Remembering 9/11, sixteen years later
It's been a while since my last post. I (finally!) went back to work after a little over a month off recovering from my surgery. I'm physically feeling a lot better but I have to admit that the effects of surgery are having a mental and emotional impact on me - some good, some, well, interesting. But I'll save that for another post.
Today is the 16 year anniversary of September 11. This year, officially more time has passed since September 11 than the age I was when it happened (15.) But I still remember it, as most probably do, like it was yesterday.
I had started prep school just a few short weeks before, in a tiny town in central Connecticut about 2 hours northeast of NYC. I was sitting in French class at one of the academic buildings up the hill, and we were reading Le Comte de Monte Cristo. My head was somewhere else on that cloudless morning, pretty much as it had been since I had started at my new school. I remember, like everyone else, what a perfect early fall day it was - high 60s, with a negligible breeze wafting in through the open window of my classroom.
Abruptly, there was a knock on the door and a teacher from down the hall rushed in. I don't remember what she looked like, but I do remember how such commotions were uncharacteristic at prep school, so I pulled myself away from the distraction of the window breeze to see what all the fuss was about. She whispered something to my teacher, who straightened, and, switching to English (class was usually conducted entirely in French,) announced that we were to gather our belongings and follow her down the hill to the auditorium building. She didn't say why.
The next thing I remember is sitting with the rest of the students and faculty in said auditorium, as our dean slowly walked on to the stage and made the announcement that two planes had flown into the World Trade Center within 15 minutes of each other. I remember not understanding. I remember not even entertaining that it might have been a terrorist attack, instead wracking my brain for what sort of mechanical failure or human error could have caused such a thing to have happened. I remember someone else running on to the stage and whispering in the dean's ear, and him taking a long pause, and a deep breath, before announcing that the first tower had just collapsed.
My memory comes in fits and bursts for the rest of that day. I'm in the Student Activity Center, after classes were cancelled, watching on repeat on the news the planes flying into the buildings, the people jumping out the windows, the towers turning to rubble, the black, billowing smoke crawling down lower Manhattan amidst screams and people running away, and the people in uniforms and business suits running back into the buildings to pull others out. I'm in my dorm room, trying to get through to my parents on the phone, finally learning that my dad didn't go into work in Manhattan that day because he wasn't feeling well. I'm in bed. I don't remember talking to anyone, although I'm sure I did. I don't remember eating. I don't remember when we finally went back to class.
I do remember, 2 years later, in the summer of 2003, when the power went out across all of New York City as I was interning near Union Square. I remember the sweltering heat of that day and walking down Madison Avenue with my clothes sticking to me, trying to figure out where to go since I couldn't go home. I remember everyone thinking it was another terrorist attack, and watching as the still fresh wounds from September 11 opened in the New Yorkers around me, but instead of blood flowing out, it was kindness. I remember a man handing out quarters to people in line at a pay phone so they could get through to their families. I remember employees from all the restaurants and bodegas filtering into the streets and handing out free snacks and bottles of water to those passing by. I remember the nervous, tight-lipped smiles as everyone braced themselves for the worst, and the wide, expressive eyes as we silently acknowledged that no matter what, together, we could get through anything.
I moved to the city to go to NYU a year later, and I never left. Some people say that you can't call yourself a New Yorker until you've lived in the city for ten years. It's been a bit more than that now, but I can tell you I became a New Yorker that mild morning in September, and again that humid evening in August, and again every day since.
I flew back to the city last night from spending the weekend with a friend in Chicago. The sun was setting as the plane started its descent, reflecting a warm, red light over lower Manhattan as we arced to the east towards LaGuardia. Thirty minutes later, as my cab drove us over the Triboro Bridge on the way back to my apartment, two spotlights shone into the now dark sky from 1 World Trade. Before I knew it, I was choked up with a thick of emotions - the grief of what we lost, the pride in what we didn't, the scars that bind us.