I was in eighth grade, and we were too young to learn how the world had changed.
Teachers being called to meetings, walking around the school with red rimmed eyes. Students being pulled out of class by parents with tears streaming down their cheeks.
But they wouldn’t tell us what was going on.
It was to hide us from the horror, I suppose. We were too young, we needed our parents. But this is middle school, the land of rumors and fear.
“Did you hear? Someone bombed the Empire State Building,” Stephanie Sagalow told me over lunch. “It’s gone.”
I couldn’t believe it. The Empire State Building? It couldn’t be.
Later in the lunch hour, a conflicting report. “I just overheard a teacher. It’s the Twin Towers, not the Empire State Building. Thats why someone in my math class got pulled out- her dad works there.”
That’s when I paled. My uncle worked in New York City in finance, on something that had to do with the stock market. Did he work there? I didn’t know, but I was terrified.
We weren’t allowed to use the pay phones, and our cell phones wouldn’t work. It took pleading with two teachers to allow me to call my Dad. Uncle Mitchell was fine.
But still we weren’t allowed to know.
Three periods later, a teacher rebelled against the restriction. “If the entire world has changed,” Mrs. Schavran told us, “I think you are old enough to know.” She then turned on the TV, and sitting in Earth Science class, we saw the images that are burned into our nations collective consciousness for the first time.
Tower One, smoldering. Tower Two, and the moment when we knew that it was no accident. The first collapse. The second. The people. The dust. The pile.
I got off the school bus later that day, greeted by a mother who looked like the world was over. In a way, it was. We sat there silently for the next hour or so, watching news coverage in the kitchen.
My school thought we were too young to know. They were wrong. We needed to know.
I’m 24 now, I live in the city that I used to neighbor. I have friends that live in the shadow of the Freedom Tower. At times, the tourist traffic near their apartment due to the memorial can get annoying. That seems so petty today.
Today, we need to remember. So, inspired by Matthew Knell, I decided to share my story.
Cartoon by Walt Handlesman, Newsday