How one day changed everything
On September 11, 2001, I was 16 and a senior at St. Francis High School.
There was nothing to suggest that the day would be anything but ordinary. I left my Pocket-area home at 6:30 AM, my sleepy mind focused on little more than the road, that morning's chemistry lab, and the tunes issuing from the CD player. Upon arriving at school, I was greeted by my best friend with an innocent question: "Did you hear about the Twin Towers?" I just-as-innocently (and naively) replied, "What, did they get bombed or something?"
Some believe that voicing ideas aloud will bring them to life, or at the very least, make them a possibility. This, and many other reasons, make joking about cataclysmic events a universal cultural taboo. But on that bright and promising Tuesday morning, in a high school parking lot in East Sacramento, who was I to know that the events that had unfolded thousands of miles away would immediately and forever change our lives?
I marched on through the school day, partly out of habit but mostly because I didn't know what else to do. Rumors swirled around the campus that Sacramento, as a capital city, was a likely target. Frantic parents descended on the school to take their daughters home. My mother and many other state employees were advised to leave downtown. In the classrooms, our teachers either doggedly stuck to their lesson plans, impervious to the anxious faces and blank stares of the few students left, or gave up teaching entirely. In my chemistry class, we abandoned our experiments and huddled around the classroom computer, clicking through a slideshow of images from New York. The slow connection did little to quell our mounting unease. The first image of the smoking towers elicited a round of gasps and murmurs. As we proceeded through the slideshow, watching the towers burn and give way, the commentary became more and more subdued. The final image was that of a new Manhattan skyline -- one with the Twin Towers carelessly snipped out and replaced by a grotesque plume of ash and dust that seemed to consume the entire city. We were stunned into silence.
On September 11, 2011, I will be 26 and a Ph.D. Candidate at Columbia University in New York City. I have been a resident of Manhattan for four years. I take the subway daily, am accustomed to seeing uniformed officers toting assault rifles at busy checkpoints, and can execute the TSA's chug-water-shoes-belt-off-laptop-out-boarding-pass-in-hand drill with perfection. I have never known the World Trade Center as anything else but a memorial site. Yet, as the 10th anniversary of 9/11 approaches, I can't help but marvel at how far we've come. The past decade has been one of considerable tumult: in politics and economics, among and between peoples, at home and abroad. And yet, somehow, life manages to go on.