Fifteen years ago today, I was a freshman in high school. It was just another normal day. I was probably less than thrilled to be heading to my science class that morning, because I have never been big on the science. I’m sure my friends and I had hung out in the commons or near someone’s locker that morning, I may have spent some time in the “band corner”, and now I had a couple of class periods under my belt for the day.
Fifteen years ago today, I walked into my 3/4 block period science class, Biology and Earth Science Studies 1, and the TV was either already on or was turned on soon after I got there. The TV was tuned into CNN, because a plane had flown right into one of the World Trade Center towers in New York City.
It is so strange to think that I have now officially lived more of my life after 9/11 than I had before. I was only 14 years old while I watched the world change before my eyes, but I think I will remember everything about that day even when I’m 90.
For a while, the class went on as normal as was possible, but the TV stayed on, muted. Everyone in the room seemed to be in agreement that it had to have been a freak accident, except one guy who kept insisting it had to be terrorists. None of us took him seriously; most of us had known him since kindergarten, and he tended to talk like that.
But then the entire day turned on its head when we watched on live TV as the second plane slammed into the side of the next tower. The TV volume was turned up, and I’m sure there was more than one shocked exclamation. I don’t remember what it sounded like around me at that moment, actually, but I do remember that throughout the rest of the day, the whole school was unnaturally quiet. No one gossiped in the halls, no one seemed to know what to say, everyone was very somber.
Every TV in the school remained on after that, or as far as I know. The TVs in the commons often just ran the PowerPoint-style announcements, but that day they were all tuned to CNN. During lunch, something happened — I seem to recall it was a video that aired featuring Osama bin Laden, but it could have been something else major — and everyone stood around the TVs in the commons, watching. People were standing on lunch tables to see over others’ heads and all attention was on the four or five TVs hanging in the middle of the commons.
I remember that some teachers changed their lessons completely, in light of what had happened. I had a world history class that afternoon, and our teacher threw out whatever we were supposed to be learning about and instead taught us terms and phrases we were likely to hear over the coming days. We learned about the Taliban, where Afghanistan is located on a map, about Islam and jihad…basically anything that would help us as we watched the news.
Strangely, one of the things I also remember is that was the first time in my high school career that I rode the bus home, as marching band practice (and all other after school activities) were cancelled.
My father was in Germany on a business trip — I think he may have actually flown out that day. We couldn’t get in touch with him for a while. My cousin in the Army sometimes went to the Pentagon that year, and we were fretting about his location until we heard that he was fine — he hadn’t been there that day.
The days immediately following that were a blur of flags and emotions and the marching band practicing for a special pre-game 9/11 tribute for our football game that week. Later, the TSA changed the airport rules and now I can hardly remember a time before we had to take off our shoes or have a boarding pass to go to the gates. We watched on the news as people dug through the debris in NYC, trying to find anyone. The footage from the attacks played on an almost continuous loop.
Eventually, life got back to normal. Freshman year went on; the marching band took a bus to Florida instead of a plane to Hawaii. It got to the point that we only really heard about 9/11 around the anniversary, but we still remember. Those of us who were alive and old enough will likely never forget — it’s not possible. In one day, we saw the country come together and we all cried together and were shocked together. I try to remember that when I listen to people tearing each other apart on the Internet over differences of opinion — for one day, we weren’t doing that to each other.
It’s just hard to believe that all was 15 years ago today. And I know those of us who were alive then will never forget it.