On September 11, 2001, I was in seventh grade. I was in my journalism class (yes, my interests started early) and we were taking a freewriting test. I was good at those. And the principal interrupted the class over the loudspeaker to say that a plane had hit the World Trade Center.
I don’t think most seventh graders outside of New York knew what the building was, but luck would have it that just the month before—August—my family had taken a trip to New York to visit friends (one of whom worked in the WTC) and visited the center to go shopping and buy Broadway tickets. I remember staring up in wonder at how tall and endless the buildings seemed. I remember losing Agatha Christie’s “Murder on the Orient Express” at a coffee shop in the mall (and coming back a couple days later to find it again because a kind soul had turned it in—and a couple years later, at writing camp, I wrote an essay about this book and wondered why was it that a book in this big, crazy city could turn up again, but not the many lives lost). I remember that there was a restaurant at the top of the center, and my family contemplated eating there then decided, “Another time.”
So, when I heard of the World Trade Center getting hit, I was horrified. I knew our friend worked in the building. I went to my teacher to ask what this meant, but she made us keep working. They kept classes going as usual, even as parents pulled some kids out, and at lunch everyone was buzzing. Even between classes, we snuck TV, but it’s hard to absorb that kind of horror.
I went home and my parents were angry and shaken and drained. Our friend made it out. He was in the second tower. They were in a meeting and heard the first building go down. They decided, “Let’s just wait here. It’s probably safer than barging through this mess.” But after a few minutes, it became clear they should probably move. Our friend was carrying hot coffee and put it on the carpet in the hall. He ran for the stairs, and after descending a few flights, he thought, “Wait. I left the coffee on the carpet. If it spills, there will be a stain.” He turned to go back up, then decided better of it, and continued on and ran all the way home in the dust.
One of those illogical, mundane thoughts you have amidst the madness.
This is my first fall in a city anywhere other than in South Carolina, and my first September 11th in New York. I’m not sure I’ll be able to feel it, up in the clouds in my skyscraper, but it’s hard to believe that 11 years have passed. And I wanted to think about that day just for a few minutes before I dive into work.
Every year, on 9/11, I play this song. The year after, I remember overachieving, 13-year-old me made a PowerPoint for my journalism class about the events of that day (just a photo slideshow) and played this behind it. Still reminds me of then.