Friday, September 12, 2008

nine eleven, two thousand and one.

Note: I want to preface this entry by saying that everyone in my family is safe and alive today. This is a recollection of that day, when at times, we weren't so sure things would be okay.

Seven years.

I was fourteen. I'm just realizing how young I really was then. I had just started high school, a new school for me - private, all girls. I knew all of two people. It was the second day of school, the first real day of classes.

The sky was so blue, a perfect day. The blue sky always bothers me, taunts me. When the dark cloud rolls over the city and in the background is the crisp and bright blue backdrop.. it pains me.

The vice principal came over the loudspeaker. "If your parents work in New York City, please report to the drama studio." The second day in a new school - I barely knew where the drama studio was. About five girls got up from my Algebra I class. One I had talked to once or twice so far; some other girls I just knew by name. We made our way there, to the drama studio which was never actually used for any drama classes. It was our small assembly room.

They told us there was a terrible accident as they handed out notecards and asked for our information. A terrible accident... did the subway crash? Maybe a really big tanker truck. "A plane hit one of the two World Trade Center towers." My heart stopped.

Driving into Bayonne to visit grandparents, cousins. Every year. "Hey dad, which building do you work in again?" I say, pointing at the Twin Towers. "The one with the antenna on it," he replies.

Something so simple became so important in that moment. Had I not asked, not been told all my life, I would have no idea. I knew very little about what job my dad held and what he did, but I always knew he worked in the Towers, the one with the antenna.

I felt numb. Not really scared, not nervous, not upset. There were no tears. I raised my hand as they asked who had family members who were actually in the Towers. Numbly I walked to the back of the room with about ten other girls. I remember praying. I remember being brought to the office. They told me I could call home.

"Mom?" Jesus, what do I even say? "Um.. did you hear about what happened?" Of course she knew. She asked if I wanted to come home. I stared up at my vice principal, not sure if I was allowed. Again, of course I was allowed. "Um, I don't know if they'll let me." She asked me to put the vice principal on the phone; I was being picked up in a little while.

We'd switched periods; we were in study now. I walked in and sat by the only girl I knew. She asked if I was okay, expecting me to be much worse off. I assume the other girls whose parents worked in New York had returned to class, noting that I hadn't and explaining why. I said I was fine and asked to copy her algebra notes; she was even more stunned at my non-reaction.

The teacher went on and on about another plane hitting the other Tower, a third hitting the Pentagon. I didn't believe her, not because I was in denial, but because the way she was discussing it made it sound more like fanatic rumors than reality.

We went to history class. I don't remember it. I was called out and taken home. My brother was already in the car. My mother said something about staying calm and not worrying, and how she had already reassured my brother that everything was going to be okay. I can't remember really if we'd had any news by then.

I should note that the timing of the day as opposed to when events were actually happening is skewed in my mind. The assembly we had occurred after both towers had been hit, and I'm almost positive that one tower was down by the time we arrived home.

Random moments are vivid. I took in the garbage cans when we got home; my neighbor rushed across the street and hugged me, asked me if everything was okay. Watching one of the Towers collapse on my television, my stomach churning, turning the television off and deciding it wasn't smart to keep that up.

My uncle's voice on our answering machine. He'd called while my mom was picking us up. He worked at the Towers too, but was going in later that day. His ex-wife, my mom's sister, was working at the airport that day instead of in the Towers. My uncle was a talker, never at a loss for words. Today, though ... "I don't know, Joan. [silence] ... shit." An exasperated statement, one of disbelief and not knowing what else to say.

I was numb the entire day, clinging to the fact that the first Tower to collapse was the one without the antenna. I remembered that specifically because I'd visited my dad two weeks earlier, to the day. We went to his office first, then moved to the other building to go to the top and look over the city.

At some point my aunt shows up, my dad’s youngest sister. She’s in a tizzy, claiming she’ll go down to the city to find him if she has to. All I can think about is that I’m disappointed she didn’t bring my cousins with her so that we could all play and distract ourselves.

