Where I Was

I've finally gotten high school down. It's my third week of my ninth grade year, and I think I finally have it. I'm twelve years old--a young age for my grade. I've worked hard to get where I am, though, and I feel like I belong two years ahead. "You act so mature for twelve," they always say. I know I'm a mature girl, and I feel like I can handle anything, even high school.

After our long class of the day, we go to chapel to hear announcements. Then we go to our other classes, and depending on which class is fourth, we have first, second, or third lunch. I know who is in each lunch and which tables are friendly.

I know that when I get up, I will put on a black skirt that goes two inches past the end of my fingertips. I know that I'll wear a collared shirt, some stockings, and high heels. Maybe I'll change the color of my shirt, or wear something fun in my hair, but the basics are the same. I know that when I wake up, everything will be the same as the day before.

I know where my seat is. I don't get to sit in a pew because of the way my last name falls in the seating chart. Instead, I'm right up front, my face inches away from the minister. We breathe in the same stale air every day, and he always pats my shoulder before he gets up to give a prayer. Sometimes, another student gives the prayer. Today it's M.B., a girl I've sort of known for a while.

"M.B.," he begins, "don't worry about the prayer today. Two planes have struck the World Trade Center. I need to make an announcement." He stands up without patting my shoulder and looks around at the students milling about towards their pews.

Time stops momentarily. I'm the only one who knows. No one else in this world knows what I know, I think to myself. I see my classmates' smiling faces, my teachers laughing along with them. My heart feels heavy as my head spins. I process ideas in my head.

He said "cranes." Yes, two cranes hit the Trade Center. This sounds stupid even inside my own head. Okay, so they were planes. It was an accident. Student pilots. Yeah. I satisfy myself with this, and say a quick prayer for the pilots and any injured.

The world starts spinning again, though I don't acknowledge Meagan when she comes to take her seat on my left.

"Crabby, much?" She elbows me playfully, but I just watch the minister. He climbs the stairs to the pulpit slowly.

One. The wood creaks noisily underneath his foot.
Two. The stairs scream under him.
Three. They want him to hurry.
Four. Share this burden with someone else.

He clears his throat gently and his jaws open with the weight of the world trying to keep them shut.

"Students, teachers," he pauses as he looks down to his feet. People look around uncomfortably, not knowing what's keeping him.

"Forty-five minutes ago, a plane struck the World Trade Center. Shortly thereafter, another struck the tower next to it. We are unsure at this time whether or not this is terrorist related. We ask that you please carry on as usual today, however we will have CNN on in Ainsley Auditorium all day. We will keep you updated as we know more."

And with that, he steps down from the pulpit, the stairs and I both relieved. Some people gasp, delayed. Others are slack-jawed, and still others seem to be asleep. No one moves. No one says anything. Finally, he looks up from his feet.

"You can go, I have absolutely nothing else to say, except to say may God save us."

We stand up slowly, in little clumps of people. Some stay seated. Some pull out contraband cell phones and call their parents. Some cry.

I do what I do in crisis. I don't cry. I don't panic. I gather facts. I briskly walk to Ainsley Auditorium and park myself in front of that screen. I watch the planes hit over and over and feel my stomach drop a little further. I hear what they have to tell me. I see how the vertical lines of the towers look like prison bars, and how the people inside must think they are too.

And as I watch, the tower falls. It collapses in a pile, and I follow suit. I shake and cry and hold myself tight. My little legs jiggle wildly, and my sobs shake me violently.

Time passes as some friends join me to watch. We hold each others' hands, and tears soak my collared shirt. I hear about the Pentagon and about Pennsylvania. I become less of a human and more of an entity as I learn more.

The rest of the day is a blur. I remember and retain absolutely nothing. I climb in the car at the end of the day and say very little to my mother. I know we both cry, but it's in relative silence. I try to stay "strong" because I think that's what she would want me to do. I don't want her to see how vulnerable I am.

Yesterday, I was twelve years old. Today, I am twelve years old.

But today, nothing is the same.


I never dreamed that on the same day seven years later, I'd be in an ambulance, sitting on the bench seat opposite Drew. I'm thinking these thoughts as he starts to say something.

"It's September 11th."
"Did you ever think you'd be in an ambulance...not as a patient?"
"No, not really."
"I mean, fuck, Sam. We're in an ambulance, you know?"
"Yeah, I know."

I know that when I wake up every day, I'll put on some jeans and a t-shirt before making my way to class. I know that my dishwasher is broken, so things need to be hand-washed.

I know when I go on shift, there's a chance I could be called upon to help someone. Often times, I am. I know that something could happen where I will be asked to give everything I have in the effort to help other people.

I never imagined that I'd be holding my firefighter-pseudoboyfriend's hand in his fire department as Brian Wilson remembers this day on the air.

I never thought I would be in this position. I wouldn't change it for anything.

I'll always remember feeling so alone, so scared. I'll always remember that realization that maybe I'm not so mature after all. I'll always remember Father Phipps's words. "I have absolutely nothing else to say, except may God save us."

I will always remember.


Epijunky said...

Once again you said it better than I could while trying to convey EXACTLY what I was feeling at the time.

And today.

I was 25 then. I'm not sure how old I am now.

tracy said...

One of my 17 year old son's assignments was to interview a parent about that day...i never knew such a "simple" thing could bring back such strong emotional feelings ....but in a way, i was grateful for it...the chance to never forget the shock and terror i felt that day and the sorrow the following days and weeks...

Michael said...

It is Truly a date that will live in Infamy.

I sometimes wonder if Osama ever has thought the words of Yamamoto at Pearl Harbor....

"I fear that all we have done is to awaken a sleeping giant and fill him with a terrible resolve."

Anonymous said...

This is my first visit to your blog, but not the last. You have a wonderful gift of expression and your writing leaves me feeling inspired. You absolutely captured a lot of my 9/11 sentiment before I had a chance to do so myself. Keep up the good work!

Medix311 said...

Thanks for sharing. I feel truly uplifted to know how many others are taking the time to remember those lost that day.

Lodo Grdzak said...

I think a little too much "God" may be causing the problem here, don't you think? If its one thing 9/11 taught me (and I was right there when it happened), its that you don't react to real problems emotionally. Or on "faith-based" premises. That's what George W. and USA did and look what a mess they made in Iraq. What happened on 9/11 (among other things) is that a new generation of Americans grew up. Learned that there's a bigger world out there than just America and we ignore it at our own peril. Lets leave God out of man's fuck-ups shall we? The answer lies in ourselves--not the stars or heaven.

Philip said...

Great post. You've got an acute sense of feeling I don't think I could pretend to imitate. I also don't think I was nearly that aware of the world around me during 9/11; I've only got distant flickers, and I was a bit older at the time than you were.

unit54 said...

I'm new to blogging but not EMS. Its nice to know that no matter where in the states you were, we all felt the same thing that day.

I remember everything from that day like it just happened, and yet, can't remember the events of the day as clearly. Where I was, the utter disbelief that came from what happened and what was to follow. And like you, I never thought about joining EMS back then. Today, I wouldn't have it any other way.