A week before my freshman year of college was to start and I was to move into the dorms with my mystery roommate, she finally returned one of 2 messages I'd left for her over the summer, that just said she'd found an apartment off campus and would not be rooming with me. I never did meet her, but that phone call meant I had an entire dorm room, one of the biggest, all to myself which was great considering that never happened for freshman. In fact, all my friends had 1-3 roommates a piece, but not lucky me.
A month into school and making the adjustments to life without parents, my morning routine was supposed to be, tv alarm goes on, ignore it, regular alarm goes on, ignore it, and back up alarm comes on from across the room where I purposely set it so I'd have to get up to turn it off, and then I'd have to get up. Alarm 1 came on with the tv, so I ignored what was a view of a smokey New York skyline. Then my second came on, and instead of ignoring it, I actually woke up, rubbing sleep from my eyes. I plodded over to get a pop tart (breakfast of champions), and heated it a bit in the microwave. By the time of the last beep, I was looking at the tv.
There was smoke rising from a building, but there had been so much going on in the world, that I remember literally rolling my eyes and shrugging and thinking something like, why are other people always trying to kill one another all the time. Little did I know, this was right on American soil. I finished Pop Tart no. 1, lazily hanging off my bed, before peaking my head around to really look at the tv who's volume I'd turned to low. When I did, that's when things started to sink in for real.
This was America, not someone's else's problem. This was right here, right now. I raced to turn the volume up to hear what was going on, and right on camera, a plane ran straight into a building. It was truly one of those moments in my life where if you'd told me, there was no way I would have ever believed it, but it was right in front of my eyes. The first plane, the on air reporters didn't really see, and/or couldn't say for sure that it was a plane. There was so much confusion as it was happening live, but after the second one hit and people on the ground confirmed that there had been two planes, chaos reigned down upon New York and the world.
I didn't know what to do. I had no roommate to wake up and talk to. I didn't know anyone all that well on my floor yet. I just remember all the joy of having my own room as a freshman totally disappearing and being replaced by just gut wrenching fear. I called my brother first, and he didn't pick up so I called my mom who had already been watching. I was freaking out and she tried to calm me down. After a very hysterical 30 minute phone call, she suggested I go to class to distract myself from all of this, but I couldn't stop watching the tv or thinking about what to do or where to go or who else to call. I needed not to be alone at that point.
I was in a fog after I hung up, just floating through the halls of the dorm. I felt like a ghost because no one was awake yet, and it was almost like I was there, but did not exist. I wanted someone to rush up and be like, are you watching this, come in my room, let's talk, or hug, or something, but all the doors were locked up tight and not a soul was in the communal bathrooms.
Sixteen years on, I recall this story every year, on this day in some version or other. Sometimes it's really long and meticulously detailed because I can remember almost hour by hour what happened that entire day, and sometimes the shortest version...I was a freshman in college when 9/11 happened, and this day had a profound effect on me, or somewhere in between the two. It helps to talk about it, because of course, it's never ended. Even with the death of Bin Laden, we're still fighting terrorists in the here and now. Some live on our soil, some kill abroad, and we hear snippets of it, here and there.
Some 2000+ lives were taken that day in an instant. Just like that, gone. Fathers, sisters, children, grandparents, cousins, friends, neighbors, all gone. Some children will never know their parent or parents because they were just being born or too young to remember them. I try not to think about that too much but for them, I imagine the hurt all to real, each year, every day maybe, just thinking of what they lost and what could have been.
Like I ask my mom about Kennedy or MLK or the moon landing, future generations might inquire with us about what this day was like. My life always carries with it two days that I remember with this level of clarity, and one is the definitive best day of my life thus far, and this, one of the worst. They say never forget, and you don't. You can stuff it down, but something can trigger it, especially seeing the date on the calendar. It's almost like a black mark there that can only ever really be smudged, but never erased. We give our thanks and gratitude to all the first responders and people who gave their lives to help others and those that continue to do so at home and abroad. People say, why keep bringing it up each year, and dragging it on, and that's why...to honor people like you or I who could have been in those buildings, or on those planes just going about our business or could have had a family member we lost or cared about in those buildings or planes or as first responders. We remember this day to honor them, and to remind ourselves that the fight is not yet over, as long as there is evil lurking and wanting to make a day like this a reality for others.