This essay appeared in the Oct. 2019 issue of the Clark English Department newsletter, The Next Chapter.
This is the first day in 18 years that I didn’t spend 9/11 in New York City.
It was the first time nothing took place at my school. The first time people didn’t even bring it up. The first time no one seemed to remember what had happened that day.
And why would they? My peers and I were born the year that it happened. Some hadn’t even been born yet.
As I stepped onto the elevator, I saw a sign for an art event. I looked at the time and date — Wednesday, Sept. 11, at 7:47 p.m.
9/11 at 7:47. 7-4-7.
The resident adviser had made a joke about one of the most tragic days in recent history. I showed this to my friends, and none of them picked up on this. None of my New England-grown friends realized the significance of the time or date, and I was forced to explain it to them. The minute I saw the date my stomach twisted, the insensitivity of that joke, the careless nature, but then I realized that the majority of the students at this small liberal arts school hadn’t grown up in a city where it is very much alive.
I was raised by a parent who saw the second plane kill hundreds of people. I’ve heard her say, “The second plane hitting was like an optical illusion,” and “I had to walk from downtown to the Upper East Side to get you,” and “I went to check on my friend, and he was covered in the ash of the dead.”
The crazy part is that, at four months old, I must have seen the second plane. I watched the news over and over: the plane, the people running, the ash rising from the top, and then imploding. It was a nice day. People were voting that morning until the unthinkable happened.
As the years went by, I would hear how Mr. C. was running late for work but stopped to vote first, and survived because of it. Or how a girl missed school every year because her dad was one of the thousands dead, and how years later, at the 9/11 memorial museum, we all saw her dad’s name written on the wall.
Now, I can’t stop thinking about the voicemail one man left on his wife’s machine saying goodbye, saying he loved her. I can’t stop thinking about the videos of people jumping out of a skyscraper to avoid the pain of the fire. I can’t stop thinking about how people watched them. I can’t stop thinking about how many people, specifically emergency personnel, are still dying from lung inhalation today. I can’t forget when television shows talk about it.
Although 18 years have passed, New York City and New Yorkers, near and far, will never forget. It’s ingrained in our everyday lives, even if we don’t feel it. It has affected who we are and how we act on this day.
I’m in a history course, and we held a moment of silence. The non-New Yorkers sitting next to me are talking about Justin Bieber and Lizzo. I can only think of the ash on people’s faces, the soot in the air, the phone calls, the smell of burnt flesh, the videos of people jumping, the crumpling of the buildings, and the skyline. I miss something I have never experienced, and yet it is part of who I am.
I can never forget, and I wasn’t even old enough to remember.