Sunday, September 11, 2011

I will never forget

September 11, 2001 found me as a high school sophomore. That morning, I had a history class before D block, designated for band. The two classrooms in which I attended these classes were right next to one another, and I arrived early to band, held in the music room, each day, because of this. I was used to the two adjoining rooms being quiet before the influx of students looking for their instruments and getting ready to head out to the field to practice marching. But Sept. 11, 2001, was different. 
I rounded the corner into the larger room and everything was still. An archaically old television was positioned in the front of the room, to my left as I entered. The room had chairs lined up in a half circle to accommodate our band, which sat as a typical orchestra would. 
Our choral director, BethAyn, was standing in front of the old television, which was tuned to a news station. The first plane, American Airlines Flight 11, had already crashed into the World Trade Center’s North Tower in New York City.  I stopped in my tracks, eyes fixated on the television, showing an awful amount of black smoke billowing. We both stood, horrified, as other early-arriving students filtered in. A friend asked what happened, and BethAyn said a plane had flown into a tower of the World Trade Center. Then, frighteningly, we watched the second plane, United Airlines Flight 175, slam into the south tower. I will never forget standing between the area where the instruments were kept and the large band room, flanked by my friend and teacher, watching this unfold. I have a mental picture of this moment.
I didn’t understand what was going on. I distinctly remember wondering how such an “accident” could occur, how a pilot could make such a grave miscalculation. At 15 years old, I didn’t know what a terrorist was.
By now, my peers had filled the large band room and everyone sat, quiet, dumbfounded, watching the news coverage, learning of the third plane, American Airlines Flight 77 and finally the fourth, United Airlines Flight 93. I remember a friend crying because her dad, a local astronaut, was scheduled to be flying on a plane that day (or something similar) and she was worried one of the four hijacked planes were his. Thankfully, they were not. 
The remainder of that class period was spent watching the news coverage, something for which I am thankful our chorus and band teachers allowed us to do. They knew this was a historic event and we needed to know what was happening in real time. This was something other students in school that day were not afforded. I remember hearing from friends about students begging their teachers to turn on the televisions, which they would not. Some classrooms did not have televisions at the time and I remember friends telling me of students who asked to go to other classrooms where the teachers were allowing students to watch the news coverage. Some were allowed, some were not. 
Student who wanted to watch the news coverage in the band room were not turned away. I remember seeing students in the room that day who had never stepped foot in the band room, their high school hierarchy considering band anything but “cool.” But that day, at that moment, everyone watching the coverage knew what was unfolding was beyond such immature status quos. 
After school that day I was glued to the television, watching the news replay over and over and over the video of the panes crashing into the towers, of the towers themselves collapsing in on themselves. I have a mental picture of this moment. I watched more news coverage that day as a 15-year-old than I ever had in my entire life. Sept. 11, 2001 made me pay attention to the news, gleaning as much information about this event as possible. I remember being shocked by the photographs, which quickly surfaced. I will always remember a photograph of individuals running, completely covered in white dust. I remember a photograph of a clean street in the foreground with a plume of grey quickly approaching in the background. I remember photographs of plywood billboards, tacked with pictures of loved ones lost. When thinking of Sept. 11, 2001, these still images are what come to mind. Still photographs with so much going on inside them. Still pictures invoking a horror I didn’t think was imaginable, a horror I hope to never know.
In college, on a trip to New York City with my school’s newspaper, I visited Ground Zero. At that time, there were still gaping square holes in the ground, ghostly reminders of what once was. A sign depicted the future memorial. And just a few blocks away was a chain link fence with ceramic tiles adhered to the wires, covered in illustrations of the towers, initials of those lost and prayers. I took a picture of one, covered in undecipherable words. I can only make out “cry everyday.”
I thankfully don’t personally know anyone who perished that day, but that doesn’t stop my heart aching for those who did. 

Where were you on Sept. 11, 2001?

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