Where I was 10 years ago

I was a freshman at Foothill High School in Tustin, California. During the exact moments it was happening, I was getting ready for my second day of school. I wasn’t watching TV or listening to the news at all. Neither was my mom, whose morning routine consisted of an hour of stressful running around and grabbing things while trying to apply her mascara. When I found out about what happened, I was walking into my painting class. My teacher was Mr. Gillette. Both of the ancient TVs were on with their usual terrible picture quality, but instead of showing the daily announcements, they were on a news channel showing footage of the towers falling.

“What’s going on?” I asked a junior named Erica who had been friendly to me on my first day even though I was wearing a heinously dorky outfit (which was kind of awesome in retrospect). “The World Trade Center just fell,” she said, kind of nonchalantly. I don’t think she meant to sound so nonchalant. Amid the din of the classroom and the chaos of what had just happened I think we were all having a hard time piecing it all together. “What do you mean, ‘fell?'” I asked. “I don’t know,” she replied, kind of nervously. Mr. Gillette looked kind of angry, or so I thought at the time. On the first day of school, I accidentally walked in on one of his classes because I had my schedule confused and he kind of grumped out at me. OK, I thought. Keep your head down. And I did until I got home later that day and watched the news. In those hours between, I faintly remember thinking the city was demolishing the building systematically (for construction purposes). None of my teachers mentioned it, probably with the intent to stay on track and remain in control. I didn’t really have friends to talk to about it at that point, having come from a tiny private school and probably also because of my proclivity for wearing overalls with holes in the knees. I was isolated. This was before the time of smart phones. Even flip phones.

Needless to say, I experienced a delayed reaction, which has always been disconcerting to me. Maybe it’s guilt, or feeling like once again I failed to connect with my classmates over something, especially something this big. But one thing’s for sure, that feeling is nothing compared to those felt by the people who were directly affected by what happened.

I’ve been listening to stories about kids who lost their parent(s) in kindergarten, who are 15 years old today. I can only imagine having to spend all those very formative years with that event looming over you so closely.

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2 responses to “Where I was 10 years ago

  1. (good post, by the way)

    When it happened I was in my second semester of college. My mother woke me up five minutes before my alarm was going to go off saying “Russell, wake up. The news just said a plane hit the World Trade Center. Do you think… do you think it was an accident?” Her words got my attention. But the thought of it being an attack didn’t even register any percentage points on my thoughts. “Most likely it was a small, private plane or something, Ma. It was probably an accident.”

    When I got up the damage was done. My mother, myself and my siblings watched the various news channels as everyone tried to make sense of something that has never been seen before.

    “What do we do, Mom?”

    “I guess I’ll go to work. You all go to school unless something changes. You call me if anything happens.”

    I pulled into the college parking lot fifteen minutes before 8 am (anytime after would ensure no parking spot). I was stoic on the entire drive until I parked the car and punched the steering wheel. “Why did this happen?! All those people?!”

    We still had a packed Algebra class (some were still trying to add). All we talking to one another as the news outlets began to report on the facts. Our professor wanted to conduct the planned lesson, but that was quickly changed as news about the Pentagon came in. She then decided on making it an open forum as us students raised our hands and voiced our thoughts/opinions.

    History was cancelled. As was History of Rock and Roll. I made it home and watched a little of the news, but not too much. I felt guilty about seeing that chaos. Or even hearing about it. This year was the first in which I allowed myself to see the either of the planes hitting the buildings. I didn’t even know that people were jumping off the Towers until my friends Aaron and Chris came over my house the next day. We spoke the best we could as eighteen year-olds about how we felt.

    The thing that instantly took me back was the feeling of revenge by all those around me. I overheard the notion of “we should just go and bomb that entire country to send them a message” several times. Maybe it was just me, but, the mentality of “the means will justify the end” was similar or the same to those who flew the planes into the Towers.

    My cousin Geoff was living in Brooklyn at the time. We called up his dad/my Uncle to check up on him. He said he was OK. The book store he worked at in the city was far enough away that no damage occurred there. But he could not take the subway home. So my Uncle said he ended up walking home along the shutdown streets then onto and across the Brooklyn Bridge alone through the massive clouds of smoke and debris. That mental image has always stayed with me.

    • Thanks for sharing this, Russell! I, too, had a big problem with the “must retaliate” mentality. That same kind of uneasiness came along when I heard accounts of people partying over Osama Bin Laden’s death.

      What a day whatadaywhataday that was.

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