Monday, September 11, 2006

Where I Was

When the events of September 11 occurred, my mom commented that I was talking about it like she and her friends did when John F. Kennedy was killed: what they were doing, where they were, how they heard about it, and how they watched the tape over and over. This is my September 11 story, perhaps not inspirational or notable, but mine.

That day, I was a freshman in college, and it was my second Tuesday of classes. I was reading for my first class in a student center when I caught the morning’s headlines from an overhead television set, and Katie Couric appeared suddenly to announce that the first tower had been hit by a plane. I couldn’t stay for the rest of the report, but soon after I arrived at class, another girl came in with the news that the second tower had been hit, but we had no idea what was going on other than that. My next course was interrupted by a female professor running in and frantically scrawling on the blackboard, “Class cancelled due to emergency in Washington, D.C.” and then racing out without a word. We looked at our elderly professor, who said calmly, “We will finish our class.” And we did.

When I returned to my dorm, my roommate and neighbors were gathered around our tiny television, watching footage replay. For the first time, I saw the planes hitting the towers, the devastating collapse, and the countless people on the ground. Then there came word of the plane crashes in Pennsylvania and D.C. I was shaken. All of the news I had missed during my three hours of classes came crashing to me in waves of deeply saddening images. The skyline of the city where I had spent every holiday since I could remember was billowing smoke where there should have been two solid, steel buildings. I couldn’t call my parents; the phone lines were so blocked up with however many calls. So we sat by the phone and watched the news for hours.

That night, I went to a vigil with several thousands of students, and the show of unity and candlelight was calming to me. I felt distinctly small and vulnerable because the collapse of the towers meant more than the failure of steel and concrete; it was the uncertainty of institutions I had assumed to be stable, even indestructible. The sheer animosity of the act was chilling, and I couldn’t wrap my head around the idea that people on these planes faced their mortality in their coach seats while employees in their offices had no time to say goodbye. I found out later that two daughters of my parents’ friends had died that day at their jobs in the towers. They were my sister’s age.

My parents visited the following weekend because it was intended to be Freshman Parents’ Weekend. They expected to watch me in the halftime show at the football game, but it was cancelled as a sign of respect. Instead, we walked through a memorial ribbon garden set up in front of the library. Thousands of yellow ribbons, bearing messages from students, faculty, and even my parents, fluttered in the wind. Even now, the library looks somewhat empty to me without the ribbons, which have since been taken down and saved for posterity.

Five years later, I made my commute under an appropriately cloudy sky, as if everything was grieving. I will call a friend to wish her a happy birthday; she hates to bring it up in the midst of everything else going on, and people tend to forget. I’ll make dinner for JG and me. I'll watch the ceremonies and speeches. And I’ll remember where I was.

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