Remembering 9/11

My family visited the World Trade Center for the first time in 1999.
I remember being fascinated by all the different languages I heard being
spoken by fellow tourists as we made our way up the elevators to the top.
It was a place that brought the world together.

I had been up into the wee hours the night before packing for my trip to England. I would be studying there for a year, and I was to leave on September 13th. Just five days earlier I had said goodbye to my future husband after he had come to visit me and my family for the first time.

On the morning of September 11th, I was sleeping in. My two summer jobs were done, and all I had to worry about was preparing for my trip. My mom woke me up that morning shortly after 8:46 to tell me that I wasn’t going to England because a plane had crashed into the World Trade Center.

I couldn’t process what was happening. I assumed it had been an accident involving a small plane, and didn’t understand how it impacted my travel plans. Even when I watched things unfold on TV it took a moment to realize that I was watching a huge jet, and not a small propeller plane, crash purposely into a building. Everything became clear when the second plane hit.

As an architecture student, the first thing I thought about was how would they ever put out those fires? There was no ladder or hose that could ever reach that far. I guessed they would just have to let the fires burn until they couldn’t burn anymore. I was shocked as I watched the buildings collapse like a controlled explosion, knowing there were thousands of people still inside.

I remember being very afraid as it became clear that other planes were involved around the country. What would happen next? Did an enemy country have missiles trained on us? Was our president safe? What did this all mean?  Meanwhile, the phone was ringining off the hook with concerned relatives wondering if I had been in the air that day, and whether or not I would still be going to England at all.

Mom and I had a shouting match that led to both of us dissolving into tears. She had never been crazy about shipping me off to England for a year, and now she declared that I wouldn’t be going at all. To me, it sounded like she was happy and relieved. I had worked my tail off the previous year trying to achieve the high grades I needed to qualify for the study abroad program. I had worked two jobs seven days a week over the summer to earn some money. And most importantly, I was in love with someone who lived in England and we had no other plans to see each other again. I was enraged, and as shallow as it sounds, thinking of my own potential losses was the only thing that could release my emotions. I cried hard.

Mom and I consoled each other and stayed glued to the TV. My youngest brother, who was 8, was sent home early from school. He didn’t understand that someone could do that on purpose, and he didn’t understand the footage of people in the Middle East celebrating. It was difficult explaining everything to him. I was sad knowing that this probably meant a war we hadn’t asked for, and that other little boys like my brother might be harmed in the fray.

I remember how surreal it was to see a completely empty sky. Through the years I had taken jets and their cloudy white trails for granted. When planes started to fly again I felt like I was once again five, when I excitedly pointed out every single airplane to my grandpa.

Like many other people, I had to postpone my travel plans. Although my international flight would have left as scheduled on the 13th, the local airport where my connecting flight would leave from was still in disarray. I ended up leaving one week later, on September 18th. It was my first time ever flying. The local airport and the connecting flight were all but empty. We were given first class snacks and beverages, partly because they would otherwise go unused, and partly to ease our fears. The international flight was filled to capacity, and everyone was on edge. A mother traveling with her infant had to be given a sedative because she couldn’t stop crying. Somebody passed out in flight and an Indian doctor who happened to be on board helped treat the person. Everyone watched everyone else’s every move. I remember being alarmed to see city lights below us well into our flight, wondering if we had turned back (it was a city in Canada).

We reached England safely, and I was touched by the response I saw there. Every city, town and village had books of condolences that people had signed. In Sheffield, where I would be studying, a fountain in the city centre was turned off and in its place were hundreds of flower bouquets, stuffed animals and flags. Firemen were walking around conducting a boot drive, just like the ones back at home. The British people were extremely warm and sympathetic toward me when they heard my accent and realized where I was from, especially because I was from New York state.

(Click to zoom)
A book of condolences found at a small church in England on September 19, 2001.

It felt good being able, in my own little way, to represent the irrepressible spirit of my country at a time when people didn’t really expect Americans to travel and continue on with their lives. I achieved my dream despite the fear the terrorists tried to instill in me. But at the same time I couldn’t, and never will forget the thousands of people–those killed, and those who loved them–who had their own dreams crushed that day, who weren’t able to go on with their plans.

I can no longer feel the raw emotion I felt that day, but I will never forget.

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