The day started like any other, as it did for most people. I went to school. First period came and went and sometime in the middle of second period – it was History, my least favorite subject – the principal came on over the loudspeaker. I can’t remember what he said, but Ms. Jakymec turned on the classroom TV immediately. And there it was.
One of the Twin Towers, a gaping, flaming, smoking hole on its side.
And then the second plane hit.
We all sat there, mouths agape. The room stilled. Everyone just stared. Even Ms. Jakymec, not one for being silent, seemed to be lost for words.
It was like watching an action film, but it was real and live and happening now. Minutes passed and it slowly dawned on us that there was no way this wouldn’t affect each and every one of us. Living 60 miles outside New York City in southwestern Connecticut, everyone had family, friends, or friends with family living in Manhattan.
The peer counselors were called to the office, which included me. We were expected to be the strong ones, available to lend support to any other student who might need a shoulder to cry on or maybe just reassurance that it would all be ok.
We just sat there in the office in stunned silence. No one could speak and when we could, words just seemed pointless. No one had any answers about anything. Why was this happening? Who caused it? Was it over? Were they going after other cities? My mind leaped to my dad, who at that time worked in the John Hancock building in downtown Chicago.
Then, my stomach already tangled in knots, my chest already heavy with suffocating anxiety, my eyes stinging with tears of worry and confusion, I got a call from my mom. My aunts, I thought, fear gripping and then releasing me as my mom explained that they were ok. I’d forgotten that one of her younger sisters worked at 7 World Trade, a building that eventually collapsed entirely that evening. She’d been running late for work; when she came above ground out of the subway, she saw the first plane hit and went straight back home.
The day started like any other and quickly devolved into a numb, chaotic blur. The news playing in the library. The cloudless blue sky. Kids leaving school to drive to Manhattan to catch some of the action. The novelty of a new school year. The not knowing. The images of people jumping out of the towers to escape. Each memory I have from September 11, 2001 plays through my mind like a television losing reception. All but one:
It was picture day. My curly hair had cooperated for once and I’d worn a bright pink shirt to make my dark eyes and rosy cheeks pop. I was a junior in high school, just eight days shy of the 17th birthday that would finally grant me the privilege of going to rated R movies without my mom.
My eyes were puffy from tears but it was time to sit for the photo. I forced a smile, but it doesn’t extend past my mouth. Every time I see that portrait, I’m reminded that minutes earlier I’d been crying on what would become one of the most historic days in US history. My least favorite subject.