When I woke up the other day, I found myself filled with emotion. No, overcome with emotion. The photos of the One World Trade Center, complete with spire and all, was circulating around the Internet. Now the tallest building in the western hemisphere, really, it stands for so much more. It shows that when you attack America, we always come back bigger, stronger, better than ever. For me, it’s a reminder of that one day – I think everybody has, or will have, at least one – that I remember every minute.
It was the second or third week of the fourth grade. I was a big bad fourth grader, just newly moved in to the modular building at my elementary school that housed the fourth and fifth grade classrooms. I couldn’t be touched. More or less, I was pretty much the man. Lunchtime quickly came, and we were all looking forward to the daily recess. There was always a touch football game, and I was always one of the referees, using my lunchbox as the yellow penalty flag.
But we were left in wanting because there was an announcement that we would be having a “practice” indoor recess. “Practice indoor recess,” I thought to myself. “What the heck is that?” We had indoor recess when it rained or snowed, but we had never had a practice before. I mean, I know I was only in fourth grade, but it is pretty self explanatory, no? So we continued through our day, though something felt a bit off. Random students were called down to the office but not to be disciplined. We had no idea. The teachers were trying to make it seem like any other day.
I was dreading going home that day because I had fall baseball practice, and I hated my team. Playing up with the older group, I felt over-matched and felt like everybody was laughing at me. They weren’t, but I felt it. Hopping off the bus, my mom was not her cheery self. She seemed mad but not that mad look that you get from your mom when you forget to clean your room. It wasn’t mad like disappointment. Looking back, she was concerned and, presumably, scared.
At the time, my dad was working in New York City – transferred up to the Big Apple from his old office in Philadelphia. He thought about moving the family closer at one point, but my brother and I were too comfortable here. The family was happy. He sacrificed everyday to make things work.
On this day though, the daily two hour commute became an afterthought. Anybody that has ever made a daily two hour commute knows the toll it takes on you and your family. It is something worthy of complaint. On this day, the two hour commute was met with a grateful sigh of relief.
I had finally stopped complaining about my upcoming baseball practice when I realized that my trivial whining was falling on deaf ears. We got home from the bus stop, and for the first time, I saw why the day had seemed all wrong. The first image I saw was the first plane flying into the World Trade Center. Confusion, anger, the inherent fall from innocence washed over me.
“Mom, what is happening,” I ask.
She told me what she knew up to that point, but at 4:00 that day, there weren’t many answers. Just a lot of questions. It was one of those events that had grown adults and children searching for answers to the same questions. Hell, to this day almost a dozen years later, we still don’t have all of the answers.
As my mom is giving me the fourth grader version of the day’s events, a new and increasingly more pressing question popped into my head. I must have been in shock listening to the story. The answer could not wait any longer, I had to ask.
“Is dad OK?”
New York City was chaotic – infinitely more than any other day in New York City. Everybody was confused, not just fanny-pack wielding day tourists trying to decipher a map of the city. But everybody was scared on this day.
Usually the commute home only requires fighting through the crowds at Penn Station to get to the train quick enough to find a seat. This day was different, though. This day was a fight to get home alive, let alone standing or sitting. The thoughts of family and kids and the inevitable “what if” situations swirled in the minds of all.
To be honest, that is how I imagine my dad’s day going. Even if he were to tell me, I doubt I could ever put the emotions into words. But he has never told me. To this day, he won’t talk about it. The thought of it conjures up the emotions felt that day, and they are overwhelming. I’ve only seen my dad overcome with emotions twice; when my mom was battling cancer last year and on 9-11.
My dad was lucky that day. He made it home between 8-9 p.m. His office was in Lower Manhattan, just a few blocks from the World Trade Center. He saw one of the planes hit from his office window. But he made it home, and that’s all that counts.
When I laid down to go to sleep that night, I couldn’t shake the visuals. First plane. Second plane. The terror and screams of the people running through the city. Thinking about my dad, a man just trying to support his family and make an honest living, among chaos. If I closed my eyes, they crept back in. I was in fourth grade and scared by it all. I couldn’t keep replaying the day in my head, so I laid there with my eyes wide open.
Restless and in need of a glass of water, I went downstairs to the kitchen. My parents were down there. I think my dad was trying to articulate his feelings of the day, but I’m not sure. Nobody could sleep. In fact, I was haunted by the images for months. My dad still has nightmares about it too.
Beginning as just another day of ruling the elementary school halls, turned into one of those days that I remember every minute of. Seeing the final piece of the One World Trade Center put into place brought me back to that day, that Sept. 11th, 2001 day that started off just like every other day. Even though it is nearly twelve years later, the emotions are still as strong as ever.
It is funny that the day I would want to forget the most is also the one that I remember the most. And one photo brought it all back to me.