11 September, 2005

September 11, 2001: A Retrospective

Four years have passed since 9/11, but it remains fresher on my mind than many things that have occured since then. I remember the day, almost too well. So many minute details of the day linger in my mind, details of a day I would normally never remember. But this day was unlike any I had ever experienced. Never in my short life had I ever felt that way.

The first Tuesday of my eighth grade year began no differently than any other day at middle school had. My classes passed no differently than they had the day before. As my fourth period band class came to a close, the most unusual announcement came over the loudspeaker: "There have been terrorist attacks in New York and Washington." I remember Dr. Trusheim, the middle school principal, uttering those exact words. I had no grasp of what this meant. My idea of terrorist attacks at the time were of those that seemed to happen weekly in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. In my mind, those were insignificant blips in this ongoing conflict, normally only claiming three or four lives, not that I believe comparing tradgedies is an effective technique for getting a point across.

With that brief statement from the principal as to what had happened on that day, I didn't feel any reason to be worried. Still, subconsciouly, I must have felt a great sense of alarm with this announcement, for I remember vividly the moment it happened. The announcement came on, Jillian Schurman was to my left, and said "Oh, my God..." or something along those lines, I looked at her and saw the sheer terror on her face. I looked down at my teacher, Mr. Miksza, and the look on his face was stern, but not shocked. I didn't understand why he had that reaction at first, but later on, I found out the attacks had taken place an hour or two before we had been notified, so he probably already knew, and was hearing this news for at least the second time. Only a few minutes were left in the period after the announcement, and those few minutes consisted of a few of us speculating as to what could have happened. None of us had any idea, seeing as we were naive eighth graders and we had none of the facts.

We went to lunch the next period and the room was a buzz with discussion regarding the terrorist attacks. Rumors started spreading that a car bomb had been crashed into a building in Washington and New York, others claimed that planes had crashed into buildings. I remember my good friend Dave Brudner connecting the plane idea to the plot of Die Hard 2 and the eerie similarities he was claiming the situations had. Laughter existed, although I think we were really all scared beyond our wits and the laughter was there because we needed something to comfort us. At the time, even though we really had no idea to what extent these attacks had crippled our nation, we were afraid and the laughter came from us not knowing how to react.

The period after lunch was shop. A bunch of middle school kids sitting around and pasting wood together and ranting to eachother about the terrorist attack that they really had no knowledge of. Before the period could end, the entire school was told to go outside, without backpacks, just walk outside and wait for further instruction. My class was brought to the back of the school, and once outside, parents started taking their children home and word got around that some looney had exploited the hightened sense of hysteria to call in a baseless bomb threat. The threat was taken seriously, like it should have been, thus we were evacuated from the school.

While I stood outside, on one of the most beautiful days, in terms of weather, so many confused thoughts went through my head. With the little amount of information I had, I really didn't know what to think, but I knew this was serious with the measures being taken by parents and teachers. I saw my friends leave one by one as their parents arrived to pick them up, I didn't know where my parents were or if they had even been notified yet to come get me. Eventually, the few of us left were brought to the front lawn of the school, where a number of teachers and students still remained. After a short time (that felt like a very long time at the time), my mom showed up, with my next door neighbor, Jimmy Dericks, who I had seen leave earlier with his mom. They both started giving me details as we walked to the car: "Two planes hit the Twin Towers," "Both of the towers have fallen down," "There's still a plane unaccounted for," "Another one crashed in Washington." I didn't know what to make of all this, how can someone react to this, on a day that began like any other.

My mom had taken a little while to come get me because she was working at a school in West New York, on the Jersey bank of the Hudson River. She had witnessed the collapse of the first tower and left immediately to come get me. I couldn't at the time, and still can't imagine what must have passed through her mind. I suppose part of her thinking was to go home, seeing as she did, because the world seemed to be falling apart before her eyes with the collapse of that mammoth structure. We went from the middle school back to my house, where my cousin was. We picked her up and dropped off Jimmy and went over to North Boulevard Elementary, where my sister was.

In a similar fashion as they had us at the middle school, my sister was outside with her teachers and the few students who remained. My sister had no idea what was going on. They had told these students just about nothing in regards to why people were leaving the school. The situation was explained to my sister in fairly simple detail, for at least what would suffice for now.

When my mom, my sister, my cousin and I got back to my house, a lot of people were there. I think it was my dad, my next door neighbors, my grandpa and at least one of my mom's friends. I knew this was serious now, both my parents were home from work and people who I would normally only see periodically at planned gatherings had congregated at my house on little if any notice. The images I saw on television as I walked into my family room were unlike anything I had ever seen. The replaying of the second plane crash and the sheer chaos on the streets of New York was unbelievable. Scenes of the destruction in Pennsylvannia and Washington only made things worse. These were like scenes of war in places I knew, in places relatively near my home. How could this be happening?

That day went on for a very long time. I think it would be safe to say that that was the longest day of my life. I don't think I was even capable of grasping the extent that this day would affect American society. Every television station was devoted to coverage, as was every radio station. No where could anything be found but coverage of that day's incidents. For hours upon hours, all one could think of and hear about was the events of that day.

That day is the first day in my life, thus far, where I remember so many details, exactly where I was and what was happening when I first found out. Adults talk about hearing when JFK and Martin Luther King were assassinated, or when Princess Diana died, or perhaps when the Berlin Wall fell. These incidents either occured before my lifetime or happened when I was too young to understand them. Experiencing September 11 made me feel like I was someone, that I now was well aware of the world around me. This event marked the end of the first stage of my life, in a way. I felt like I needed to grow up, I needed to take care of myself and those around me, I had to appreciate life and could no longer depend on the security of the great United States. Four years since, we're still feeling the effects, with a war being waged in the middle east with its roots in 9/11 related affairs.

I feel like that day shouldn't still be so fresh in my mind, but so much around us alludes to it, or recalls memories of that day. Just yesterday I stood in the footprint of the World Train Center, waiting for a train to take me towards home. Despite having enjoyed a wonderful evening in the greatest city in the world with Sara, being there was just so weird. How could a few hours of one day have caused all of this? That day marked the beginning of the rest of my life, and almost rendered everything before it insignificant, all of that was negligible compared to the larger picture and what was going in the world. I have no doubt that I'll always remember the events of that day, perhaps not as well as I recalled them here, but to some degree they'll always stay with me. When I think about that day, the most prominent thought I have is, I hope I never have to live through another day like that and the notion that something like this has to happen again scares me more than anything else.