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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