An Attack at Home: A New Yorker Remembers 9/11

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It was a Tuesday morning like any other. I was 5 and concerned with which Gap jeans I was going to wear that day and what sandwich the cafeteria would serve. And truthfully, I don’t remember what I ended up wearing. I don’t even remember my first day of kindergarten though it was only a week before.

But I remember that Tuesday morning as clear as day.

I couldn’t tell you what was wrong, but I knew everything just felt a little bit off. We had free time all day as the teachers tried to keep us busy and figure out how to send us all home. It wasn’t later than 11:00 a.m. when my grandparents came back to pull me out of school. I was mad, I didn’t get a cafeteria sandwich. When I got home, the three of us watched in silence as the news showed the images I could see vaguely from my bedroom window. It was the first time I was able to identify something on the news in real life, and it was horrifying.

I grew up in Westchester County, NY. A short ride to the city (depending on the traffic of course), and the closest thing to Manhattan without being Long Island. My dad still makes that drive every day and my old neighbor’s dad still bikes in and out every day that the weather is nice just like they did 17 years ago. One of my teacher’s husbands, and my father’s friends daughters? Not so lucky. That’s how close I was, even if I was 5 and more concerned with my Gap jeans.

Since 2002, Sept. 11 is remembered in New York City with blue beams projecting from where the Twin Towers once stood. (Photo from Newsweek)

Being at the age where I was just on the cusp of being able to remember and process things, it’s hard to believe for myself and my peers a time when we didn’t walk around with the internet in our hands. We scrambled to find my father at work, as everyone was just trying to make sure their family was safe. He didn’t even have a cell phone. He still talks about how it took hours for him to know what even happened as he spent his mornings driving a truck.

Someone mentioned a plane crash and he gave a witty comeback and went about his day until a hysterical woman ran out of her house to tell him and his co-workers to go back home. Everything was shutting down indefinitely. And I remember him walking through the front door that evening. I still didn’t know what was going on, really. But somehow it still felt like a weight was lifted.

Growing up in the biggest and most diverse city in the country, moving to Indiana at 18 was quite a culture shock, even if I was in Indianapolis. RFRA was a big debate when I first got here, and it was one of the first times I was living in a place where so much bigoted hatred won. Where more people around me were in support of something so wrong rather than not. It was the first time I was living in a red state, or even just not the most blue state in the country. I realized that outside of my home and the place I loved so much, where you still see ‘Never Forget 9/11’ stickers on the back of cars, and we still hold charity baseball games for the 22-year-old NYPD firemen we lost in the rubble, that people have forgotten.

Either that or they just don’t know.

I’ll credit my location during my upbringing for my outlook on most political issues. I sat next to DACA recipients in school. I had friends from a dozen different countries. From foster homes to the nuclear family. You’ll hear a million different, unique stories when you grow up in a place like New York. Which is what always made it seem more beautiful to me-- that despite surviving a terrorist attack, everyone around me seemed to come together at once. The aftermath always seemed like some twisted kind of beautiful because we didn’t see people at face value. For once we didn’t push people out of our way on street corners. We joined hands and knew we had one thing in common: we were survivors.

We supported the police, the firefighters, and the military. The people who didn’t sleep for days looking for someone’s daughter or husband under thousands of pounds of burning metal. And maybe that made me a little more jaded. Maybe, like so many New Yorkers, that gave me some kind of blind hope that every police officer is a good person. Maybe that’s why it’s so hard now to address police brutality.

Project 9/11 in Indianapolis honors those who died on Sept. 11, 2001. Two beams from the towers stand near the Fire Department, along with a timeline of events from that day. (Photo by Breanna Cooper)

Don’t get me wrong, I am a strong advocate for the Black Lives Matter movement, and I know there is a serious issue that must be addressed with racism in the police force. However, in the back of my mind whenever it comes to issues in New York City, I always find myself thinking ‘The NYPD? No, not the NYPD. They’re the good guys.’ But maybe that’s the same false narrative that still makes me afraid to get on a plane, almost two decades later. Maybe the experience messed us all up far worse, mentally, than we could have imagined.

I don’t know the answers to all those things but I know our experiences affect our outlook on life and 9/11 being one of the first ones I can remember in my life, I know it had a significant impact. And looking to the future, I just hope that we don’t forget where we came from and our experiences as a country because history always repeats itself if you let it.

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