Sunday, September 11, 2011

Where I Was

On September 11, 2001, I was a senior in high school.

It was a beautiful day and an entirely normal morning until my calculus class. Since AP English was next door, I was usually one of the first to arrive to calc. Walking into that classroom is a snapshot forever etched into my memory. The radio was on and my teacher was sitting at her desk, tears on her face. Another teacher stood just behind her, his face solemn, his hand on Mrs. Padula's shoulder. I looked from them to the rest of the room, my friend Kier the only other student there.

He told me two planes had flown into the World Trade Center. Both buildings were on fire. His eyes were huge; his face was panic-stricken. "All of the people are out, right? They would have gotten everyone out?" He looked at me searchingly. I was confused. I was shocked. I remember shaking my head. "I don't know," I said, uncomprehending. "I don't know."

I remember my classmates simply taking their seats, some chatter and murmuring, but mostly everyone straining to hear the radio. One student tried to pull something up on the television. We tried to connect to the internet, too. The radio was the only thing that worked.

A plane hit the Pentagon in Washington. I thought of my dad; he was in Washington, but in my muddled state of mind I couldn't remember if he was in Washington state or the nation's capitol. He worked for the government. Would he be at the Pentagon? I leapt up and said I had to call home and, being a time before the wide-use of cell phones, I hurried to the main office. There was a short line of students waiting to use the phone, anxious to check on loved ones. (As it turned out, our school was lucky, with no one losing a parent or sibling.)

I called my house, and my Mema picked up immediately. As soon as I said hello, before I said another word, she said, "He's in Washington state." I'm not sure how she knew, but she did. I exhaled. Thank God.

Back in my calculus class all studies were long forgotten. The South Tower collapsed. When a plane crashed in rural Pennsylvania, the radio announcer said it seemed certain we were under a terrorist attack. Before class ended, the North Tower fell. I remember the announcer's voice cracking when he said this; I remember him saying the World Trade Center was gone.

When the bell rang, everyone was slow to move. What do you do? What do you say? I remember feeling like nothing would ever be the same again. And I don't think I ever before, or ever since, felt so utterly helpless, lost and scared.

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