On this date 12 years ago, I was a 17 year old freshman at St. John’s University. I had gone through orientation the week before, and Tuesday, September 11th was to be one of my first days of classes. My first class was scheduled for the early afternoon, so I was still sleeping at my house in Brooklyn when the first plane crashed into the World Trade Center.
Shortly after, I was woken up by a call from my father, who had an office in Midtown. I could tell in his voice that something was terribly wrong, and when I turned on the television, the full scope of what was happening started to sink in. It was all at once jarring, horrifying, infuriating, and painful.
With classes cancelled, I walked a few short blocks to one of my friend’s houses. By the time I got there, the first tower had fallen. Dazed and unsure of what to do, we drove to the 69th street pier in Bay Ridge, which was a stone’s throw from where we had graduated from High School just four months prior.
There were many other people gathered on the pier, and as we gazed right, to lower Manhattan, all we could see was smoke. The entire city was covered in it, and we couldn’t tell if the second tower was still standing or if it had also come crashing down, taking with it so many innocent people.
September 11th, 2001 was a temperate, crystal clear day that featured blue skies that were almost impossibly perfect. In just a few hours, that perfect day was transformed into a nightmare – not only for those in New York City, Washington DC, and Shanksville, Pennsylvania, but for everyone who dreams of living in peace.
With fighter jets roaring overhead, sirens blaring, burnt debris making its way from lower Manhattan to our neighborhood in Brooklyn, and nearly everyone I knew (including myself) unsure whether all of our friends and relatives were alive, the day went on. A group of about 10 of us slowly came together. We stood on the sidewalk and talked until the middle of the night.
One of our neighbors was a firefighter who had a newborn. He didn’t make it home. His name was Dennis Patrick O’Berg. My uncle was another one of the firefighters who raced to the scene, and we didn’t hear from him until close to midnight. He was safe, but forever changed by what he had witnessed.
Starting that night, nearly every storefront began to be filled up by pictures of the missing. The stench of burning debris and other things I don’t want to imagine ever again filled the air. Everyone was furious at what had happened, but that anger was overtaken by a feeling of helplessness.
In the days and months that followed, things slowly started to get back to normal. However, it was a different kind of normal. Everyone who lived in New York City during the September 11th attacks has two separate lives. The one they lived before September 11th, 2011, and the one they’ve been living since.
The site of the attacks has long since been cleared, and the new One World Trade Center is just about finished, rising majestically above every other building in the City. However, whenever I pass the lower Manhattan skyline, I also look at what’s no longer there.
Today is a day to remember everyone who was lost on September 11th, 2001. They were people who got on planes they thought were bound for their destination, workers who had no chance to escape the buildings, and first responders who put the lives of others before theirs.
Not to be forgotten, are the families of those who were left behind. According to Tuesday’s Children, 3,051 children lost a parent on September 11th, 2001, and 1,609 people lost a spouse. So many of them still need our help. To donate, go here.