On 9/11 I was 22 years old. I had just graduated from college in May and was looking forward to starting a new job in Virginia. I was enjoying the last few days of summer at my sister’s place in Edgewater, New Jersey. On 9/11 I woke up early. I made some breakfast and turned on the TV. As I sat there flipping through TV channels, I came across CNN and got my first glimpse of that infamous day, billowing smoke coming out of the North Tower. It was a shocking image, but not traumatic as it would later become. Like most Americans watching the initial footage that morning, I genuinely thought it was a freak accident. Yes, people had died or were dying, but it was contained to a few floors and firefighters were surely on the scene already. Minutes later, I watched the second plane hit the South Tower live on CNN. I remember feeling numb, anxious, and confused. The thought of “terrorism” hadn’t completely sunk in yet, and CNN was still reluctant to use this word. I did not want to believe an attack of this magnitude could be possible on U.S. soil. But as the minutes ticked by, I began to hear new outlets use the words “deliberate act” and report of people jumping to their deaths. Now the reality of the situation hit me. After watching the South Tower collapse on TV, I proceeded to go outside. My sister lived on the Hudson River, right across from Upper Manhattan. I wanted to see if I could get a glimpse of what remained of the WTC. I walked over to the river’s edge and looked out, only to see ash and smoke. I only realized later on that I had just witnessed the collapse of the North Tower.
In the weeks following 9/11, I was anxious, depressed, and traumatized. I was glued to my TV, and re-watching the events of that day probably didn’t help. I finally switched off the TV and decided I wanted to put a human face to the tragedy, not just images of collapsing towers and clouds of dust. So, I began to pour through the list of victims published on CNN and other websites. What struck me right away was that the victims were of all ages, income groups, and ethnicities. It could have been anyone. I didn’t know any of them personally, but I developed a connection with one particular 22-year old female victim. That connection stemmed from the fact that, like me, she had just graduated in May. We were both excited to be out in the real world and had the rest of our lives to look forward to. But in the span of one morning, that all came to a sudden end for her. She was working on the 99th floor in the South Tower. To this day at age 40, whenever the anniversary of 9/11 comes around, I think of her more than anything else that happened that day. So much has happened to me in the last 18 years. I’ve gotten married, have two beautiful children, and experienced so much. I can’t stop but wonder what amazing things life had in store for her.