September 11, 2001
...played with your heart, got lost in the game. Oh baby, baby. Oops, you think I'm in love. That I'm sent from above. I'm not that innocent...
I rolled over onto my side and separated my eyelashes to see the sun filtering on the beige wall of the dorm room I'd slept in for just under three weeks of my freshman year of college. I lazily crawled my fingers up over my head and tried to find the button on my radio alarm to silence Britney. Nope, nope, still nope, there. Off. The first alarm signaled that I had an hour left before my first class, History of something. I liked the teacher. He was a big barrel chested Italian guy with thick black curls and meaty hands who after what I could only imagine were years of teaching, still excitedly spoke as if the days history lesson was actually happening right now.
Somewhere behind my eyelids that had not surprisingly managed to close back up again, I heard the next crackle of my second alarm. When I'd gotten my new tv for my dorm, I'd realized that you could program it to come on or turn off like an alarm clock, and I'd done so about a week into school with great results. I was too much of a fan of ignoring the radio alarm, but the TV required me to actually get up to turn it off because I purposefully kept the remote on my desk. I'd lucked into having no roommate in a large corner room, so there was no one to remind me to get to class or even to just tell me to shut off all the noise so they could sleep.
My feet finally touched down on the ugly orange and yellow thin striped carpet that I'm pretty sure hadn't been changed since the late 70s. I did my obligatory stretching and cracking of my body back into place and then padded over to the microwave to start my college breakfast of champions, two strawberry Pop Tarts from the package I'd purchased from the commissary. I knew there would never be a point in my entire college career where I'd be functional enough this early to get dressed, go down three flights of stairs or grab the elevator, actually go get food from the cafeteria, wait in line, pay for it, and then sit and eat it before classes. Pop Tarts it was.
I was still half asleep and hadn't been paying attention to the tv, which for some reason had the volume low as opposed to the loud level I usually cranked it up to before bed. I took a quick glance at it. There was a lot of smoke or something billowing from some city somewhere and my thought was quite literally an annoyed, "why do those other countries have to fight all the time?" I walked back to the bunk bed and laid back down until my third alarm of the day went off with a prolonged BEEEEEP! I wiped my eyes, and rolled back up and then focused my attention square on the tv.
It took me a couple of long seconds to realize that this wasn't "some other country." The buildings, the skyline, an unfamiliar cloud of smoke...BOOM! there was a larger cloud of smoke and fire that ballooned out of the skyscraper. I felt my heart skip a beat. The reporters let out gasps, and some, oh my God's. I was awake now. I was really and truly awake now. The radio alarm came on again, but this time it was a set of the same panicky voices as the ones I was watching on television.
I remember darting up to the window on instinct. I looked outside of it at the perfect day before me, and grabbed the phone and shakily dialed my brother. The phone rung and rung and no one picked up. I didn't know what kind of message to leave because I didn't really know what all was happening, but I hung up and dialed my parents number. Pick up, pick up, God, please pick up. My mom answered. We both frantically spoke about what we were seeing. Mom, I don't know, I just woke up and they are saying there were fires in the buildings, but then, they think they were planes! This is crazy! My mom tried reassure me, but she was scared too. Keep your cell phone on you and have it on, she said deftly, and we hung up with that.
I've never really had a moment in my life where I had no clue of what to do or where to go or been in a true daze like I was in that moment. I've also never felt so alone, even to this day, as I was in that moment. Suddenly the no roommate thing was the worst situation I could ever be in because there was no one to talk to, to cry with, to yell with, to panic with. It was just me. I stuck my head outside of my dorm room, and peered down the long hall. Silence. I couldn't hear any of the other 32 girls on my floor doing anything. I went to the bathroom down the hall to see if anyone was in there, and it was silent. I slowly walked back down the hall to my room hoping to hear voices of someone maybe waking up too and watching it, but it was quiet. It was just too damn quiet.
I couldn't stay in my dorms anymore and no one was saying or doing anything, so I packed up my stuff and started walking to class, but really to just find someone, anyone that I knew to talk to about what was happening. As I began to walk down the stairs and onto the path, it was this surreal moment. Everyone was normal. No one was talking about it at all. This was mind you, the era before internet on cell phones, so there were no instant alerts or updates people could see. Nope, everyone was just yammering on about this or that test or this or that teacher and some cute guy they saw at the quad. I wanted to scream! It was the Twilight Zone. How could I be the only one who knew about the horror on tv?!?
I went to class and the Italian Hulk started his history lesson as usual. Didn't even skip a beat. No one said anything. No one mentioned what I'd just seen. I thought I was going crazy, literally crazy, or maybe I was in a dream, but everything was so real. I pinched myself. They say to do that to wake yourself up, but I was still there, and my arm hurt. Class ended, and I plodded back to my dorm room and flipped the tv back on. Smoke and ash were everywhere. They were playing the scenes over and over. Two planes. Horror. People were walking and screaming and running cell phones in hand. More and more details poured out and we knew, though unconfirmed now, that it was terrorism. The word came down that all classes had been officially cancelled. I called my boyfriend, and his roommate answered. I asked him if it was cool to come over, and he welcomed me. My best friend, who'd finally made it to campus only to have classes cancelled, came with me.
The four of us watched as terrified people waved articles of clothing out of their high floor window offices begging for someone to help them. Bodies began to fall from the buildings and the reporters were saying they were no longer going to show close ups of the buildings for that reason. And then, the buildings began to topple. Another plane went down in a field. Another hit the Pentagon. It was just so much going on. I had just gotten to a point where I wasn't afraid to go to school anymore after the first really well known school shootings in a while by students had happened, and now I felt that same fear all over again. The mass evacuations started in the city. No one knew if it was going to be just New York or Washington or everywhere. Both my aunt's worked for well known powerful companies and they'd been told first to evacuate, then to come back, but both had just grabbed their stuff and left ignoring the call to come back out of sheer fear. No one knew what or if they would be next.
To this day, every time I talk about it or write about it, it still makes me tear up. It makes me really think about family and friends. Ironically, I lived in a set of twin towers at the time, and for a long time every time I would see an airplane flying near, it would freak me out and I had a very hard time sleeping for a while thinking about all of these ordinary people who woke up, put their shoes on, maybe had a pop tart like me, and then went to work and a few hours later they were jumping from buildings, and being burned alive, or crushed to death because a set of ruthless strangers half way across the world decided that they should have to die that day. I think about all the heroes and how many people went back in or lent a hand, or later on gave so much needed emotional support to the survivors and the families who lost so many that day.
Somebody asked, all these years later, do people still care or remember this day, and the answer is yes. I don't think you can forget something like this. It's in the back of my mind, and when something like this happens in Paris, Florida, Boston, in various parts of Africa and India, and around the world, it brings me right back to that day and reminds you every single day of your life that you can't take it for granted and that we have really got to work on for ourselves, pushing for friendship and understanding for those that are not like us, so that we do not get to a point where we can't see people as people with families and friends just like us.
My heart and my respect goes out to all the survivors, the families left without their loved ones, to the heroes that often times gave their lives to help perfect strangers, and for all those that continue to choose to live their lives in love and friendship.