(This post was originally published on 9/11/17, but was moved here 7/26.)
Every day of my senior year of high school, I carried around a disposable camera. I recognized the importance of being able to capture moments and preserve memories even then. The image above was taken on September 11th, 2001 from my homeroom, as we watched – in real time – the nightmare unfold that clear, bright Tuesday morning.
When they say “we will never forget”, it is completely true. I don’t remember much from my teen years, but I remember exact sights, sounds, smells, and feelings from that day. For us in New York, it was only the 3rd or 4th day of school. I remember doing my hair in two french braids the night before, and taking them out September 11th morning to reveal a full head of long, wild crimps. I pulled them back in a high ponytail.
I don’t remember the drive to school. I don’t remember going through high school’s usual morning routine. I don’t remember walking from my locker in one building, to Spanish class in the other building. But I do remember first period – sitting in Spanish class, by the window. I do remember the breeze that morning and how it smelled like fall coming, how clear the day was, how perfect the weather was.
It was in homeroom that we first found out. That’s when I snapped the picture. The little, mounted TV screen showed us the Twin Towers, one smoking.
I was 16 years and 10 months old. I was naive and stupid and sheltered. Gazing at the hazy, movie-like images, I swear, I did not know. I did not get it. I remember feeling like the news and the reaction of my classmates was excessive, inflated, and overdramatic.
My premature mind could not process the weight of the information entering it. I only picked up on the energy around me. I saw one classmate gasp. I saw others watch with open mouths. I started witnessing tears and crying and phone calls, and I might have even rolled my eyes. To me – it all felt like another attention-seeking tactic strategically played by the ‘cool girls’ to get the hugs and sympathy from the boys that they strived for on a daily basis. I was naive and stupid and self-centered and jaded.
When homeroom was over, and we made our way to the next class, I imagine administration was trying to figure out what to do with us. The whole world was trying to figure out what to do.
We never made it to the end of second period. We reported back to homeroom, and waited for our parents to pick us up. I was the last to get picked up from my homeroom, but I’m grateful that my best friend, Eva was the second-to-last to get picked up. We waited to together with Mr. W, looking out the window at the busy, congested street of cars filled with people trying to get home, trying to call loved ones, trying to function through their disbelief.
My father was coming from Brooklyn, and it took him a while. I remember hearing him approach before I ever saw him, because his silver Maxima at the time made this high-pitched squeak noise when he braked.
It took us a long time to get home. We took the streets, and creeped home in bumper-to-bumper traffic.
I remember what it looked like when I arrived home and sat with my mom, dad, and a family friend at our kitchen table while the small, counter-top TV buzzed with updates. The kitchen seemed illuminated. The sun seemed to be sitting in our backyard, blowing through our windows. It was so goddamn sunny and clear that day.
Seeing the energy around me of my loved ones, in my own house, no ploys or strategies possibly in place – I mentally started to process it. The weight had landed and the air had shifted.
I don’t remember what we ate for dinner. I don’t remember if I called any of my friends from the landline phone. I do remember laying in the bed that night, and falling asleep to the images on the TV. I remember waking up to the same images the next morning feeling like it wasn’t real life.
It was real life. It has been real life. // My 2nd grade teacher, my favorite teacher, lost her son in the tragedy that day. A few days later, a large crowd of us walked with her around a neighborhood park, holding candles, crying.
Although my family was not immediately effected by the tragedy on that day, the emotional toll it’s had cannot be denied. The following year, my mom suffered from a psychotic episode, with the fear and anxiety from 9/11 as a contributing factor. Although it’s been over a decade since, every year on this day, my mom and my family are reminded.
I’m writing this post while watching the 9/11 Memorial service, as I do every September 11th, listening and crying. As each name gets read, their photo and age flashes into view. I keep thinking how each person – no matter what age they were – was way too young.
Most inspiring to me, are the pairs of strangers that stand together on the platform, and work together to read the names. I so appreciate the decision to make it two people. The readings could have been done by one individual, and then the next, but the pair up there, one occasionally reaching behind the other to provide a comforting pat on the back as they share their individual stories, is the kind of simple, selfless detail that shows what we, as humans, are truly about.
Every year during the memorial, live from the greatest city on earth, I watch humankind come together to talk about values that matter: love, kindness, and unity.
Now, more than ever, with our country’s climate being what it has been, remembering 9/11 is important. Remembering the impact hate has had on all of our lives is important, and recognizing that YOU can be the change. Let hate live nowhere in your heart, mind, and interactions with others. Celebrate that you are here; celebrate that your neighbor is here; and celebrate that we are all a part of this piece of time on this world together. What’re we going to do with it?