The anniversary of 9/11 is here and it still haunts me to this day. I can recall the where, the when, and the what I was doing at the time when that terrible day happened.
I was living in Boston at the time. I had just started teaching my Intro to SQL and PL/SQL class in the 222 Berkeley Building, which sat diagonal from the tallest structure in the city, the John Hancock Building. One of my prized students was late to class. I was rather surprised because she had made it a point to be on time, seeing as she worked for the same company that I had.
Anyway, she arrived huffing and puffing just as we had decided to work on an exercise. Her face was flushed as though she had just had the wind knocked out of her. She had asked if I had heard the news about a plane going into the first tower of the Twin Towers.
No, I hadn’t. I thought it was just a freak accident until I tried pulling up the news in class. The website I had gone to for information was flooded, making it nearly impossible to navigate anywhere. We were on a T1 line and we might as well have been on dial-up, it was so slow. By the time I had pulled up the article, a second plane hit the other tower.
My stomach dropped. Not because I knew what was going on, but because I worried about everyone I knew in NY city and my family living in upstate NY. It didn’t help that two of the planes had come from Boston either.
I don’t know what happened between that time and looking about twelves stories down to see people flooding the streets like ants about to get stepped on by giant feet. Everyone was scrambling to get to where they needed to get to. By then, I knew I had a responsiblity to my class, since most of them were from out of town.
I stopped teaching and told them what had happened. I can’t tell you how much my eyes teared up at that moment or how my knees nearly knocked themselves into unconsciousness. I wanted to talk to my family and my friends. After all, they were all I had. My mom needed to know that I was okay, because she had probably forgotten that the company had changed my training schedule three weeks prior. You see, I was supposed to be in NY city that day.
I let my classroom have internet access, which was a no-no because we didn’t want them downloading anything that might have a virus in the system. Screw the rules. These people had to know, especially if, like me, they had friends and family in NY or worried about their loved ones.
I spent a good part of the day emailing my friends and trying to get in touch with my family. I got silence. I can’t begin to tell you how horrible it was to not be able to reach any of my loved ones. I emailed everyone possible, begging them to call my family to let them know I was okay. Nobody could reach them.
All I remember about the rest of that day was we decided to go through the next lesson. That didn’t last long because people started getting phone calls and needed to leave. I let them go. Those who wanted to stay, stayed. I couldn’t leave until the last student left because that was policy. I also had this I-wasn’t-leaving-until-I-knew-everyone-in-my-class-was-safe mentality, too. Probably stupid on my part, if another plane decided to head to Boston next. But that was how I saw it. I was responsible for them, and I was damn well going to do my job.
What pissed me off most about that day was the mentality of the company I had worked for. After hearing the news, one instructor simply waved his hand, smiled, and said, “Whatever. I’m still teaching my class.” WHATEVER? Are you f***ing kidding me?? I had to walk away at that moment or something else might hit a building on his way down to the pavement.
Anyway, I had gotten home that night and finally allowed myself to really break down in tears. I couldn’t reach any of my friends, one who worked in the World Trade Center area and another who lived four blocks–I think–from there in Battery Park. My mother was still unable to reach me, as was my enter family. I had later learned that communication across NY had gone on lockdown. No outside communication was allowed in. At least, not on a regular phone. My mother was a wreak because she thought I was in the Big Apple after all. My older brother dropped everything, told his boss he was leaving because our mother needed him. He was ready to hop in the car and drive wherever to find me.
Later that night, after torturing myself with image after image of the towers going down, my phone rang. It was my friend Munerah. Dear God, I can’t tell you how relieved I was to hear her voice. In fact, I think I was hysterical on the phone. She had contacted all of our friends except for one to make sure they were all okay. The one she couldn’t reach was one of the white-ash people making a mass exodus across the Manhattan Bridge. She called me later to let me know that she was okay and how exhausted she was once she had gotten home.
A month later, I had visited the 9/11 site, peering through the wall where a makeshift memorial had been set up. I recall that as we approached the sight, an SUV with its lights flashing, but no siren sped by. My friend Peggy lowered her voice and said, “They only do that when they find a policeman or a firefighter’s body at the site.” I recall the acrid odor that permeated the air. It was like smelling every the dead bodies of everyone who had died in the attacks. Again, I broke down in tears because I couldn’t get over the feeling of thinking I had lost five of my closest friends. I recall finishing out the rest of my NY trip by making sure each of the knew how much I loved them and that they were like sisters to me.
As I write this blog, I can’t help thinking about that day with tears staining my eyes. I can’t help wonder what the passagers in Flight 93 were thinking when they decided to storm the cockpit and bring the plane down. What they said to their families before the dreadful moment. My heart goes out to all of those who lost someone in the attacks. I count myself lucky because I wasn’t in NY that day and all of my friends were accounted for and safe.
I’m curious. Where were you when 9/11 happened?
P.S. This post has not been proofread and it won’t be. Just believe me when I say I can’t read it again.