phone. Cell phones were supposed to remain off in our lockers until the end of the day. And even then, we weren’t supposed to use them until we were outside the gates. The librarian tried to enforce the rule, but it was ignored. It was considered a miracle if anyone was able to reach someone on the outside. Once lunch was over, we were herded into the social hall and prayed the Rosary. My friend was picked up by her father. I thought I would be going with her, but I remained at the school. I later learned my mother had called to give permission for my friend’s mother to pick me up but not the father.

I was one of the last students to remain at the school. We had laptops and one girl had hers as we sat in a mostly empty classroom. The school never turned off the internet, so she was able to find footage of the towers going down. We watched it a few times in disbelief.

My mother came to pick me up as school was dismissed. She drove me home and checked to see what I knew. When we got home, my father left the house with two co-workers. They both lived in New Jersey and had no way home when their building was evacuated.

I spent the rest of the day at home. When the news got too much, I was grateful for the children channels—Nickelodeon, Cartoon Network and Disney. They never broke programming. It was a haven in the chaos of the day. The internet was no help either. Sites I would usually go to were down.

School was closed for two days. On Thursday, there were reports that terrorists with a car bomb had crossed the Outerbridge and were driving around Staten Island. Schools that had opened closed again. We were told to stay inside and to keep doors locked. My dad told me to stay away from the windows as well. This would later be revealed to be a hoax, but it was scary and indicative of the times.

My church was also having nightly Masses.  We attended a few. The Pascal candle was set up, light in memorial for those who had died. In lieu of intentions, parishioners were invited to say names of people who were missing. Firefighters, police offers and other workers straight from Ground Zero often brought up the gifts at the offertory. After Mass, we went over to the school gym for a little social. It was a time to check in with each other and just confirm that we were okay.

Late Thursday night/early Friday morning, a thunderstorm rolled into the area. I remember the first thunderclap scared me out of sleep. I was afraid it was a bomb. However, rain followed and soon soothed me back to sleep.

School was optional on Friday. I went in with about half the school. While I’m sure I hated it when I first woke up, I didn’t by the time I got there. It was normal and I needed normal at that point. Classes weren’t normal though. It’s difficult to teach when most students aren’t present. My Global History II teacher tried to help us make sense of this. I don’t really remember the other classes.

I do remember the smell. Ever smelt burnt insulation? It doesn’t smell too pleasant. And I lived a few miles away from an active landfill for most of my life. Even though it was like an oven in my homeroom, we were forced to close the windows.

After lunch, we had a school mass. A message from Pope John Paul II was read during it. Afterwards, we were released and my dad picked me up. Things slowly fell into some semblance of normal after that: classes, track, work, friends, etc.

About a few months after the events, I finally got pictures developed from a day out in the city from August. I took a few from the observation deck on the 85th floor of the Empire State Building. There behind some of my friends–the Twin Towers. It was quite a sight.

I sometimes think back to when I was a Girl Scout. Our troop leader managed to get us into a corporate building to sell cookies through a Girl Scouts program. We sold in the World Trade Center two years in a row. We first sold in a lobby and then the next year we graduated to the cafeteria. I often wonder how many of those people, rushing to the cafeteria to buy a box or two, were in the towers on September 11th. How many of them lost their lives?

But the aftereffects of September 11th were long lasting. I could focus on the negative impacts: economic downturn, Anthrax, airport security, the War in Iraq, etc.

I am going to focus on the positive. How one couldn’t go anywhere without seeing the flag somewhere. How communities banded together to help each other through the darkest days. How this brought out the best in all of us rather than the worst.

In 2006, my sister won a scholarship to her high school. It was created in memory of a firefighter lost on September 11th. Every June, we come together to honor those who died, those who survived and award deserving students.

Ten years later, we’re still rebuilding. The Freedom Tower is rising piece by piece. One side of the Cortland stop is open. We’ll never forget.

God bless America.

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