I was 18 and a senior in high school, located just north of Manhattan in Connecticut. My area has a lot of commuters into Manhattan, specifically downtown where the WTC complex was.
I remember walking into a class and my teacher had a TV on with confusing news coverage of a helicopter flying around the burning tower. I wasn’t sure what it was at first, then sat down next to my friend who said “the World Trade Center is on fire”. They panned out and I saw the gaping holes in each tower and I was speechless. One girl in class left because her father worked there. Another kid was called out of class because his uncle, who was later found to have perished, worked there. Everyone knew someone who was in lower Manhattan. Even the wise guy class clowns were crying.
The bell rang to switch classes, but nobody moved. The classrooms and hallways were silent. Our principal came over the loudspeaker and informed us officially of what was happening. He said we will continue school through the end of the day but as the day went on, less and less people remained at school. By 1 pm, only about half of the people remained.
I left and got in my car. I turned on the radio, normally bumping with pop music, only to hear the news on every radio station. I tried to call my mom and cell service was down. I got home and called her from the landline and we cried on the phone together. We drove to our local beach and looked down Long Island Sound to see a plume of smoke. A large crowd gathered and saw the same. It was eerily quiet other than the sobs.
That evening probably around 8-9PM, I had to get out of the house, so I drove around. The enormity of what happened didn’t hit me until I drove past our local Metro North station, which takes commuters right into midtown Manhattan. It was full of cars at a time of the day it should be empty. I stopped my car and was overwhelmed with grief.
It was the first time in my life I felt unsafe in my own community. I knew life in America would never be the same.