Everyone remembers where they were on 9/11, when they heard the news 17 years ago. For older generations, it’s an ingrained memory like when Martin Luther King Jr. or JFK was shot.
Today was the first time this anniversary has made me cry. Today was the first time I actually let myself remember it all, when I watched this video
On September 11, 2001, I was in my sophomore year at NYU. I had spent the night at my friends’ dorm in SoHo, so we could wake up early to study before a test. From her kitchen table, we had a perfect view of the Twin Towers.
We saw the first plane flying towards the towers. At first, it wasn’t clear whether it was a little plane or a big plane. It looked like it must have been an optical illusion and was flying high enough to clear the buildings certainly. But no, it became clear that it was both a big plane and going to fly right into the tower.
We thought, it must have been a terrible mistake and the gravity of it 100% did not register. We grabbed our bags and headed out the door to get to class. By the time we got outside, the second tower had been hit. Emergency vehicles were heading downtown in droves. We didn’t think the school tram would be able to make it down to us, so we walked up to school.
We weren’t the only ones floating through the insane chaos like everything was normal. We still had our test. The whole class period, we heard non stop sirens. When class was over, we ran out the Washington Square, where we could see the towers, but we couldn’t see them anymore. They fell while we took a freaking sociology test.
We didn’t go back to our next class and heard later, they were cancelled. We started walking south and met people covered in building dust walking towards us, like zombies, dazed by the horrors of what they just saw. People were trampled. People jumped out of windows because that seemed like a better idea than going down in the burning building. People who were at work, at jobs they had worked their whole lives to get, taking stupid tests like I just had, and they died.
Our cell phones didn’t work. Every single person was trying to use their phones and every single person who had loved ones in Manhattan was trying to call them. We went to an Internet Cafe (side note, remember when they were called that and it wasn’t assumed there would be wifi?) and emailed our families, who were no doubt terrified. I remember being irate at the cafe for charging people to use their computers in an emergency.
I couldn’t go to my dorm at the Seaport because south of Canal Street was evacuated and closed to the public. I stayed with friends the first night in their dorm on University Place. I don’t remember exactly where traffic was closed, but there weren’t any cars allowed on the roads where we were.
Then tanks rolled down the streets. It should have felt comforting, when the National Guard came, but it didn’t. By this point, we were glued to the TV and found out about the Pentagon attack. The additional attacks made it way scarier because this was no accident; America was attacked.
I don’t like talking about it. I don’t like feeling the feelings from this day. I am not special in any way and I know many other people saw the planes crash into the towers. I know there were millions of other people in Manhattan that day. That day, 17 years ago, made me want to leave that city. Every time I saw a plane, I watched to see where it was going to crash. Every time a building swayed, I irrationally freaked out. I didn’t realize right away, and did a superb job of numbing my feelings, but I couldn’t live there anymore. I didn’t even finish my sophomore year. I dropped out of NYU because I couldn’t hang.
2,996 people died and over 6,000 people were injured. All of those people had family and friends who had to mourn such a horribly tragic loss. Our country changed that day. The word terrorism became a domestic issue, not just something happening to people in other countries. We celebrate the heroes from those days: first responders, firefighters, law enforcement, and everyone who helped another human live. Also, those brave passengers on the third plane who crashed the plane into a field.
In the days and weeks that followed, “MISSING” signs went up everywhere. People who hadn’t heard from loved ones put up fliers with pictures and contact info. As the days went on, more and more bodies were recovered and identified. After weeks had passed, the signs just served as the saddest reminder of how many people were gone forever, and their families wouldn’t even have a reason for a casket.
I normally try to not think about 9/11/01. I don’t watch the news. I don’t listen to the radio. For years, my mom would ask how I felt, and for years I would change the subject until she stopped asking. I would roll my eyes (hopefully just on the inside) when I got stuck talking to someone about how traumatic it was for them to watch it on the news.
The tragedy is America’s. Every single person who was alive and old enough to remember was impacted that day. I cried for the first time, 17 years later.