Everyone vaguely or vividly remember what they were doing or where they were this tragic day. I can vividly remember that I was in my 4th grade class, happily beginning the day at my elementary school in my hometown of Cliffside Park. We are literally across the Hudson, where the New York skyline is the view I see from the moment I open my eyes to the moment I close them. On September 11, 2001, I was unable to even look at it, staring up at my ceiling in terror every time I heard the roar of an airplane flying over my house.
Another teacher had rushed into our room,a panicked look on her face as she whispered into Ms. LaRose’s ear. I could see her normally pink face go ghostly pale as her eyes opened wide.She immediately looked at us and told us: “Something terrible has happened.” she pressed the button on the huge, bulky black TV that was positioned high above the class.
I will never forget what I saw. On the screen, were the two buildings I would always stick my head out the window and crane to see. The two buildings me and my father would always marvel at when he went into the city to pick up several orders of cell phones from his friend, another wholesaler. He would always proudly say in his very accented English, “This country is great..just look at those beautiful buildings..” and I could only nod as I continued to stare up at the two buildings. Those were the best times for me, to spend time with father and just appreciate what I had around me.
There they were, bellowing smoke like a chimney, as they were crashed into by a plane. At first, I didn’t know what to think. My brain couldn’t really process it but then a pang of pain and despair hit me in the chest. Then fear. I didn’t know if my father was in New York and for some reason I worried for my mother who worked in a hospital in Edgewater, which is right next to the water and across from the city. We sat in an uncomfortable silence. The teacher’s couldn’t say anything and poor Ms. LaRose, who was usually stony-faced in class, could not hold the tears that escaped her eyes and slid down her cheeks.
We were quiet and somber until lunchtime came around, where there were a lot less children and classmates. Many had been picked up by family members and I was wondering where mine was. This was long before children my age of 11 and 12 had cell phones. I felt relief wash over me as I saw my mother down the hall,waving me down, the same relief reflected on her face. I couldn’t help but run to her and throw my arms around her, burying my face into her green scrubs. She stared down at me and told me we were going home. I don’t remember the walk home but once we did get home, I curled up on her bed with her and just laid with her,trying not to cry. She had seen the whole thing happen. The plane hitting the first building, then the second, the smoke filling up the normal calm sky with the dark clouds that seemed like an omen itself.
I cried for those buildings I loved so much, I cried for those who were in the buildings, and I cried mostly in fear. What was going on? Would my house get hit too? Was my father okay? When night fell, I remember that I wasn’t able to sleep well. My father had, thankfully, been at his small business and not in New York but it was impossible to reach anyone so we didn’t know he was alright until he got home.
When more details began to spill out that it had been hijackers and they were of Middle Eastern descent, that’s when I began to feel my innocence slowly slipping away. Just seeing those buildings go down must have made me grow up rather quickly as I had to be strong and know that many people lost their lives. But being of Middle-Eastern descent myself, my father and I knew that there would be much backlash. I was not wrong. People liked to paint a whole population as terrorists. I didn’t understand. I wasn’t a terrorist, I was an American just like everyone else. I would continue to see those stereotypes as I grew up. When that huge blackout occurred in 2003, only 2 short years later, I really did feel that pain. I was with my father in his electronics store, many people were buying batteries, flashlights, etc. A white man walked into our store, about to pay for some batteries, when he casually asked my father where he was from to which my father replied proudly, “Syria.” That man ran out faster than I could blink, I watched as he ran down the street, looking back several times in fear and disgust. It was also after that, that I did not accompany my dad into the city again. It was the end of our daily weekends together, which I would have loved to continue to do until now.
Every day, I look out at that skyline and remember those two tall, gorgeous buildings and how easily they crumbled and how much faster I had to grow and learn that life, really wasn’t as perfect or safe as I thought.
I dedicate this post to all the brave men and women who responded to that dreadful day in Manhattan. Thank you for risking your lives. I dedicate this to those in the ill-fated aircrafts, may you rest in peace, and I dedicate this post to those who survived and lost their lives in those buildings and all the families affected, including my professor, who actually made it out and could tell a tale that will both tug on your heartstrings and renew your faith in humanity.
Never forget, September 11, 2001.