My memories of September 11, 2001, aren’t very clear. I was in eighth grade, and I’m fairly certain I was in history class when we heard. But I can’t remember whether or not we saw any of the coverage on TV, or how they told us, or what they told us. There are some things about middle school that stand out clearly in my memory, but a lot of it is lost, and the details of September 11 went with it.
I do remember that it didn’t feel real. Earlier in the year my family had traveled to NYC and went to the top of the World Trade Center on a weekday around 8:30 AM. On a different day, that same year, we could have been there. The pictures I took of the towers from the Ellis Island Ferry on that visit haunted me in the years afterward.
The first September 11 I wrote about in my (mostly daily) journal was in 2004. I was asked to sing the National Anthem at my high school’s homecoming football game—on September 11. I wrote in my journal, the day before, “Tomorrow I sing at the football game. I’m nervous, but I should be fine. It’s 9/11—a sad and emotional day to be singing the National Anthem.” On 9/11 itself, my focus was on my singing: “I did pretty well, but was nervous and my sound wasn’t quite where I wanted it.” The next day: “I didn’t write anything about yesterday being the anniversary of the terrorist attacks—but it was. I thought about it.”
A few years, the anniversary didn’t get mentioned at all in my journal, and most years I just said a little. In my first week of freshman year of college: “Today was an interesting, confusing day. And I feel badly that I’m so caught up in myself that I forget that it’s 9/11.”
The fall I moved to NYC, I didn’t mention the anniversary in the entry I wrote—we had our housewarming that night, and I was excited and happy to write about that—but I remember that September 11. Our Brooklyn apartment had a wonderful view of the Manhattan skyline. The Empire State Building was lit red, white, and blue. The sky was overcast, so the two spotlights projected up from Ground Zero hit the clouds in two bright circles of light, then stopped. It was eerie, and beautiful, and I’ll never forget it.
I’m sure, for the rest of my life, there will be years when I stop to think about what happened on September 11, 2001, and other years when it will be just a day like any other day. Since moving to New York, I’ve read a few accounts of the day by people who lived through it. Some are recollections of the event (like Meg Cabot’s, http://www.megcabot.com/2012/09/9112001/), and some are fictionalized depictions (like David Levithan’s Love is the Higher Law).
I know that while these accounts still would have moved me to tears before I lived in NYC, the impact they had on me was greater because I live here now, and know the city in a way I didn’t before. The building where I work has a gorgeous rooftop view of Lower Manhattan. It’s a beautiful place to eat lunch, but I’m told that on the morning of September 11, 2001, it was the spot from which some of my colleagues watched the Twin Towers fall. I can’t imagine how different the view was then, and how hard it must be to have that image superimposed over what it is now.
What comes through most clearly, though, when reading about that time, is how the people of New York came together in the days and months after the attacks and supported each other. It’s hard for me to truly imagine the tragedy, the horror, the fear, and the loss, but it’s not so hard to imagine New Yorkers like the ones I’ve come to know over the last few years being so strong.
When I think about September 11, 2001, that’s what I want to remember—the strength of the people of New York, both those who were lost, and those who lived.