In September of 2001, I was in 10th grade. When I first heard about the attacks, I was in Geometry class. A teacher poked his head in, and said that a plane had hit the World Trade Center. This will probably sound callous now, but my class started to joke about how pilots can't fly these days. It sounds horrible, but the last thing on our mind was that the plane was used as a missile to kill people within the tower -- or that there would be three more of these planes.
After class ended and I walked to Biology, a student ran past me and told my teacher that there were several planes that had attacked buildings, and that it was done by terrorists. My teacher got so riled up, he made a long rant followed by a pro-USA speech. I was just so flabbergasted by all that was going on, and that I didn't have any info on the attacks, that I didn't react much to his message. I just wondered if we would be able to get out of school.
There was a little buzz about it in my next class, English. But again, everyone had little info. It was a terrorist attack. The Pentagon had been hit as well as the WTCs. But that was it. Was this a nationwide thing? Would we be sent home? Were we in danger? Would the terrorists target public schools? I lived in central North Carolina, away from any iconic or important structures, and yet nothing seemed safe now. Are we at war now? The principal got on the intercom at this point and confirmed that there were attacks that had been made on several buildings, but at this time school is still in session. Remain calm. That was it.
It wasn't until my next to last class, World History, that I was able to see what had happened. My teacher had driven from his home and brought a TV in, and we sat quietly, some of us sobbing, as we watched repeated footage of the attacks. I know at some point I had tears in my eyes. What really got to me was an interview from a distraught survivor who had just come down from the tower. He had passed by a man in a wheelchair on the staircase who was calling out for people to carry him, but no one would. The man, now safely away from the ruins, was shattered emotionally. "I can't believe I didn't help him! Why didn't I help him? Oh God, I hope he got out! Oh Jesus!"
When I got home I saw the footage of people jumping out of the towers. That really put me out of it. I had just never seen anything like that before. This wasn't a depressed person bent on suicide. This was someone desperately trying to escape the burning insides of the tower. And it wasn't just one person. Firefighters had reported they kept hearing thumps in the lobby of the bodies hitting the ground. This was all new and horrendous to me. This wasn't the movies. This wasn't in some faraway country you could just forget about. It was home.
I was in a daze for a week or so, determined that this was some sort of nightmare I would wake up from. But I think I snapped out of it after seeing a special report where they interviewed some of the NY firemen. One of the fire chiefs stepped outside with the cameraman and the interviewer, obviously a day or two after the attacks, and pointed down the street.
"Everyday the towers were there. Now there's nuthin'. They're gone."
It was that image-- the image of something you see everyday, take for granted because it had always been there, and now was gone. Gone forever. And it shakes your reality.
After that, I tried to join the ROTC but because of my asthma I wasn't admitted. I'm grateful for that now because of the way things in my life went after high school.
If kids some day down the road find this post, hopefully this video will kind of help show how these attacks took a lot of America by surprise.