A Tuesday Morning, 10 Years Ago
This is a former Cass High student's recollections of Sept. 11, 2001.
I’m not quite sure what was in my portable CD player that morning. I want to say it was an album by either Iron Maiden or Rage Against the Machine, but it just as well have could’ve been one of those heavy metal compilation discs you see next to the candy bar display at Ingles.
I do, however, vividly recall what I was wearing; an orange, long-sleeve sweater. My friends called it my “Dell shirt,” since it resembled the one worn by a long-forgotten advertisement character in a series of PC monitor commercials. Walking to my homeroom, some guy near the doorway called me a “doofus in an orange shirt.” Of course, he didn’t exactly use the term “doofus,” but I’m pretty sure his intent was all the same.
It was another dreary, boring day at jolly old Cass High. I remember plopping myself down in my seat, as I quickly began flipping through pages of my Spanish textbook. At the time, everybody’s homeroom was the class they had for first period, so I figured why not pass the morning by conjugating a few irregular “IR” verbs?
The kids in the back row talked about parties they were going to attend. The kids in the front of the class talked about Magic: The Gathering and Playstation2 games. Me? I just kind of sat there, waiting for the day to be over. “Just another eight hours,” I tried to assuage myself. Then I realized after I factored in the bus ride home, it was actually closer to being nine hours instead.
I did some more conjugating. I nibbled the tip of my pencil’s eraser, and racked my brain for an answer. “So is the solution voy or fui?”
The first 30 minutes of class fly by. While my instructor droned on and on about past-tense verbs, I fantasized about skateboarding. I imagined myself in an Olympic-sized swimming pool, pulling off tricks and stunts that would make Evel Knievel shake his head in disbelief. And then, the teacher from across the hall walked into the room.
At first, I really didn’t pay that much attention. She whispered something into my instructor’s ear, and then...silence.
They spoke very quietly with one another for about a minute, and then my instructor turned on the television. I placed my eyes on my textbook and continued filling in blanks. I looked up again, and for some reason, there was this really long, lingering shot of the World Trade Center on television.
My eyes focalized on the cathode ray tube. “Huh, it looks like it’s on fire,” I initially thought. My pupils zeroed in on the footage, and then, I just sat there as I watched a commuter plane fly into a building.
Nobody in the classroom said anything. There really wasn’t anything to say, I suppose. A split screen soon popped up on the television. Something was happening in Washington, at the Pentagon.
“We’re under attack,” I heard my professor whisper under her breath.
“How could this happen?” said one of the “nerdy” kids in the front of the room.
“My daddy’s on an airplane,” said one of the girls in the back.
And everybody else just sat there, in stunned silence. There was no proper reaction to what we were all seeing. All we could do was just sit and watch—this was something that we just knew was bigger than anything our young minds could have possibly imagined.
A few moments later, the principal made an announcement over the school PA system. He said that if any of us were in a room with a television set, he wanted the instructor to turn it on, because we were experiencing history unfold before us.
Like everybody else, my eyes were glued to the screen. I’m not really sure what I was thinking when it happened. Truth be told, I’m not really sure what I was doing when it happened could be called thinking, anyway. And then, I watched the first building begin to collapse, as dust and debris shot up in the air like something out of a bad science fiction movie. But it wasn’t fantasy, it was real, all too real. I swear, I felt as if I could smell the fire in the air, that I was sucking the clouds of powder into my lungs.
And I continued to sit there. That’s all I—we—could do. Several minutes later, we watched the second building fall, and we felt just as powerless. The screen pulled back, and the New York City skyline, the most recognizable skyline in the whole world, looked like some alien planet. Dirt and dust and fire and garbage and people running around, covered in pounds and pounds of gray soot. There was no telling how many people lost their lives that morning. It was something, both then and now, that seems almost incomprehensible to imagine.
Ten years ago used to sound like a long time. Many things have changed, but that Tuesday morning in September seems like something that happened last week as opposed to last decade to me.
“Never forget,” I heard people saying a few days later.
And 3,652 days later, I don’t think any of us have forgotten, either.