It is surreal that nine years after 9/11, that morning of mayhem remains vividly imprinted no matter how deep the memory has been buried beneath my subconscious. Few realize the emotional extent of the toll that this tragedy has inflicted upon my personal life- not only as a New Yorker, but as a resident dislocated as a result of living two blocks away from the World Trade Center. At the age of thirteen that time, I still find it extremely difficult returning to pry open the lockbox of all that occurred during those three months (although I watch the ceremony every year, I still cannot bring myself to watch “United 93″ or “World Trade Center”) .
The Tribute WTC Visitors Center also offers tours led by those who have lived to tell it- I’d love to sign up, but I’m not emotionally ready yet. (One way of knowing this was during senior year of high school, I was asked to give a speech about my experience; midway, I broke down in front of at least 100 people. Not my idea of successful public speaking..)
Another semester of middle school had just commenced, and one morning, we were called out of class to an emergency assembly around 9 AM. After the announcement, we’d been advised not to speak of the news around the elementary students. Throughout the same afternoon, I stood amid the rooftop of my school, attempting to reach my parents on my phone- among a network of busy signals and sirens. That night, I stayed at a friend’s house, still unable to process the burning images flashing across the television screen in her room.
For the next month, my parents and I stayed with a family, the 8 of us crammed into a tiny apartment. My father who having worked near the World Trade Center for so many years, found himself out of work. During his spare time, my parents would wait outside the unemployment office and served as Red Cross volunteers translating for other residents in the same situation. I didn’t see my brother for two weeks (as we attended different schools, he stayed with his classmate nearby), and had to adjust to fitting into clothes graciously lent by the family we were living with.
A month later like strangers finding their way back , I remember the thick layer of ash that had built outside our windows. The alien experience of having to show proper identification in order to return home, surrounded by police on every corner was a transition from outsider to a foreigner looking in.
Most certainly, I’ve lost and gained my outlooks on life; I’ve lost my faith in religion but simultaneously, it’s taught me to stop sitting on the sidelines- ultimately, I can most assuredly testify that without 9/11, the decisions that have shaped me would have never landed me in a school like Bates.