It seems hard to believe that it’s been 14 years since we all heard the news that our country was being attacked. It’s one of those days that I know my future kids will ask, “what were you doing when this happened, mama?” and I know I’d be able to tell them in full detail.
I was a sophomore in high school at Waubonsie Valley, and since our school was so big they had to have the first lunch hour begin at 9am, 3rd period. I was on this schedule, and I remember I was sitting at the center lunch room table towards the end.. just a few seats in. I remember who I was sitting with, and that I was wearing a pair of jeans and my favorite white long sleeved shirt. I remember that our school had installed TVs in the cafeteria for announcements, and I remember just after sitting down – I don’t even think I had gotten my lunch yet – probably around 9:15 – looking up at one of the TVs and seeing the news which was not the norm. It was usually just powerpoint like screen shots.. not live TV. I remember feeling like something was wrong.. but felt confused that no one else (to my knowledge) seemed to be reacting.
My stomach was turning, and I felt this intense urge to call my parents. I kept staring up at the TVs while my friends continued talking, and it seemed like no one was paying attention to what was happening.. not even the cafeteria supervisors. Was it real? What was I seeing? It looked like New York – but there’s just no way. I couldn’t quite wrap my brain around it, but I mentioned something along the lines of, “something isn’t right” to those I was sitting around, and they brushed it off like us sixteen year olds do most everything else. “It’s probably nothing.” Yet still, that urge to call my parents was strong. I ran to the pay phone and put in some change (yep, that’s how old I am, guys) and dialed our house as fast as I could. My dad picked up, immediately asking if I was okay. I didn’t know what to make of that, since I was still trying to assess the situation. I just wanted to know what I was afraid of. I wanted to know the facts. My dad put my mom on the phone, and she was in tears. That’s when I knew — it was more than what I could have imagined. This wasn’t an accident. It wasn’t just a plane crash. Our country was under attack, and the attacks kept on coming.
My parents arranged to pick me up from school and to bring me home. They wanted to ensure that we were all together, and that we were safe. Almost immediately after hanging up the phone, I remember hearing the principal over the loud speaker make an announcement that all kids were to stay in their classrooms where they would be filled in by selected teachers. (I believe they assigned the history teachers to brief us, but I could be wrong about that) During this time, all children were able to be picked up by their parents as well. While I waited for mine, I remember two teachers coming into the cafeteria and standing at the top of the stairs. The room was so quiet you could hear a pin drop. I don’t remember what they said. Not one word. I just remember crying and feeling panicked. Not knowing who was hurt, not knowing what was next.. my mind was racing. Did I know anyone in New York? Did I know someone who knew someone? Does someone in this room or in this building have family in the World Trade Center? The Pentagon? Did my parents have any friends in the World Trade Center or the Pentagon? Why did this happen? What did we do wrong? and again.. (and again, and again) What was next? I was terrified.
My dad came and got me almost immediately, and we drove home holding hands. I don’t think we talked much – it was more conversation through hand holding and him assuring me I was safe. I remember walking into our house, straight into the kitchen and seeing my mom hovered over the TV, crying. She hugged me for what felt like hours, her eyes never leaving the screen.. and we did this most of the day/evening. We kept ourselves informed. Never leaving each other. I’m sure at one point they explained to me what all had happened and the speculation as to “why” — but I can’t quite recall those conversations. I just remember feeling overwhelmingly sad, confused, and afraid.
It’s bizarre how you can feel so invisible, and never imagine that your country would ever be a target. It’s bizarre that as time travels on, it seems so long ago that a pivotal moment in all of our lives becomes a distant memory. A powerful one, but a distant one. And it’s bizarre how easy it is to feel invisible yet again, even after we’ve been hit at home.
I often think of how I’ll live to tell my own story of this day to my own kids and grandkids one day, as they open their history books and learn about the tragic September 11th events… and so I find it extremely important to try and think back on the details of that day in the cafeteria. For them, but also for me. It was the day that I grew up – that I truly understood that the world was bigger than just me and my friends and my petty problems. It was a day I will never forget.0