The bell rang, signaling the end of my first period Intro to Art class. It was freshman year of high school, and as I stood to leave I realized our teacher had turned on the television. On the screen was an image of the Pentagon, with words conveying that a plane had crashed into the building. I remember thinking that that was too bad, but continuing to walk out the door. I didn’t want to be late for homeroom.
My homeroom did not have a television, but by the time I reached second period science class, I had a rough idea of what was happening. I walked into the lab and my eyes immediately focused on the images flashing across the screen in the front left corner of the room.
We sat in alphabetical order. One of my friends’ last names also began with “Ko,” so he was on my right. I remember seeing his head down on the desk and asking him what was wrong.
“My aunt works in the World Trade Center,” he said.
It was then it hit me that although we were in suburban Minnesota, what was going on in New York and D.C. was affecting all of us, in some ways directly. My own father had spent several years commuting to New York City from Minneapolis for his job. His company had rented a one-bedroom apartment in Battery Park for the days when he was in town. I had stayed there with him once. We had walked to the World Trade Center and rode the elevators to the top floor of one of the buildings. The same buildings that were now inhaling fire and exhaling smoke.
That apartment building would soon be severely damaged by dust and debris.
Papa Bender was, in fact, out of town that day. A wave of panic came over me. Where was he traveling this week? I realized moments later that he was not in New York City. That he was actually in Sarasota, Florida, not all that far from a school where we would later learn the president was reading with young students.
My science partner didn’t have the luxury of realizing his family member was safe. The bell rang to signal the official start of class, and my teacher told us we would be suspending the day’s lesson to continue watching the events transpire. We were watching live when the South Tower collapsed. The image is permanently etched into my memory, and would have been regardless of how many times I would see it replayed that day. I could sense my classmate’s fear and felt his anxiety as he waited. And waited and waited. All he could do was wait.
Half way through the period, one of the women on the administrative staff came into our classroom and called out for my seat neighbor. She ushered him into the hallway and said that his parents had called the school with news about his aunt, knowing he’d be worried.
She was safe.
Of course, this was incredible news. Relief washed over him. It gave all of us a fleeting feeling of joy. Looking back, it is the only time I remember smiling for the rest of the day.
More bells rang, more classes began and ended. If my classroom had a television, there was no question that the lesson for the day was canceled. We watched hours and hours of footage, interviews and heartbreak. I came home to more of the same. I spoke to my father over the phone and told him how much I loved him. I slept in my parent’s bedroom, tear stains permanently affixed to my cheeks as my mom and I closed our eyes, hugging, falling asleep to, among other things, the voices of Congress singing “God Bless America” on the steps of the Capitol.
I share my story both because I will never forget and because I always want to remember. September 11, 2001 is a part of history now, but as it so often happens with the passage of time, I’m finding it hard to believe that ten years have already passed. Today, I’m thinking of those impacted in New York, Washington, Pennsylvania and all over the world.
What’s your story?
Abrazos, <– This word means hugs. Give someone you love a big hug today.