Sunday, September 11, 2011

Where I Was & What I Thought on September 11th, 2001

Although school starts for many people across the United States after Labor Day, it started in mid-August where I went to high school. So, rather than being a week into a new school year, we were already fully underway. I was a senior in high school on September 11th. But I was going to a school that I had started in the sixth grade, and the majority of my classmates had done the same. There were only 167 in my graduating class, but I really only interacted with the other 50 or so IB students in my grade. Of the seven courses I was taking, I only had two unfamiliar teachers, as IB kids tended to have the “best” teachers year after year. So, as you could imagine, with no new students and only two new teachers, the year wasn’t all that “new,” as opposed to just a continuation of the previous June.  

Back to the morning of 9/11. I woke up and caught the bus like I always did. I went to my first period class, Orchestra, like I had every morning of my high school career. For us seniors, we were still a bit hostile over the change in direction after six years under a tough-as-nails teacher, who had left in an education scandal of sorts over the summer. The new guy wasn’t a bad teacher, he just didn’t have a lot of respect from the senior class. In retrospect, we gave him a much harder time than he deserved, for much longer than was necessary. After Orchestra I went to History of the Americas, where I couldn’t tell you what we learned that day (and I would’ve looked it up, but my HS notes are thousands of miles away at the moment), but later in the day I was very sorry that I had had history before the attacks. After history was Spanish IV, and that’s when everything changed.

It was a fairly “easy” day in Spanish. We were doing some sort of partner/group work, just practicing conversational Spanish. Out of nowhere, the art teacher from next door opened the door and took a step in. “Kim, turn on the TV,” she said, referring to our teacher by her first name. Of course, this stirred all of us and we craned our necks as the television was turned on… seconds later the second tower was hit. Chills spread throughout the room as we got goosebumps and our jaws dropped. We weren’t sure what was going on.  The television stayed on as concern began to rise. ­­­­Our eyes were glued to the screen as the minutes ticked by. We tried to get a little work done. We didn’t know if this was a planned attack or some sort of freak accident… but two planes hitting one building seemed awfully strange.

When class was over there seemed to be some confusion over whether or not we’d be switching classes that day. After a few teachers poked their heads out into the halls and saw some students had already been released, we were let go, too. I caught up with Jonathan in the hallway and headed to Calculus. He had been in that history class I mentioned earlier – and had a slightly better grasp of what happened. At this point, the main concern was that there would be more attacks… who knew how many planes had been compromised. When we arrived, we were begging the teacher to turn on the news. A Navy man, he was unaware that anything had happened, and thought we were pulling his leg. Despite the pleas of us and our classmates, he demanded that we settle down and began doing something with limits and derivatives again. It was one of the longest hours of my life.

On the way to lunch we talked with others, who had been watching the news for the past hour.  Between their reports and the televisions that were on when we entered the cafeteria (they did not remain on), we were brought up to speed. It turned out, the Pentagon had been hit, too. And another plane (later it was determined that it was aimed for somewhere in Washington, DC – likely the White House) crashed into the middle of nowhere in Pennsylvania. At that point, concern elevated to fear. There had been other attacks. This was not some sort of extreme coincidence. By this point the towers had collapsed as well. We knew thousands would be dead. We knew this would be an important day. And it wasn’t over.

At 17, my entire life was in front of me. I had decided upon what I would major just three months earlier, and I was looking forward to a year filled with hard work, memories, and promise. I wasn’t all that worried that anything would happen to our area… after all, I grew up in a boring city that is not known to many outside the state, and there still isn’t a mall in the county. But at the same time, who knew what would change to preserve safety everywhere? Would the luxury of freedom that I was just beginning to understand and enjoy be destroyed?

