Ten years ago today, our lives were changed forever. I remember sitting in my 10th grade US History class that morning, when my teacher came in with an announcement in his usual I-have-to-be-a-hardass-because-I-work-in-a-crappy-area tone:
“I’m supposed to tell you that some idiot flew his plane into one of the Twin Towers or something. Another reason why you shouldn’t drink and fly. Now open your books!”
We thought it was just an accident, and went on with our day; a small plane hit the Empire State Building in 1945, apparently it had happened before. But as I made my way into the cafeteria for my (ridiculously early) lunch period, I could tell it was something much more serious. Aides, teachers, and even the principals made rounds amongst the students, asking if anyone had family that worked in the World Trade Center. We were on Long Island, everyone had family that worked in Manhattan!
The kids who responded that they did were whisked away, and all that anyone would tell us was that a second plane had hit. At this point, people realized that it was no accident, but an intentional attack. Rumors circulated that the Pentagon and White House had also been hit, and that Long Island was next. This was before the time that everyone 13 or older had a smartphone, and our school’s AV closet only held about 8 televisions, so we had to wait until we had class in a room that had managed to get a hold of one before we could find out more. When we were able to watch the newscast, everyone was completely silent as we watched the towers fall.
We lived about an hour east from Ground Zero, but there was a huge cloud of smoke and debris in the western sky for days. Everyone waited anxiously for family members to return home; subways and trains were disrupted, roads were blocked, bridges and tunnels closed, and tanks roamed the streets of New York. Two of my aunts worked in Manhattan, one of my Mom’s cousins had worked a few buildings away from the WTC and another worked for the FDNY. My stepdad worked in Queens, but luckily the attack happened before his shift. Thankfully, none of my family or loved ones were hurt. Many people had stories about how family members were supposed to be in the area, but were off that day, stayed home because of an illness, missed their train, or some other fortunate twist of fate.
Unfortunately, not everyone was so lucky. There was a brother and sister who went to my school who got up everyday and went to school as usual after the attacks. About a week later, the school had phoned their home to try to get in touch with a parent, only to find out that both of theirs worked in the WTC and hadn’t been seen since 9/11.
I haven’t seen Ground Zero since it has been transformed into a memorial; the last time I saw it, it was a construction site surrounded by tarp-covered fences under a strangely empty sky. When the little one is older, I will take her there to show her the footprint fountains and the wall of names. It will be quite some time before she knows a world in which we are not at war, but even then I want her to remember that “freedom isn’t free.”