I got out of my mom’s car at around 6:45 AM. I kissed her on the cheek, told her I’d call when I needed to be picked up from rehearsal, and made my way into the Miss Porter’s Junior Day Student Common Room, located in the basement of Ward dorm. It was a grungy yet adorable room filled with white boards, coffee cups, textbooks, computers, and at any one time 29 screaming, loony day students. My best friends in the world up to that point and I groused about this assignment or that quiz. I headed off to my first class of the day, which sadly escapes me now, and then to my second class, which I remember was Spanish. After learning about grammar for about an hour, I packed up my back and headed off to the Tuesday ritual of Milk Lunch. This midmorning snack was an excuse to get some junk food at the Daisy, our oncampus cafe similar to a convenience store, and an ‘advisor/advisee’ meeting with my wonderful advisor, John Hale, who was also the coach of the badminton team and, I must add, always there to greet us at the door with Thin Mints or Dr. Pepper. He loved them.
It was 9:15 AM, on September 11th, 2001.
Not a cloud in the sky. Perfect weather for early fall. The kind of day you wish didn’t have to be spent in school.
I was wearing a blue Gap tank top, a black knee-length skirt, and, embarrassingly, sky-high black platform sandals I believe could have been ripped from the feet of a Spice Girl. My hair was short. I was fat. My favorite band was 2Ge+her (Chad, I love you still) and I was anxiously awaiting the release of the Lord of the Rings movie.
Times have changed. Everything changed.
The moments before 9:15 AM, when my advisor sat down in his office and proceeded to inform us that two planes had crashed into the Towers at the World Trade Center, are lost to me. I’d like to go back in time and bottle them and sniff at them whenever the world proves too much. I had just come off a wonderful, carefree summer. The biggest problem in life was passing Spanish or Algebra 2 unscathed and getting into UCONN without a D on my transcript. There are moments when I wish, like Fiyero in Wicked, I could turn off my brain with ease because “Life’s more painless for the brainless, it’s just life, so keep dancing through.” No one could dance through life after 9:15 that day.
The moments after 9:15? They are a complete wash.
Images, sounds, colors, smells, people…they all bleed into each other. I remember my head spinning at an alarming rate. I went into the classroom for my next class and put my bookbag down because obviously we would still be going back to regular schedules after this little incident was cleared up. Right?
I walked back to the common room, head clanging and buzzing. Inside, my classmates-my friends-were just as confused as I was. They turned on the radio, which was full of different voices coming from all sorts of sources and nothing seemed to make any sense. I tried to get hold of my Mom on the phone, and thank God the lines were still open because she got on right away. I asked what was going on. She said she didn’t know and she was trying to contact my father, who had been in L.A. and was due to get on a plane.
Now, at this point, remember we had no idea where the planes had been coming from. At least, I didn’t. But I knew one of them was either taking off from or for L.A.
He was on a plane.
I don’t quite remember what happened to my brain after that realization, but I do remember Mom telling me to stop screaming, which I couldn’t. My heart was breaking and all I saw was blood, and twisted melting metal, and a plane breaking apart as it sank into soft, greedy earth. Everyone was talking way too loud and I remember throwing the phone down and screaming at my startled friend Jessa, “SHUT UP! JUST EVERYONE SHUT UP!”
The room got very quiet. The radio chattered on in the background, and I could hear my mom shouting through the phone. I picked it back up.
“Ally. He’s flying out tomorrow. Right now he’s playing golf in Colorado. Calm down, please.”
Something broke. Maybe it was the couch to my fall as I sank down, or maybe it was my innocence. I’m not sure. But all I remember is dissolving into tears, and whoever it was that gave me a hug in that moment (I think it was either Jessa or Susan), thank you for that.
We watched Bush’s address to the nation. I honestly don’t mind the fact he kept reading My Pet Goat because he didn’t want to upset the children. I would have done the same thing. He was just as lost as the rest of them. Nobody expects something like this in their Presidency. Well…now they do. People run campaigns on pushing the fear of another 9/11 down our throats. But we didn’t think about that then.
At around 10:30 we filed into our school auditorium, all 300 of us. I went to a small school with a lot of international students and students from New York, and they were all terrified they’d lost someone. I can’t even begin to imagine. Our Head of School said the rest of the school day was cancelled, and we could all call our parents if we wanted to go home.
When my mom came to pick me up, I had to dash back to the classroom and grab my bag before the school locked up the room. I never needed it that day.
We spent the rest of the day at Meghan Pattyson’s house, and I must be honest…I went into her bedroom and watched cheesy movies all day. Every time I came out and saw one more destructive photo, I felt my brain begin to spin. I pinpoint that day as the start of my anxiety disorder. Don’t tell me the worst won’t happen. The worst can happen. It did happen. I saw it. That night, I insisted on sleeping with all of my Beanie Baby toys. Surrounded by stuffed bears and puppies, I felt secure.
Three weeks later, on my birthday, I went into NYC with my parents to celebrate my sweet sixteen and see The Producers. The streets were silent. In shock. In grief.
I don’t understand terrorism. I never will. I don’t understand any kind of discriminatory act of violence. This country has a lot of things wrong with it on a lot of levels (I’m looking over at you, Snooki). But no country, no matter what they’ve done, deserves the chaos of that day, ten years ago.
I lived in New York on the 8th anniversary of 9/11, and the sight out my window was similar to the picture that heads this post. I sat on my bed and stared at the remembrance skylights, and thought about the vibrancy and electricity of the city, and how it had molded me over the course of the preceding 6 months. I couldn’t understand how anyone would want to drive a knife through that heart. I still don’t.
The most we can do is be kind, be grateful, and always remember.
But you don’t have to tell me to remember. I never forgot.