It began like any other school day. I was a sophomore in high school, and like most teenagers, was in a state of fog in the early morning. During the time the first plane hit the twin towers, I was in Latin class. It was actually close to being time to change for classes. I remember those last few minutes of feeling safe in America, and I recall them better than any other recollection of my naivete.
The bell rang for class, and in the hallways the gossip had already started.
“Didja hear? A passenger plane crashed into the World Trade Center in New York!”
At that early point, we believed it to be a tragic accident. Questions abounded, where there any survivors? Why had they flown so low as to collide with a skyscraper. None of this was known yet.
I shuffled into math class, slightly more alert. My teacher had heard the rumors and had the class TV on CNN. I remember the cable was fuzzy, but she twisted the coaxial and got the picture to come in clearer. They were talking about it being an accident. But in minutes, my class let out a collection of screams and gasps as the news camera caught a second plane slamming into the other tower.
We all instantly knew that it was on purpose. The word terrorism wasn’t a widely used part of our innocent vocabularies, but we did know it and applied it. We couldn’t believe terrorists would attack on our soil. Wars were things that happened very far away in the countries we fought against. They didn’t bring the fight to us! There were tears being shed, cell phone calls being made to parents. The principals walked around the school and ordered the teachers to turn the news off and proceed with teaching. As soon as they walked away, my math teacher turned the television back on and locked her door from the inside.
We watched in horror as the events unfolded. Somehow the bells neglected to ring and we remained in the same rooms for double time. I remember watching intently as people plummeted to their deaths. We thought they were debris from the wreckage, but they were actually people at the end of their lives. Desperation drove them to evade the deadly fires even though certain death was the only option. I remember wondering what they were thinking as they plunged.
I remember wondering idly how much it would take to repair the crash damage to the WTC when the symbols of a nation suddenly came crumbling down on LIVE television. I began crying because I am an avid fan of architecture. The loss of a landmark that I had aspired to visit stung deeply. The massive human loss hadn’t quite sunk in. That began to hit right about then as well. I wondered if ANYONE could have gotten out from the top in time at all. My immediate worry was for the firefighters, whom the news had reported as just having ENTERED the building which had now become rubble. I know logically that they are supposed to rescue people, but I wondered how they could have rushed in to their deaths. I sobbed harder, and I wasn’t alone. Most of the class was in shock and grief. We were so young. We were ranged in ages of about 14-17. I was 15 myself. I suddenly felt transposed. I felt what those who had first heard about Pearl Harbor’s attack. I realized we have it much worse. We just watched the deaths of thousands on live television; an amenity that didn’t exist in the 1940s.
We learned of the attack on the Pentagon, and the crash in Pennsylvania. Some student pointed out that our town had some potential targets and was not more than an hour’s flight from Dulles in D.C. Panic ensued. Parents rushed to the school and took their children home to be with them. I remained at school.
The day progressed. Eventually bells rang, and students drifted among classes, not necessarily their own. I, like many others, went to be with a favorite teacher whom I had always found to be a comforting presence. She allowed all who came to her class to sit in silence that we so needed. The rest of the day was a haze as I replayed the the visual memory of falling towers in my mind.
I remember going home to shocked parents. Having a free newspaper on the porch. They’d printed a second issue that day to cover the events. I think I kept that paper, somewhere.
That day was the last day I felt innocent naivete in being an American. The vigilance of the nation swept through like a wave. Now no one can ever trust again.