It was the summer of 2001. I was in New York City on a school trip. There were just a handful of us- some fresh out of 8th grade and ready to head into high school in the coming fall (including me), and a few just out of 7th grade, along with a couple of chaperone teachers and parents.
On one of those days, i wasn't in a particularly good mood for some reason or another. Our sightseeing brought us on the subway, then off at a stop that took us up and out at the base of one of the towers of the World Trade Center. The group stopped, looking up in awe 110 stories into the clear blue sky. I raised my camera, snapped a picture, and we continued on.
Approximately 3 months later, those buildings were wiped from the New York skyline for good.
For the past couple weeks, every time i've opened my web browser i'm met with pictures and headlines of stories and memoirs of the 9/11 attacks. I think most everyone in the world is now is aware that it has been ten years to the day that it happened. My students have been bringing it up the past couple weeks, asking for my story- where i was, what i was doing, how i felt..
It's hard to express exactly what i was feeling that day. I was on my way to school when it happened, and i didn't find out until i arrived to the campus, hardly a month into my freshman year of high school, and was walking to my first class of the day- Theater. One of my best friends, who was in the same class, came running out of the building toward me with a look of shock on her face, asking me, "Did you hear, did you hear? We're getting bombed.."
What? Bombed?? Who's bombing who, where? I followed her inside to the classroom where everyone was sitting or standing in dead silence, staring at the news blaring on the TV screen at the head of the room, showing scenes of the New York skyline, fire and thick clouds of smoke billowing from those skyscrapers i had stood looking up at just a few months before. The scene progressed, one tower collapsing, followed by the other, engulfing the city in a cloud of debris and dust.
I really don't remember much after that. School went by rather solemnly, some teachers following the requests from the administration, keeping the TVs off and trying to go about their daily lessons as if nothing happened despite the tension gripping the air, while other teachers caved and left the news on, knowing many wouldn't be able to focus anyway.
I was glued to the TV the rest of the day, and probably for a lot of the next, not quite able to swallow what was happening. The memories of New York City were still so fresh in my mind that as i was watching the horrific scenes unfold from the news cameras recording the events from the streets, i could feel the adrenaline coursing through me and i could see me and my friends and fellow classmates and teachers there with them all, screaming and fleeing from the giant dust cloud as it worked its way down streets and alleys and over buildings, swallowing everything in its path like a huge relentless monster.
I was just there, i kept thinking. I was just there.
I took out my recently-developed photos from the trip to look at the one i snapped looking up from the base of one of the towers. I often looked at that picture in the following months, but after those first few days i hadn't been able to bring myself to watch any more footage from the attacks on that day. Even now- just a few days ago one of my housemates had the TV on and was watching a program recounting the attacks. I had to leave the room and go for a walk. The screams were getting to me and i was starting to feel anxious.
I realize it's probably silly to feel that way, because of course i actually wasn't there. Not when it all happened, anyway. My thoughts are often with those who were there and actually had to live through that. And of course, i won't forget. I can't.
I don't have that picture with me now, but i looked at it so many times i can still see it clearly in my mind.
Of course, i have to mention that today also marks six months since the Tōhoku earthquake and tsunami. That day is still completely fresh in my mind as well, and the shock that i felt watching everything unfold from so far away, in a place where i had left a bit of myself years before. A place where i had plane ticket scheduled to take me to the following month. A place where many of my best friends live, but who all thankfully escaped unscathed, albeit quite shaken. Pun far from intended.
This day will come and pass just like any other. These things happen. It's just a part of life, and life keeps going whether you're ready to keep going along with it or not. Just have to pick up and carry on.