I was a 15 year old ninth grader near Atlanta, Georgia that year. It was one of the rare times I wasn’t faking sick (Something I did every few months if I could get away with it.). But on September 11, 2001, I was genuinely sick with the flu and down for the count. I was asleep and out cold at the time of the attacks.
My mom suddenly flung my bedroom door open and shouted,”We’re under attack!” Those words had me springing up in bed, utterly disoriented and confused, but coming fully awake in under five seconds. I had no clue that she was talking about. Under attack? Did she mean some kind of verbal attack from distant relatives whom would cause drama sometimes? Did she mean someone was physically trying to attack our house? I had no idea, but I got up as she insisted I come to her room to watch the news on her TV. I can’t recall if she is the one or if it was seeing it on TV, but I understood the words,”America is under attack” and at the time I got woken, I don’t remember caring about what time it was, but the buildings were still standing and we were still confused and shocked.
I remember staring at the footage being replayed of the second plane hitting the tower and then live footage of the two buildings with gaping holes in them, and them interviewing people on the streets. I remember being shocked and terrified because as we flipped back and forth between every news station to get different perspectives, one thing was clear. We weren’t safe yet. They were saying there were reports of more hijacked planes and planes still up in the air (and I don’t recall where in all of this that we learned about the Pentagon, but that just added to the horror and devastation).
My mom and I kept listening and talking. We talked about how we wondered how the firefighters would put out the fire and rescue people from that high up. We thought the helicopters flying around would try to rescue people from the top of the building who were clearly going to be trapped above the impact zones. We still held out hope that they could all be rescued. On one hand we kept hearing how many people were in both buildings, on the other, we kept hearing that that since it was early morning there may not have been that many. I will give it to the news stations that even when they had inaccurate information, I don’t remember any of them spouting out definite numbers as to how many were in the buildings at the time. It was obvious that nobody was certain how many were in there and strangely I had this impression in my mind that maybe only a few hundred were in the buildings and that definitely they would have evacuated the second one before it got struck, so I didn’t think it was possible anyone in the second tower could have been hurt, let alone killed.
I don’t remember exactly when we heard about flight 93 crashing, but I do recall the utter confusion and uncertainty about what had happened on board that flight. Like why they had crashed in the middle of nowhere, what had gone wrong, and very early reports I remember hearing some speculation that the plane might have been shot down by the military to keep it from crashing into another crowded building, but luckily that wasn’t the case. My mom and I talked before that even, about what would happen now that our military was actively policing the skies, with planes still up in the air that could still be hijacked, and what might happen if they were forced to shoot them down, a plane full of innocent people. We were worried about how many other places might be hit, and what if somewhere near us were in danger too, etc. I remember it being a real concern and fear that we weren’t safe.
It was the first time in my life I didn’t feel safe in general, like thinking I could go out into some public building and end up dead from planes or a bombing. I also know we thought some bombs might have been in the twin towers at the time, along with the planes, just based on the incident my mom kept talking about in 1993. There was a lot we didn’t yet know.
I remember watching the first building starting to collapse and not understanding what I was seeing. I think my mom and the news people had to say it several times, that the buildings were collapsing. It really shocked me to think these big towers could come down. And I kept still thinking nobody was in them anymore, but I was worried about the people on the streets. Seeing those billowing clouds, I was worried all of the people were going to die down there. I had some impression though that the buildings really were empty at the time, also probably based on some of the interviews they got from people who evacuated the buildings, I figured that meant everyone got out safely mostly and that some must have made it to the rooftops if they were trapped above, and rescued by helicopters.
The second building collapse I didn’t expect either, seeing how high up the impact of the plan was, I thought, and my mom thought too, that the first tower coming down was because it had been hit near the middle, but that other near the top was likely to hold, apart from maybe the top breaking off. (I do recall we did see and hear about people jumping, and it to this day terrifies me to think of people trying to escape death, being disoriented, desperate for another second of fresh air, and hoping by some miracle there would be some giant net to catch them below when nothing like that could exist or help them and they were doomed, as they jumped, fell, or were pushed, to their deaths, so I was aware on some level that some people had died. I just thought the number was likely to be 30 people not nearly 3000….That sort of thing…I couldn’t have comprended such a thing at that time.
We were sad and shocked and confused and watched the news the entire rest of the day. I forgot about how sick I was, really didn’t even notice my fever shot up that evening and I was sick as heck for several days afterwards! But I still remember days after, getting up to watch the news in between passing back out from exhaustion/flu. It wasn’t for a while, days? Weeks? Before we knew and understood just how many people lost their lives that day. I remember them finding some people buried in the rubble a long while after the buildings collapsed and still holding out hope they would at least find a few more. But that never happened. The place looked like a war zone.
My mom said we would go to war, and she knew the world had changed, though I didn’t really understand that yet. Before that day, I was naive, innocent, gullible. I’d never given a conscious thought to things like terrorism and what might cause such things, and why people would deliberately kill other people, or themselves, in such a horrific way. But after that day, I couldn’t NOT think about such things and learn more than I ever hoped to know and understand. It shaped the kind of person I am as I’ve grown. I’m more conscious of the world around me and have learned to ask questions.
That day impacted me and my life and it is truly impossible for me to ever forget it.