It’s been 13 years since that fateful day and I am finally writing about it. Long before my kids were a glimmer in my eye, I was faced with a tragedy that bewildered me. A student at SUNY Stony Brook and a student government representative, I was in the office doing some office hours when the first plane hit. The office staff called me over to the computer to watch what was happening right before our eyes. I had to leave to go to class, and the first building was still standing when I left. During the first class, a student got up screaming and left the room. The professor, not knowing what was happening in the outside world, chastised her for interrupting the class. (The next day, the professor apologized and we learned the student’s mother was in one of the buildings.)
I headed to my next class, which ironically was about religion in medieval times and the crusades. Our professor assured us not to jump to terrorist conclusions in regards to the two planes crashing into the twin towers. This was a revelation, because it was now TWO planes that had hit two buildings. One plane into one building could have been just an accident, but TWO planes meant that there was intent. Being that this was a class that clearly discussed Islam, our professor encouraged us not to assume that it was Muslims who perpetrated this horrendous act. She also encouraged us not to take it out on any other student on campus who was Muslim. It was then that we learned that both buildings were not only hit by planes, but had actually collapsed. Tears began to roll down so many of the students’ eyes. We could not fully comprehend what just had happened.
After class, I had to head to one of my part time jobs at a Deli, where I was closing that night. The NY Daily News released a flash edition by 4pm that delved into all of the information they had at the time and I was one of the first people to hold it in my hands. I put away 7 copies because I knew that this was something we were going to need to remember.
I heard from my dad who was a NY Safety Officer, certified as a Fire Fighter, because they called him into NYC where he worked. He was telling me how the highways were closed off and they had to let him through so he could get into the city. I think he was gone for almost 3 days, but they did not make him go to the actual grounds. They needed him to cover for the officers who had.
The next few days were in a whirl. I stayed glued to the tv for news coverage as if my life depended on it, and in a way it might have depending on how far the terrorists were willing to go. After some point, I had to stop myself. It was sickening to see all of the dead bodies and mourning people, and watching the people jump from the burning buildings being played on loop.
And for a short time, there was a sense of nationalism. Everyone displayed flags on everything, including those double-flag bearing clips for their car windows. There is a phenomenon in sociology in which people are drawn closer by identifying or creating an “outside” group. The unity felt good, but we knew it wouldn’t last.
I remember standing outside at a candlelight vigil and my mother’s neighbors were telling us how their son never made it home. He was a fire fighter and we prayed they would find him trapped, but he was never found. A fellow student government officer was a volunteer firefighter who was also called into the city to do his time. The stories he told me were so depressingly sad. For weeks, our campus was hounded by reporters because one of our professors was the brother of the newly installed President to Afghanistan. And a scheduled campus appearance by Nelson Mandela was understandably canceled.
I thought back to visiting the World Trade Center with my father as a girl. It was a surprise trip since it was a school day, but my father did not like traveling into the city alone on his days off and he needed to pick up something. I remember him buying me a piece of amethyst from the museum, and I still had it when the terrible events occurred on 9/11.
Strangely, I began thinking about Aaliyah who had passed two weeks before this and thinking that she was spared the heartache of seeing the city in turmoil. For many months afterward, we were reminded of what occurred as the subway didn’t stop in certain places anymore. I could never bring myself to visit the footprints.
Even now, when I view movies with shots from across the water looking up at the Brooklyn Bridge and the missing towers, I cringe. And when I see older movies where the towers are still there, I wince. It hurts. It hurts to see that there is so much hate over religion. It hurts to see how much blood has been shed over a God that seeks for us to love others as ourselves.
It took me 13 years to write about this, but the story has been milling around in my head ever since it happened. It’s the reason I can recall all of the minute details and the feelings I felt. They say you can never really remember pain, but I can tell you that is not true. I will #NeverForget