Friday, September 11, 2009

Where were you?

I can't believe it's been 8 years. I remember it like it was yesterday. I can vividly recall, down to the shoelaces, what I wore that day.

I was in art class when the secretary came over the loudspeaker to give us a message from the principal: New York City had been attacked and we were to turn on the TVs and watch the news. We all stared at each other in horror and disbelief. Attacked? Was the city demolished? Up in flames? The TV came on. One building had a plume of smoke billowing out of it. Oh, that doesn't look so bad. Then they showed the plane crashing into it. Oh, my God.

Surely that must've been an accident, a horrible mistake. Who could do such a thing? But 2 planes in the matter of a few minutes was no accident. One of the freshman girls at our table looked at Lynnette and me with panic in her face. "They're not gonna come here, are they?" she said. "Oh, no, honey," Lynnette said. "They're just in New York."

And then they hit the Pentagon.

That was the moment we knew it was bigger than we thought.

The bell rang and I moved to my next class, history. We sat in sober silence, trying to process what was happening. I'll never forget what Mr. Bachrik said to us: You're watching history. They're gonna put this in the books your kids read.

If we talked at all, it was in hushed tones...until the first tower fell. I will never, not to my dying day, forget the horror I felt as I watched people plummet like rag dolls from the top of that inferno to escape the hell that was blazing inside. We cried then. I cry every time I think about it. I'm crying now.

And then the news broke into a local station. I believe it was Channel 6 in Johnstown. The reporter said that there was another plane hijacked and it had crashed in Shanksville. Pennsylvania. Less than 60 miles from where we sat.

Every eye in the room swung to Mr. Bachrik. You're the authority figure, we silently said. Tell us what to do. He stared helplessly back at us and shook his head, as if to say "I can't."

Shortly after that point classes started dwindling as frantic parents began pulling their kids out of school. No one knew what was happening, what fresh hell would hit or when, and everyone just wanted to be home with their families.

I later found out that another local Pittsburgh station mistakenly reported that Flight 93 had been hijacked out of Pittsburgh, thereby fueling even more panic. My mom was washing the windows in the living room when my grandmother called her to tell her the first plane had hit. Oh, what a horrible accident, she thought. A few minutes later she called her again.
Di, she said. Another plane hit.
That's when everyone knew it wasn't an accident. That's when my mom turned on the news. When they hit the Pentagon, she started getting anxious. When Flight 93 went down, she grabbed the keys to my pap's truck and booked it to the schools.

She picked me up first. I was headed to lunch and was coming down the hallway as she walked through the door. I've never been so glad to see my mom in my life. I'm not ashamed to say I started crying and threw myself into her arms. It didn't matter if you were 16 or 76, everyone wanted their mom that day.

My youngest brother was still in elementary school, which is a half mile up the road from the high school, so we picked him up next. We took my cousin too. The little ones didn't really know what was going on. When we got to the middle school to pick up my other brother, sister, and cousin, they were scared. How do you explain such an inexplicable evil to children when you don't even understand it yourself?

My entire family gathered at my grandparents'. For the rest of the day we stared, entranced, at cable news. There was so much information they had to run a scrolling ticker across the bottom of the screen.

It was so surreal to sit outside on that beautiful, clear, sunshiny day and not see one single plane fly overhead. Not to see one car drive past. To try to fathom how anyone could conceive and then execute such an inconceivable, despicable act.

But it was also surreal to see how this country rallied around itself. The brave men and women who offered themselves up in service. The passengers on a doomed flight with nothing else to lose who said, Let's roll. The thousands of ordinary citizens who organized blood drives, food drives, clothing drives. The country that, once brought to its knees, got back on its feet. And the everlasting spirit and determination that makes this country what it is.

God bless America.

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