I have one singular memory of September 11, 2001. I was safe in my fourth grade classroom, 45 miles from New York City. Several students were called out of the class and taken home. I remember where I was sitting in the classroom and the names of the students who went home. I remember the teacher from across the hall coming in to my room, talking in whispers to my teacher. I remember wondering why I wasn’t being called to go home. I do not remember what my parents told me when I got home, and I do not remember if I understood what was going on.
I have many memories and stories that I’ve collected from others from that day. My father’s friend who worked in the Twin Towers, who had missed his train that morning. Another friend who had to stop at an ATM to get cash. My sister’s best friend’s father, who took footage of the carnage while running in the opposite direction. We lived so close to New York City, nearly everyone I knew had a 9/11 story to tell.
Then there is the most haunting story of all. While I was sitting in my fourth grade class, oblivious to what was happening around me, the phone rang in the gymnasium of my elementary school. My gym teacher answered; it was the husband of one of the first-grade teachers. He had been in the World Trade Center when the plane hit the first tower, and he was calling to tell his wife that there had been a plane crash but that he was fine. The gym teacher agreed to pass along the message.
Later, we found out that the teacher’s husband had been killed in the crash. His office had been right near the point of impact of one of the planes. Our community and our school mourned for the teacher and her family.
Ten years later, a note surfaced with the teacher’s husband’s blood on it that read, “84th Floor. West Office. 12 People trapped.” The note had been picked up by a passersby on the ground and given to a guard at the Federal Reserve Bank of New York. Even though it had been 10 years, the blood had been traced back to my teacher’s husband.
When my mother called to tell me, I cried for hours. I was no longer a fourth grader, naive to the horrors of the world. The memories I had of that day and the following days and months, through the eyes of a child, were flooding back with the awareness and retrospection of an adult.
All of these stories are not mine, but all weave into the extreme, visceral emotions I feel every year on September 11. Now that I live 2,000 miles from New York City, it’s just another day on the calendar to a lot of people I interact with. Overall, there are more degrees separating them from that day. They may not personally know people who were killed, or whose parents were unreachable for days or hours after the attacks. The discovery of the bloody note was broadcast worldwide, yet it happened in my backyard.
For me, September 11 is a day of reflection, sadness, and heightened anxiety. My father works in New York City, and every September 11th I make sure I know exactly where he will be that day. I check on him throughout the day and have him tell me when he’s back at home. I won’t let him or anyone else in my family get on a plane that day. I know these are not the most rational thoughts, but keeping tabs on my dad is one thing I do to try and quell the panic.
This feeling has stayed with me on each anniversary of the attacks, something inexplicable and deeply personal. I can’t imagine what it was like to be in the Towers. I didn’t lose a loved one, and I wasn’t quite old enough to understand the implications of the attacks. I barely understood what “terrorism” meant. I knew something terrible had happened, and that it was changing the landscape of the world. That day was the catalyst for so many other events that have happened since. I am a long way from the fourth grader who was upset that she didn’t get to go home on September 11, 2001. As I get older my awareness of the events increases, even though my understanding of why they happen has not. The passage of time might work to heal the wounds, but I will always be affected by the events of that day.