Sunday, September 11, 2011

My September 11, 2001

How gorgeous is this? It was taken by Katie Weisberger a few months before the attack. It was beautiful before, but now it's stunning.

I was sixteen when my last remaining grandparent died, and I regret never having talked to them about their experiences growing up-- like during the Depression and WWII. And I didn't know, and neither did my brothers, until after our grandparents had died that my mother was actually 100% Slovak. We knew my mother's grandparents didn't speak much English, but they had died when she was young and we never met them. It's strange now knowing that I'm actually half something, something specific, but I know so little about it.

So now I want so badly to record histories, as much as I can, for anyone curious about what life was like for someone, somewhere, sometime. So here's my 9/11 story, for anyone forever.

I remember like it was yesterday. I even remember what I was wearing. It started out as any normal day-- I was 13 and had just started the 8th grade. During first period the fire alarm went off and everyone filed outside. There had been a "smell" in the school's kitchen, and they were concerned that it might be leaking gas, so they had to evacuate the building while firemen did an inspection.

I can't stress enough how beautiful of a day it was. The temperature was perfect, there was a slight breeze and the sky was the most amazing blue I'd ever seen-- before or since. We all ended up sitting in the grass of the field behind the school and talking for about an hour before we were given the all-clear to go back into the building.

This may be hard for younger readers to remember, but way back in 2001 iPods were not as prevalent as they are today. "Not as prevalent" as in they hadn't been released yet. They were still just a glimmer in Steve Jobs' eye. Back in the day we had Walkmen. Walkmans? Walkmens. The new Sony Walkman is infinitely cooler than the radio/audio cassette combines we had then but that was all there was. And we weren't supposed to have them in school. I don't know why, exactly, but we weren't supposed to have them, so when our 2nd period teacher asked us if anybody had a radio we all thought it was a trap and said no. I'm going to say more than half the class had radios in their lockers, my own was 2 feet from the door sitting in my locker, but we all played dumb. "No big deal, " she said. "A plane just flew into one of the Twin Towers, and if somebody had a radio we could listen to the news about it, but it's alright." And we moved on.

We thought it was an accident. It'd happened before, why would this time be any different? The pilot was probably drunk. Who hits a building?

Third period our teacher didn't even bring it up. Looking back I'm completely unsurprised-- it's so like her. I didn't understand it that day but I know now that she was protecting us. Those forty minutes were the last of our lives before we found out the truth. That time diagramming sentences...that was it. I'll always be grateful to her for that-- like getting us get one last night's sleep in our old lives instead of waking us up in the middle of the night to tell us our father died. We found out later that day that just about everybody else was hearing the truth and freaking out around us while we were having a completely normal class.

Fourth period I was one of 9 kids in a music appreciation class that I'm absolutely certain I was put into to give the teacher some support because, beside my friend Raquel, the other 7 kids in class were the worst behaved boys in our grade, 3 of which I had gone to elementary school with.

That day they were incredibly well-behaved.

Because our teacher came into the room with red eyes and a red nose, her voice all strangled, telling us to sit down, that she had to tell us something. We thought she'd had a death in the family or something, that she was going to tell us she was leaving as soon as the substitute showed up. "There's going to be an announcement in a few minutes, but there is no point in waiting. Some of you know, some of you don't, the plane that flew into the World Trade Center this morning was no accident. It was followed by a second. Another plane has hit the Pentagon. Our country is under attack."

I had to run from the room to throw up. It was so surreal, I was staring at the toilet and people, thousands of people, were dying.

The rest of the day was a whirl of hugs and going to the classrooms with TVs so we could watch the news. Everybody was hugging everybody. The random kid on your bus you never spoke to before? You hugged them. Everyone asked everyone else if they were alright, and parents were coming in to take their kids home. Our band teacher had us play, and we did, but only halfheartedly.

One of my teachers kept going outside to see if he could see the smoke from New York, even though we were 2 hours outside the city.

Walking home from the bus stop was so weird. The roads were completely empty, the streets were absolutely silent and it was such a beautiful day.

Arthur and Janet were living in Wyoming at the time and were on the phone with my parents when I got home, Arthur wanting our parents to send me to him there.

Watching the news was so strange: watching the towers fall over and over and over and over again, hearing the people scream and curse and the newscasters apologize for the language in the video but basically saying "We really don't give a fuck about that right now."

Living through that day, I think, permanently breaks a part of your heart. Part of me cries and aches for every person lost or hurt because of that day or the aftermath.

People don't have to say "Never Forget". You can't forget. There's no chance of ever forgetting. We should be saying "Tell Your Story". Tell your part. Somehow. Leave your story in the comments or just leave a link to your story. Remember the hugs you got, remember how close we all were that day, and how caring.

United we stand, and God bless America.

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