On September 11, 2001, I was fifteen, a sophomore in high school, living in a middle-class suburb commuter town about an hour and change away from New York City. My dad drove across the New York border to work every day, and so did many, many others in our community. Southwestern Connecticut has an almost incestuous relationship with New York; that's the only way the rest of the country knows who and where we are. On Yankees vs Red Sox, the state splits 50/50, but New York defines us.
Shaken as we were, we still weren't nearly the hardest hit.
The announcement came mid-way through second period. I was in Mr. Malcolm's pre-calculus class. I didn't like it exceptionally well, since I thought it was boring and Mr. Malcolm's Boston accent droned on, but I got good grades irregardless. I was half-way paying attention to correcting our homework when our principal came over the speakers. The words of the announcement and the name of my principal are lost to me- I don't remember if he introduced himself. What he did say was couched in caution – somber but steady. The World Trade Center had suffered some sort of catastrophic damage. Being a smart man, our principal had no desire to set off a riot of emotion in his school, but clearly felt obligated to tell us that Something Bad was happening. The gist of what he said was . . . alarming, but not world-shaking. I had no concept of the size of the Two Towers, the sheer number of people affected. I couldn't have even told you what they were. It wasn't /real/ to me, not at that instant.
The announcement was brief, the class resumed, and we all tried to get things done while not-knowing and not-realizing lurked in the back of our minds. Students who were unduly affected could ask permission to watch the news in the library- or anyone with a study period or lunch. Classes more or less continued, with rumors and words spreading like wildfire through the hallways between each- those who had gone to see the news informed those who hadn't. Word came that it was a plane – that a tower collapsed- that the second might follow. There was worry about the Pentagon. Life might have kept moving forward, but it was grim and distracted, with one eye over its shoulder.
It didn't become real to me until my turn came to go watch the news. I can't remember if a teacher let us go, or I waited until my lunch, but I know I ate fast that day. There were more people in the library then than I had ever seen before- at least fifty- and it was dead silent, except for the sound of Dan Rather and pandemonium on the screen, an hour or so southwest of us.
I watched the footage of the planes hitting, the towers falling, bodies dropping, and people desperately trying to outrun a wave of dust and debris. A desperate, quiet horror suffused the room.
September 11, 2001, was picture day at my high school. If you had a yearbook from that year, you'd have a snapshot in time of exactly what we looked like, that day the towers fell. The photographers didn't even try to make us smile. There was no pretense; in, out, done.
What I remember most clearly from the evening of news coverage that followed was Congress (some portion, anyways) singing “God Bless America” on the Capitol steps. And being furious. We had been attacked by Muslim terrorists, and our government's reaction was to show exactly how small (non-existent) the separation between church and state was. It would alienate anyone not already enraged with us, and not to mention, anyone /not/ comfortably Judeo-Christian within its own borders. As an atheist, it left me spitting mad.
School moved on as scheduled, but there was a bomb scare halfway through the next. Of course there was. Flags abounded everywhere, from cars to houses to clothing. Drives for food, clothes, water, blood and money started up almost immediately; I can't remember what we gave to whom, but there was the feeling that we had to do /something./
At the time, I didn't know anyone involved or affected. Years later, I had a co-worker who was on the fourteenth floor of the second tower. She described to me, in detail, how it was, and how her floor was amongst the lucky ones. Details obviously couldn't convey the depth of how bad it was. She never could stay with the same company, after.
Ten years later, what do I remember? I remember my principal interrupting my pre-calculus class. I remember horrific rumors spreading through the hallways. I remember reality sinking in slowly as terrible details and video emerged. I remember being upset at my government. I remember that restless desire to do something, and being proud of those who could.
Ten years later, I don't know what it is I could do, or even what I should. Still, I remember.
Maybe that's enough.
(This is more for my memory than for anything else. And the hell of the thing is, I shall post it with a giant chicken icon. I am so sorry.)