Monday, September 12, 2011

I remember

It's fall of my senior year of high school and I just finished a long essay test in A.P. Lit.  My hand is exhausted from writing and my brain is pretty tired too, so I'm looking forward to watching a video in my next class.  I head downstairs to A.P. Gov and the lights are turned down low.  There's a burning building on the tv screen, but I think Mr. M's just getting the movie ready.

When everybody gets to class, Mr. M tells us that a plane has crashed into the World Trade Center in New York.  It's CNN on the tv, not the movie we're watching.  Wow, what a terrible accident!  He lets us watch the footage for a couple of minutes and then starts the video.

Partway through the video, the teacher from the room next door walks in, looking like he's seen a ghost.  He says ANOTHER plane has hit the OTHER tower of the World Trade Center.  What?  How could TWO planes... Mr. M turns off the movie and switches back to CNN.  Now both towers are burning with big ugly horizontal stripes where the planes hit.  The reporters are using words like "attack" and "terrorists".  We are glued to CNN now, listening to the reporters speculate as if they know what's happening any better than we do.  They don't, of course, but our brains desperately want someone to explain.

3rd period ends and we spill out into the hallway, asking everyone else whether they heard what happened.  I think we just sit and talk in 4th period.  Then, there's Marching Band.  One of my friends in my section in band has his birthday today. I brought cookies for all the horn players, but he doesn't want them.  He says his birthday is ruined.  We can't believe we actually have to go outside and practice marching our show!  Can't we just watch the news or sit around some more?

The sky is crystal clear as we practice.  Clear blue and completely empty.  You don't think you really notice planes in the sky (especially when you're supposed to be concentrating on marching and playing!), but it sure looks wrong when there aren't any at all for the entire 45 minutes of practice.  There's also hardly any traffic on the two major roads that intersect by our practice field.  Our music just sounds eerie in the silence, and our marching clashes with the stillness all around.  Nobody can concentrate.  We just want to go inside.

When we do, even the boisterous lunchroom is somber and subdued.  I think this might be when I found out about the plane that hit the Pentagon.  A boy we know is scared to death because his dad is working in the Pentagon today.  The principals scramble to help him find out if his dad is ok.  (He is!)  After lunch, more watching the news and talking in my other classes until it's time to go home.

At some point, I hear that another plane crashed after it turned around right over OHIO and started heading back toward D.C.  At some point, the towers collapse.  I don't remember when I found out about all of those other pieces of the tragedy.  I don't even know if I saw them live or only replayed.  I think I might have seen the first tower collapse live while glued to the (until then) unchanging images of the burning towers.  Then again, I might have just seen that replayed so many times that my mind is playing tricks on me.

I think marching band practice after school got canceled, because I remember sitting at home on the floor for hours, watching the news until my parents got home.  It wasn't that I wanted to keep watching those horrible images, but I just couldn't stop.  I think I just wanted to understand the un-understandable.  It was like I needed that much proof that it was really happening. If I didn't watch, wouldn't New York and D.C. and Pennsylvania just be how they always were?  These crazy things were happening so far away they seemed unreal, and yet on the other hand they seemed to be happening right in our town, etched in my mind forever.

Now it's hard to believe that 10 years have passed.  My students don't even remember 9/11: they were only one and two and three years old!  I struggle with understanding that they don't understand, that they don't know what it was really like.  To them, it's just like when my parents talk about Kennedy being shot.  You think, "Wow, that would be horrible..." but you can't really imagine the feelings.  You don't really know what it's like for the whole world to turn upside down in an instant, for something halfway across the country to pound you in the chest and take your breath away.  I hope they never have to know that feeling, and I hope I never have to be the adult trying to help a classroom full of kids deal with it.  And yet, I want them to understand and know what it was like.

(image credit: City of Dublin:
This weekend, the city displayed a breathtaking memorial on a field next to my high school: one eight-foot flag for each person killed in the attacks.  3,000 doesn't seem like that many until you see it stretched out in rows like the crosses at Arlington.  It was amazing to reflect as I looked over that field of flags right next to the building where I experienced that entire day.  Children were there with their families, and I was glad to see them visualizing what is history to them and gaining an appreciation for what we adults felt on that day.  Hopefully, those who understand the past will build a better future.


  1. Thank you for sharing your memories. For all of us who do remember the day, it is a shared moment, isn't it? It doesn't matter that we did different things, but we shared that time. I hope that we do have a better future, as you said.

  2. I am glad you wrote about your memories of that day.

  3. I missed this last year, Jen, and for that I'm sorry. Thank you for sharing it with me today. I went right through your day with you. I cannot imagine what it must've been like to be in school (and to have to go through 45 minutes of marching band practice, nonetheless) on that day. I was a working girl in my mid-20's back then, so my experience is vastly different. However, just like the Challenger explosion, it's going to be one of those days that we all remember where we were and what happened as if it were yesterday.


Comments make me happy and I'd love to hear from YOU! :-)