As I recall, I was running late that morning and came barreling down the front stairs to find my shoes and pack a lunch, when I happened to see News Channel 4 reporting that a small aircraft had flown into the North Tower of the World Trade Center. Alarmed, I took a moment to call my mother in upstate New York, alerting her that something strange had happened in Manhattan. I'm not sure why I made that call, but I did and then I proceeded to get ready for work. On the drive to work, I put 1010 Wins on to catch the news, trying to gather more information on that small aircraft.
By this point, I was within five minutes of Hofstra and on upper Henry Street, I heard the words echo through my ears, "A second plane has hit the South Tower. It appears to be a terrorist attack," said the stunned radio broadcaster. There were moments of silence and gaps of dead air. I could feel the tears welling up inside me. I had no visuals at the moment, so my imagination went wild. I was hot and cold at the same time that morning, felt unbalanced, short of breath and exhausted from what I knew would be the longest day of my life.
When I arrived at Roosevelt Hall, it was just after nine in the morning and everyone I saw was either shell shocked or crying in the hallways. Some kids were hysterical because their parents were working in or near the Trade Center, while others were hastily trying to contact their loved ones from their cell phones. It was bedlam and while I tried to keep the peace, I was slowly falling apart myself. I wondered if this was how people felt when Pearl Harbor was bombed or when our soldiers fought so bravely on the bloody beaches of Normandy, France. I tried to cry and felt a few drops slide down my face, but I was so afraid and traumatized, that I couldn't force the tears out. I wanted to be with loved ones, say some prayers in church and hide away in my house.
Soon after, more of the story began to emerge, only to find that other planes had been hijacked, creating more chaos, death and devastation. Our country was under attack and things were unravelling at a rapid pace, leaving many of us vulnerable and riddled with a fear that we'd never experienced.
Fellow colleagues and I watched on a small five inch television screen as the South Tower collapsed, with large plumes of toxic smoke billowing through the air and the narrow streets that inhabit the area. It was the Armageddon I thought...the end of the world....far worse than the nuclear disasters I was taught to fear in the 1970's and 80's. People were jumping over 1000 feet to their deaths as photographers dared to document this fatal act of unwarranted terrorism on the great City of New York, the place where many of my dreams have come true. Feeling powerless, we all stood in disbelief as we watched the North Tower pummel down, destroying everything in its path. It looked like some sort of frightening, violent movie but it was real and happened just 20 miles from my home.
After trying to comfort some of the students, I had a great desire to leave and go home but I soon found out that all the major highways in the greater New York area were being shut down by the state police and National Guard. The United States was on high alert that day and for many days thereafter. Once I spoke to Vic and we decided on a plan, I hopped in the car and took the long way home, stopping at St. Christopher's Roman Catholic Church to say a few prayers for the many families who would suffer great loss's that day. As I was in the last pew of church, a mother, held up by two young men, presumably her sons, sobbed on the alter uncontrollably. Her moans echoed throughout the church. My heart ached for her because she obviously lost someone in her family that morning. It was the first of many families to agonize over missing or dead parents, husbands, wives, children, brothers, sisters or friends.
That night, my husband and I sat in the living room paralyzed with pain, trying to make sense of this violent, insane act. We watched the Towers get hit and collapse at least 100 times that evening, almost desensitizing ourselves to the devastation in lower Manhattan. I remember trying to fall asleep that night and hearing M-16's flying directly over my house, patrolling the beach borders. What was happening to our country and although I've never been very nationalistic, I found myself wanting to behave like a real flag-waver in the weeks ahead. Scary territory for someone like me who questions everything.
I love America but I love Americans more, if that makes sense. I think we should all reflect on where we were when the world came crashing down even if it's only once a year, in honor of all those lost. We can never forget. God Bless.