An announcement was made over that all extracurricular activities for that afternoon had been cancelled. No practices or games or meetings of any kind, county-wide. With that, fear turned to panic for some. I don’t remember if the cafeteria as a whole was louder or quieter that day. And, honestly, those at my lunch table (myself included) were more concerned about the workload for the week. I got up and asked the IB Coordinator if that afternoon’s “field trip” would take place as planned. It was. See, as part of our Biology III coursework, we did labs out at the Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institute once a month or so. We took two periods (in a rather complicated way, biology was back-to-back with Theory of Knowledge for all IB kids, so these two periods were often treated as a larger block for either course) and rode buses out there to do an hour or so of laboratory work. The fact that the school board had more or less shut down everything yet we were still going to Harbor Branch enraged some of my classmates. “God forbid the IB kids stop working” was the mantra heard throughout the lunchroom. I don’t know if it bothered me at all, really. If we didn’t go that day, we’d have to make it up later. And, since the 4th & 5th block went, it made sense that our 6th & 7th block would go, too.

Honestly, the events of the day get a bit hazy after that. Obviously we went to English after lunch, but I don’t remember that period at all. Again, if I had my notes from that day, I could tell you, LoL. And I remember sitting on the bus headed to HBOI, talking about the morning’s events, but I don’t remember anything else. Later, on the bus ride home, everyone was talking about the various teachers’ reactions. The younger kids (remember, it’s a 6-12 school) were quieter, but still talked about who let you watch TV and who didn’t. We speculated over whether “it” was over, or if more was to come. I got home and my sister was with my grandparents watching TV; they took her home with them after a Grandparents Day event at her school.

I can’t say that I watched the news that night. As per my usual, I did my homework. I think I worked on my extended essay (another IB-specific requirement, this time a 4,000 word research paper). I practiced my violin. I went to bed that night not worrying. I woke up the next day and went to school, unafraid. When I got to second period, several of us were dying to hear what our history teacher made of the previous day’s events. I can’t say now that I remember anything he said, but I know I would have written it down. That afternoon, I started to question what had happened. My sister, a fifth-grader, had received a homework assignment she was supposed to complete with the help of newspapers and television news. My mom struggled to help her with it, and I had no idea of the answers, either. The second or third question was something like “who is responsible for the attacks?” Well, this was only the day after it happened… this information wasn’t known yet! I was just as clueless, and immediately started arguing about the other questions on the assignment – while I supported “current events” homework as much as the next person, I thought that some of the questions on there were just absurd… the facts just weren’t clear yet. 9/11 went on to influence her classroom for weeks – she told me that the television was on in the background constantly, and they spent weeks clarifying 9/11 and other issues. Meanwhile, at my school, I learned that one boy lost his mother because of the hijacking and attacks. I didn’t know him (I think he was a freshman, maybe a sophomore), and he was out of school for a while. When he returned, I remember people not knowing what to say to him anymore. I don’t remember ever speaking a word to him (our paths did not often cross), though I smiled once. I want to say his mom had been a nurse and was a passenger on one of the planes, but I’m not sure anymore.

That’s the last thing I remember about my personal history with 9/11 ten years ago. I don’t recall when things started to come together. I don’t remember talking much about it for the next year. I don’t remember it directly affecting anything I did or thought. I turned 18 and registered to vote and took college tours. I took a ski trip to West Virginia with the youth group, saw a few concerts, and went to Busch Gardens with my friends. I took weeks of exams (literally. IB does that!) and went to Prom and graduated. I went away to college (six hours from my hometown) and started classes. And then, before I knew it, the first anniversary of 9/11 took place. There was a candlelight march through part of campus, and a friend and I went. Hundreds of people talked to one another about where they were and what changed for them and who they knew had died. I listened as a few students shared that they had chosen a state school because of 9/11 – they had originally intended to focus on more Ivy League universities. It was at that point that I think I first realized how much had changed because of those attacks, though it took several more years for me to realize how fortunate I was to have not been directly affected by the tragedies that day. Today, as I think about how ten years have passed and everything that has changed (flying is not as simple as it was in 2000, for starters), I’m thankful for all of the efforts that have been put forth to keep America free and safe and grand. I’m glad that I live here, and that I’ve been fortunate enough to travel our country often. Last year, Jonathan and I visited Ground Zero, and that really brought everything together for me…  to stand near where those towers once stood… it just begs you to reconsider the world as you know it