I was in the fourth grade, and it was the Tuesday of the first or second week of school. We were sitting on the carpet or something, in the middle of the day, when I got called down to the office on the intercom, and could I bring my backpack and schoolbooks?
That was the first hint that something was wrong. When I got to the office both my parents were there, and together the three of us walked home. I asked why they were at school and why were we going home. It turned out that they had been in a meeting with the principal or nurse or someone when the news came in, and since they were debating whether or not to send the kids home early anyway, my parents offered to just take me home with them. So when they did eventually let out the schools, I was the first one to go home.
My parents explained what had happened in New York on the walk back. I recognized the World Trade Center from our frequent trips to visit relatives in New York. My grandma sometimes bought theater tickets there on Tuesday mornings, but thankfully she hadn’t gone that Tuesday, and everyone else, even my aunt who lived in Manhattan, was fine.
At home all I wanted to do was watch cartoons and forget everything terrible, but we didn’t have cable and all the channels had news coverage and footage of the towers falling instead of their regular programs. When my brother came home from the middle school, all he and my parents wanted to do was talk about it as well. I didn’t want to do that! I was 10 years old, I was scared, I didn’t understand how such terrible things could happen. So instead, I went up to my parents’ room, where I couldn’t hear them talking, and watched Peter Pan on their television because it was the happiest, most escapist, least worrisome movie I could think of. That was how I coped, and that’s what I associate with 9/11 to this day.
The next day everyone was talking about it at school. One boy was talking about Al-Qaeda and Osama bin Laden, which I’d never heard of before, and we discussed in class why someone might want to hurt us. The weird thing was that my dad had taken my brother and his friend to a Yankees game the week before, and when they passed the skyline on the way home, they had talked about terrorist attacks and what might happen if someone attacked the twin towers (as they had already done in the early 90s, remember). I remember the first anniversary, and the way things changed. Our fourth grade concert that spring, for example, had a patriotic theme, and it didn’t click until years later that that was probably a reaction to 9/11. Things like that.