Every year on the anniversary of the worst act of terrorism our country has ever seen, possibly thousands of people answer the question, “Where were you?”
Where were you when life for an entire nation changed so drastically on what seemed to be an ordinary Tuesday morning?
I woke up that beautiful morning, had breakfast, and got on the school bus. I imagine I chatted with my friends on the bus and then at school. I imagine people in New York, Pennsylvania, and Virginia did much the same; got up, talked to loved ones, commuted, started their day.
I was in Ms. Sherman’s class when someone ran in and told Ms. Sherman that we needed to watch the news. When the TV illuminated, we saw the first Tower in flames. It was startling. I remember this cold feeling running through my body as if I had ice water in my blood. I was a week away from turning fifteen and had no idea at the loss of life or how many people were even in a building of that size. I’d hardly been out of Mississippi.
The second plane hit the Tower’s twin a few minutes later. That’s when it began to be clear that this was not a random accident. This was an attack.
By the time the news announced that the Pentagon had also been hit as well as a plane going down in a field in Pennsylvania, I was trembling. I remember students being all around, laughing, talking, and going about their day. I didn’t know what this would bring about, but I knew it was incredibly horrific and sad. The newscasters talked about the loss of the lives of hundreds, maybe thousands of people. My teenage mind couldn’t comprehend.
When the Towers fell, I remember watching the TV in horror with my heart pounding. Surely, I thought, anyone left alive in the buildings were able to evacuate. At fourteen, you still see the world as a movie. You hold out the hope that there’s always a hero to save the day. Many lives were saved that day by brave souls in uniforms as well as civilian clothing.
When I got home from school, I spent the evening hours on the phone with Tony. He was my best friend at the time. We hadn’t yet started dating. We watched the news and talked about the horrific the events of the day. Hundreds of people were missing. Their loved ones begged for any word of their fate and showed pictures of the missing on the news. Those photos showed people smiling during happy times. They were hearts and souls with dreams and hopes. They were gone in what seemed like an instant.
I searched the internet that night for information about the World Trade Center and Pentagon. The sheer size of the buildings left me reeling. I think that was when it began to register for me just how many people would have been inside, around, and involved with the Towers that morning. The Pentagon was left with a gaping, burning hole.
Ground Zero was still burning that night and would for the next 100 days. Videos of those who threw themselves to their death to escape the heat and flames haunted me. The thought of those trapped terrified me. What they must have experienced still makes me ache to think of it. Over the next months, I read the stories online. I read of people lost, those who were lost saving lives, and those who lived because someone saved them. I heard of people who heard last moments over the phone. I was shaken to my core.
Last night, I was thinking of the final count of the lives lost on that day.
I was living and going to school in a very small town on September 11, 2001. The town population was a little less than 2500. On that sad September day, there were more lives lost than there were lives in the town I lived in. That absolutely astounds me.
The losses continue after that day. There are those who can’t live with survivor’s guilt and those who develop illnesses from dust and chemicals.
Those who were lost lived, loved, were different races, genders, and lifestyles. They had children, were someone’s children, and left a staggering void in the hearts of those who knew and loved them. I hope they know the flood of love and unity our nation experienced after their losses. I hope they know that people like me who never knew them, have read their names, said a prayer for them, and remember their stories. After all, at the end of our lives, we all become stories. As long as I live, I’ll remember their stories.