I had another nightmare last night. This one didn’t have planes… the planes stopped crashing a few years ago. The dreams are so real… and the only real life situation that has ever brought about that sort of emotion and anxiety occurred on the morning of 9/11.
Earlier that summer, I’d found out I was accepted to a small women’s college. I was anxious about the transition since I was going to be 4 years older than the other freshmen but meeting my new roommate put me at ease. Her name was Dona and from the second I received her contact info, we began to chat on the phone.
Like girls do, we made plans for all the activities we would share as friends. Her goal for me was to visit the World Trade Center. She had said her favorite past time was to sit and people watch at Windows of the World. Of course, back then, all of those names were foreign to me… I had no idea that they would be so relevant in just a few months.
9/11/01 was the very first day of class at this new school. I woke up, trotted along and sat down with about 25 other girls. I had a block of class that lasted nearly 4 hours… from 8 until 11:45. I remember the teacher was doing her introduction to the course material and post-syllabus run through, she gave us a small break.
After we returned, she said that she didn’t know how to explain this but that the painters in the hall had just told her that an explosion had occurred in New York. We sat there, sort of jaded and thinking nothing of it, until the painters came into the class room and pulled her outside. They had a radio and had explained that it was more than just a simple explosion.
We had no tv in the classroom, so everyone’s imaginations took over. The dean of the school had sent a runner to our classroom to tell us to stay put, that no one was to leave their current location and that the campus was on lockdown. I don’t even remember who told us that it was the world trade center but within 10 minutes of finding out, I realized I needed to get in touch with my roommate.
I had only known her for the few months we’d been talking, but I knew that her dad worked in one of the twin towers. I borrowed a cell phone and called my room, she was drowsy but I told her she needed to turn on the tv, that I didn’t know what was going on…but that it was something she needed to see.
When we all came back from that break, people were in a panic. Students were saying that their loved ones had said that both buildings were blown up by bombs and that they had blown up the white house and the pentagon. They had said that bombs were falling from planes and that all planes were supposed to be grounded but that 6 more were on the loose. Right after we heard that, a plane flew overhead and everyone in the room became absolutely silent… I’m not sure that we even took a breath.
It all seems silly now, to know how safe we were compared to the poor people in NYC. At the time, with the information we had in our hands, most of us truly thought we were in danger. For at least 3 hours, I thought that 4 bombs had been dropped and 6 more were on their way to other locations.
Eventually, we had the all clear to return to our dorm rooms. I ran all the way across campus. When I came up to my room, my roommate was gone… my hallmates said that the counseling center had taken her and I later found out that they took her and several other students with parents at the towers. I flipped on my tv and I just stared… I have no idea for how long… but I just stared.
Since I was so late to the scene, everything was instant, no waiting, just loops playing over and over… First the fire, then the second plane and the screams of onlookers, then the people who jumped, then the first collapse and everyone running with no time to even scream, then the second collapse, and then live footage of the dark smoke and other buildings still on fire… They just kept looping it over and over and over with no explanation for what I was seeing…
The girls on my hall and I went to pray… some prayed for revenge, I prayed for tolerance… we all prayed though… regardless of whether or not we were religious. By this time, we had emails from the president of the school trying to ease our fears and encouraging us to go on “as normal.” So, I went to another class at 3 that afternoon…
By nightfall, my roommate was back, her dad was alive. She had not heard from him until late that evening… he had been trapped in the city like so many other people. She said he had been late that morning and was still in transit when the first plane hit the first building. She said her family had not known if he was alive until he walked through their door. She also said something more troubling… that her family was warned to stay out of public view for fear of persecution.
Dona was from India… and even our own counseling center feared that the ingorance of retaliation could lead to backlash of anyone with dark skin. So, we sat in our dorm room, watching the same loops that had been played all day…and now feared that we would be targeted for another reason.
I don’t remember anything about the specifics of how we moved on…I remember that ALL of the channels went to live news broadcasts…I remember that we had several convocations to “process” our emotions… I remember the first time MTV came back on the air… I remember the benefit concert… I remember when the nightmares started…
I’d be in an open space.. with someone I loved… and I’d see the plane coming, already knowing it was going to crash… I would try to hide but no matter where I ran… the explosion following the crash always got to me and my family…and woke me up in a sweat…
I was totally safe on 9/11. I do not directly know a single person who perished that day. I did not even see it happen live on television. Yet, I still feel anxious and scared and wonder what will be next. I’m not a doomsday cheerleader nor do I consider myself pessimistic… I don’t worry over impossible things… but at least 1-2 times a month, I still wake up after a plane crash scared for my safety.
My heart goes out to all of those who lost more than peaceful sleep on 9/11. I can’t imagine the sadness that tried to take the place of the love you once shared with the victims. I want to thank each of you for the reluctant sacrafice you made to our country. I want each of you to know that even 6 years later… most of us still remember that day and what it means to our generation. The reason we don’t talk about it is not that we can’t remember… it’s that we don’t want to remember because it scarred us too.
Peace to each of you and thank you for letting me tell my story.