I want to say that we probably got the phone call while she was there, because I’m not sure if she would’ve left otherwise. He tells us he’s okay. He’s okay. He doesn’t know when he’ll be home, since transportation is kind of impossible. Soon after my aunt leaves, my grandparents arrive on their way back from Atlantic City. They don’t stay long, seeing as they’re not sure if roads will be closed and they already know he’s okay.

In the late afternoon, my dad arrives home. Finally. We rush outside to greet him. I hate it because it feels surreal and movie-like, too cheesy to actually be happening in real life. We're not a close family to begin with, so all of us meeting him on the front lawn in a group hug seems so wrong. He comes inside and sits down, his shoes carrying soot from the buildings, soot from the huge cloud of dust that encompassed the streets. We crowd around and listen to his story; I don’t remember much of it.

I woke up in tears the next morning, a panic attack of sorts. I thought for sure that school would be canceled. I was scared. I woke up early just to watch the news, knowing they'd say that all schools were closed until further notice. I mean, we'd just been attacked, right? How could we have school?

My mother forced me to go. I don't know how I got through the day. People in my class who'd come with me to the drama studio, who'd known my dad was in that Tower, asked me if I was okay. I told them yes, and they smiled. What strong support from people I barely knew.


Every year I watch documentaries, news stories, recreations. I can't stop myself from watching the horror unfold. I guess it's partially because I wouldn't let myself watch what happened the day that it happened.

It still scares me when the planes hit. When the fire is burning through the buildings. When each building collapses into itself, sending a huge plume of menacing smoke. When I see people running away from the smoke and not succeeding.

There are no words to describe it all. Just watching the people in streets, torn between running and staring at the mayhem in front of them. The worst part of all is watching the people in the towers, the ones above the fire, waving out the window for help. And then the sickening vision of them jumping.

It's difficult to digest that both of the Towers fell. Two one-hundred-story buildings reduced to papers and ash in the matter of a few moments. That's one of the things that saddens me the most. My dad often mentions things he had in the office that are now gone. Obviously it's more important that he made it out, but it's incredibly upsetting to realize that many people treated the office as a home away from home, filling it with knick knacks and family photos. And on top of that, to imagine that there were hundreds of people still in that building, people that had no way of surviving a huge building collapsing on itself. It hurts.

People are starting to forget. Clearly not the horrific events, or what happened. But they're forgetting to stop and actively remember. People go about their day as if it's insignificant now. A classmate of mine walked out of the Student Center today, and seeing us, came over and said, "I feel awkward walking through there because the President of the school is speaking and I feel rude." How about listening to what she says instead of seeing it as an inconvenience.

All I ask is that you try hard not to let yourself forget. Yes, it's painful and frightening, but sit down even just for five minutes and recollect what happened that day. I always do, because I never ever want to forget not only the events of that day, but how strong I was for getting through it.


Anna said...

Wow, that is such a powerful story! I'm so sorry you had to go though all that, but am SO happy your dad is alive!

Even as the years go by it may be talked about less, but I surely will never forget that day.

meloogal said...

Oh, Cait, this is so moving. I don't really have any other words.

Jamie Lovely said...

I agree with the first two comments. This is a very powerful story.

Queenb said...

I had totally forgotten the little things about that day.
I was home from school also, my friend had passed away. she wasnt in the twin towers she'd died of something else. Anyway i remember watching it on tv.

I'm glad your dad was ok. I couldnt imagine what it would be like to go through something like that. Its changed us all in some way.

Katie said...

My sweet girl, WE WILL NEVER FORGET. We have NOT forgotten you, or any of the victims, or any of their families. Don't ever think we don't think of you often and lift up prayers.

Adam said...

I saw you on 20-something bloggers.

I can't imagine how hard that was for you. I'm so happy to hear that your Dad was okay. So many people lost so much, it's nice to know that there were happy endings for a few.

I don't think it's that people are forgetting. I think it's that many are choosing to leave it behind bc they don't feel it personally.

But as someone who actually had the chance to see the towers once, and someone who sees all the pieces on the chess board, I can never forget. I can never forget the loss of life. And certainly the ripple effect it had on us all. I feel it in my chest.