Saturday, September 10, 2011

~Reflecting Ten Years Later~

When a significant event takes place in history you always hear people ask others, "Where were you when it happened." It's funny how you can remember the exact day as if it was yesterday. September 11th, 2001 was ten years ago but I still can remember details that I normally would never be able to recall.

I was in the tenth grade. I was sitting in my math class that I hated, in Long Island New York and I was counting down the minutes until the bell rang. It was a normal day. My teacher, while I don't remember her name as I don't most of my teachers, was going over a problem on the overhead projector. And even though I don't remember her name I will never forget the look on her face when another teacher came into the classroom and whispered the news into her ear. Her eyes widened and instantly glossed over. She looked as if someone just knocked the wind out of her. It took a minute for her to gather herself together to address us. When she finally did all she could say was, "The principal is going to be making an announcement shortly." Then she sat down behind her desk, avoiding eye contact with each and every one of us while we sat in silence waiting to hear what it was that turned our bright eyed perky teacher into a doe eyed shell.

As the announcement was made I listened. The impact of the situation didn't hit me immediately. I wasn't exactly sure what a terrorist attack was.  Nobody knew the whole story or could even grasp the severity of the situation. It didn't sink in until I called my boyfriend who was at work. (He was four years older than me we started dating four months earlier and ten years later we are still together.) He happened to be doing work at his boss’s house that day. And when the first plane hit the building his boss called him into the house. He explained to me how he watched the second plane fly right into the second tower. Then panic set in. My father and brother worked together and often traveled into the city. Were they there? My mind started racing a mile a minute. I needed to know that they were okay. The problem was. I couldn't get through. The phone lines were busy. My calls kept getting dropped. Do you know what it feels like to not know if you're loved ones are safe and no matter what you do you cannot get in touch with them? It was one of the worst feelings of my life.

During lunch I gave up on my cell phone and tried the payphone. Finally I was able to get in touch with my mom. She assured me that my father and brother were safe and I remember wanting to cry in relief. I was lucky but so many others were not. However, if the terrorists decided to choose September 10th, 2001 instead my story would be completely different. My father and brother were in the city that day and because my father used to take us by the Twin Towers when we were younger he decided to bring my brother by again. They got hot dogs from a truck and sat right outside the Towers. Just thinking about it causes my hands to shake and my stomach to twist because even if they weren't in the tower when the plane hit they are the type of guys that will run into a burning building just to save someone. It's amazing how in less than twenty four hours from their hot dog break the towers that my dad so proudly pointed out in the skyline every time we crossed the bridge connecting Long Island to the city were gone.

For weeks I watched newscasts depicting the pictures that no matter how many times I shake my head and close my eyes I will never be able to shake them they are burned into my mind forever. Even more heartbreaking was when I returned to the city for the first time after the attacks and saw the missing person flyers from one end to the other, floor to ceiling posted on the walls of Penn Station. There was hundreds, thousands of them and by that time I knew these people would never be found. They were lost forever. I had this overwhelming desire to read the flyers not wanting those people to be forgotten, but there were so many of them and my eyes were burning so badly I just couldn't do it. My boyfriend finally pulled me away. He couldn't even look at the wall. He just couldn't handle it. And to be completely honest that's how I feel now. I don't want September 11th, 2001 to ever be forgotten but each time I go on the internet and see the image of the Twin Towers being engulfed in flames and black smoke I feel like I'm reliving that day all over again. I never want to relive that day again.

As I said earlier I was lucky. So many people were not. One story that haunts my thoughts came from my aunt. My aunt has lived on the Upper East Side of Manhattan since the 80's and is still there today. Weeks following the fall of the Towers she was on the bus and a little girl ran up to her calling out Mommy. Mommy. My aunt turned to her and said, "Sweetie I'm not your Mommy," then turned and looked at the woman she was with. My aunt said it was obvious she was her nanny and my aunt said words didn't need to be exchanged. All she had to do was look at the nanny and know that this little girl would never see her Mommy again. Her mommy, just like the Towers was gone.

Everyone has a story. Every story is important. It's a way to remember. I have one more story. In eleventh grade I had a substitute teacher for my debate class. I had him in other classes previously and considering he was as old as dirt he was a really awesome man. He had a great personality and all the students loved him. Since it was debate he wanted to start a debate in the classroom and he turned his attention to the war in Iraq. One girl in the class was going on about peace, love and happiness when he snapped. Now like I said I had him as a sub many times before and not once did he raise his voice or act anyway other than completely friendly. I watched as this old man's expression changed from happy-go-lucky to a man that lost everything. He looked the girl in her eye and said I disagree. You want to know why? By the look in his eyes you knew not to argue with him. So she motioned for him to continue. He started at the beginning. He was a World War II vet who survived D-Day by using his best friend’s dead body to hide under. He fought for his country only to lose his son, his pride and joy, in the Towers. I watched as his eyes welled with tears and when he was finished telling his side of the story he looked the girl in the eyes again and said "Now don't try to tell me about peace, love and happiness because that was taken away from me." Then he left the room, stood in the hallway until he regained his composure and came back in. The girl didn't speak for the rest of the class. Nobody did.

I'm writing this trying not to cry. It's hard. How can you talk about September 11th without crying? Especially when you lived through it. When you know so many people who lost a loved one and who will never get to see them again? I wonder if the rest of the country, the rest of the world feels the same. I was born and raised on Long Island and I grew up going in and out of the city. I love the city. And when the attacks happened I felt like the terrorists attacked my backyard.

Where were you? What's your story? And if you aren't a New Yorker how did it affect you?

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