images from 9-11 War Memorial
The image of the second plane hitting the south tower of the World Trade Center as I sat in my 8th grade history class on September 11, 2001, is a visceral memory that still contains more than just what I saw. I remember watching my 8th grade teacher quietly crying while chewing her nails. She was a strong, confident woman with three daughters, so not scared of much, and it freaked me out to see her so upset. I remember the sick feeling of not understanding what was going on in the world, but realizing all the adults were panicking. I also think that this was the first time I had ever realized that I was watching something "live." Of course my family watched college football on Saturdays and I remember Kerri Strug winning gold in gymnastics after breaking her ankle in the 1996 Olympics, but I didn't realize those events were "happening now." When that plane hit the second tower, it wasn't the first time I saw it, it was the first time anyone had seen it. Those people are dying right now. In my freezing cold desk, I bounced my knee until my quads burned because no one knew when it would be over. Since when do adults not know what's going on? At some point, the bell rang and we shuffled into the hall for our next classes. The hallway confirmed that 9-11 didn't just happen on the TV in my classroom. Other kids saw it, other teachers cried and chewed their nails. What does this MEAN, though?? The teachers couldn't teach, kids were being checked out of school like crazy, everyone was upset all day long.
When I came home from school, my mother was there (this woman NEVER missed work) taping hours of CNN. All she could say was "you are witnessing history. You will never forget this as long as you live." For next several weeks, our teachers and parents did their best to give age-appropriate explanations of what had gone on in New York City, Washington DC, Pennsylvania, and the Middle East. I digested what I could, but I didn't even know what questions to ask. The World Trade Center was now called "Ground Zero," President George W. Bush was on every channel for weeks on end, words like Taliban and Al-Qaeda were being thrown around as identifiers of the hijackers, and still no one seemed to know if this was the end of the attacks or just the beginning.
As an 8th grader, I would have never guessed we'd still be trying to figure it out 20 years later. I would have never fathomed that I would ever be old enough to get involved in it. And once I did, I never thought it would "end" this way.
Just as the images of the collapse of the New York skyline are burned in my brain, the images of Kabul on August 15, 2021 will also sear into my memory like a scar. Aircrafts jammed with people seeking sanctuary in the United States. Mothers passing their infants to strangers through barred gates. People so desperate to flee that they tried to hang onto the exterior parts of a moving aircraft. Armed Taliban leaders sitting at mahogany desks in the nation's capitol without even trying to hide their faces or their intentions. Children screaming. People crying.