I had moved with my grandmother to Harlem the year before. I was twelve years old nearing thirteen, and had just started the seventh grade. It was a beautiful, warm morning–just starting to get cold as the season was changing. I never suspected that that day was going to be one of immense calamity.
I was in speech therapy very early that morning. My therapist was a blind woman. As I was answering her questions about what I hoped to accomplish that school year, one of her colleagues had barged into her room in a frenzy. What she’d uttered sounded incomprehensible and incoherent to me. “A plane crashed into the Twin Towers,” she cried. My blind speech therapist was aghast at the news, and I, twelve years old then, couldn’t process the tragedy that had occurred. I gathered my stuff and, steeping out into the hallway, saw droves of students and faculty walking unhurriedly, but dazedly toward the auditorium in the lower lobby as our principal was making the announcement over the speakers. We, as students, weren’t as fazed about it as the adults were, for we couldn’t process what had happened. We were dazed and befuddled by the panic the adults made.
We went into the auditorium, where the anxious din became hushed and the atmosphere, suspenseful to each moment. There were numerous NYPD officers standing on guard at the doors. I still couldn’t figure out what was happening, but felt that it was something completely out of my understanding and our depth; it felt like time stopped moving. Confused and nervous, I sat idly waiting for some change that would relieve me of the suspense.
There was no TV, so we couldn’t see what was happening.
The principal, Ms. Rivera, well-dressed in a brown pant-suit, walked up on stage, cleared her throat at the microphone, and began to speak. I don’t remember much of what she had said, but she advised her staff to remain calm and told us that we would be promptly dismissed early. About an hour later we had lunch, and after that we were dismissed. I went out into the vast school yard; the bright sky was tinted with thin brown dust that billowed up from Lower Manhattan. Fire trucks and police cars raced and traffic was too chaotic to take the bus home. So I took a long walk home, and as I was walking, I thought of Grandma, because she worked in a high school in Brooklyn. I wanted to get home so that I can call her, but when I got home, the phone was disconnected. I was alone in the house. I turned on the TV and saw people covered in dust running for safety. I was alone in the apartment. I lived on the fifteenth in a housing project and got scared. The news said that all the train were out of service, the bridges and expressways were closed off, and I realized that Grandma would be stuck in Brooklyn, and that I would be alone for the night. But later that night, my older cousin and two family friends came over and stayed with me. They lived in Brooklyn. We kept each other safe.
Even though I didn’t have a close encounter with the tragedy, I will always remember that darkest, fearsome day of my childhood as it was.