Where was I, you ask?
I was a senior in college, and I had just stepped out of the shower at my
second floor apartment on Ackerman Avenue.
As was my routine, I had turned on the Today Show in my room, gotten out of
bed and headed to the shower. I remember listening to someone interview someone
else about tax cuts on the TV.
Everything was normal.
Fifteen minutes later, that was not the case.
I walked back into my room, and knew something was wrong. Matt Lauer was in
“news mode” and they were talking about unconfirmed reports of an airplane
hitting one of the twin towers in New York City. I was still watching when the
second plane hit.
I remember that Matt Lauer kept insisting that a news helicopter had hit the
second tower – not another plane. He was in shock. He didn’t want to believe
that it could happen twice. If it were another plane, that meant that America
was under attack. We all were.
I called my mother. I was on the East Coast, she was in Dallas. I woke her
up, and told her to turn on the TV. Two planes had just hit the Twin Towers.
She didn’t believe me at first, but then she turned on her TV and saw the
footage. I remember her telling me that she loved me.
Then, I listened to the audio feed as a third plane hit the Pentagon in
I remember standing there in shock. I was still wrapped in a towel. My
long hair dripping all over the blue rug in my bedroom.
There were other planes out there, too, that were unaccounted for. How many
of those had been hijacked? It was chaos. Utter chaos.
Then, still watching, listening and wondering, I got dressed. I don’t
remember doing so, but I did. I don’t even think I brushed my hair. All my
roommates were on campus, and I was all alone at the apartment. I didn’t know
what to do, but I knew I didn’t want to be by myself. So, I walked to my 10 AM
class in a daze. I remember seeing many other people doing the same thing. It
was like we were all shadows. Walking shadows.
Could this all really be happening?
I got to class…suddenly. That is the only way I can describe it. The class
was held in a building that was easily a mile+ from my apartment, but I was
there before I knew it. The professor, not knowing what to do, showed us a
film. The classroom had no windows, so the room was completely dark except for
the light from the screen. I have no memory of what the movie was about, but I
do remember being incredibly grateful for the “normalcy” that it provided. It
was like being in a womb. I recall being warm and thankful for all the other
breathing bodies in the dark room. The illusion of safety.
When the movie was over, the professor turned on the lights (but dimly) and
walked up front. At first, his back was to us, so we couldn’t see his face. He
then turned to us and – with tears streaming down his face - told everyone that
both towers had collapsed and that a fourth plane had crashed somewhere in
I remember holding my breath at this news. I held it in until my lungs hurt.
It was like I temporarily forgot how to breathe.
I left the classroom and walked into the lobby of the building. Everywhere I
looked, people were sobbing and frantically dialing on their cell phones. See,
I went to Syracuse University in central New York. Granted, the University
isn’t in The City, but a significant number of the student body was
from or had strong connections to the New York city area. Because of
the influx of people trying to reach their loved ones, all the cell towers were
overloaded. It would be almost two days before I could dial out on mine again.
I walked outside and was shocked at how beautiful the day was. I hadn’t
noticed when I had walked to class earlier that morning. The sun was warm, and
there was a cool breeze. It seemed terribly ironic somehow.
That was when I saw Carole. We played rugby together. She was completely
pale, with tears dripping – absentmindedly – from her eyes. I went up to her,
and she just stared at me and said, “They work there, and I can’t find them.
Why won’t they answer their phones”? I didn’t know what to say, but it didn’t
really matter because Carole just kept walking. To this day, I do not believe
that she actually saw me that morning. She was in shock. I thought about going
after her, but then I saw her turn and walk inside the School of Management
building. In her daze, she appeared to be going to class. Not knowing
what else to do, I decided that was the best place for her.
Technically, the University had closed that morning. But with the high
number of students from both NYC and DC, Syracuse reopened. So many students,
not knowing what else to do, were going to class, and the University wanted to
be there for them. After all, this wasn’t the first time the school had dealt
with deadly acts of terrorism before. On December 21, 1988, 35 Syracuse
University students were killed when Pan Am Flight 103 exploded over Lockerbie,
Scotland. Those students were all returning home for the holidays after
participating in a study abroad program in London that fall. I partook in the
same program 11 years later.
Walking through campus that morning was incredibly eerie. Almost surreal.
Everywhere you looked, there were people crying and holding each other.
Everyone knew someone personally affected by the attacks. My creative writing
professor lost his best friend, and a girl in my English class lost her aunt
when the two towers collapsed. The mother of one of my best friends in high
school worked in the Pentagon (luckily, Jacquette’s mom was running late that
The worst, though, was in all the not-knowing. Watching people dial and
redial numbers of loved ones, and being unable to get through. It was horrible
to watch them suffer while being so completely powerless to do anything to help
ease their pain. All you could do was…sit there…next to them…letting them know
that you were there…that you were there for them.
Early that afternoon, I heard that they were Medi-vacing people, those
stable enough to travel, from New York City to the hospitals in Syracuse, New
York. The helicopters were landing on our quad. All this was in preparation for
the second wave of wounded from the towers. A second wave that never came.
And, then, there was my roommate, Karen. September 11th, 2001 was her 21st
birthday. All week long, we had been planning to take her out to celebrate the
milestone birthday in style, but our plans were, of course, cancelled. Instead,
we opted to take her to the liquor store where the other roommates and
I pooled our cash so she could make her first legal purchase of alcohol.
She opted for a bottle of red wine, and she shared it with all of us in plastic
cups later that evening as we sat around watching the horror continue to
unfold on TV.
(The man at the liquor store didn't even card us. I guess, in light of
that morning's events, there were far worse things to worry about than whether
or not the four young, college-aged girls standing at his
checkout counter with a singular bottle of red wine were of age
Several days later, a Muslim woman was attacked at the local Syracuse mall.
We were all horrified by the assault, and found ourselves increasingly
protective of our friends who were either from the Middle East or of the Muslim
faith. A friend of mine, who lived on the same floor as me freshman year, was
so upset about the racial/religious profiling going on that she was afraid to
leave her room. She was from Dubai, a practicing Muslim and absolutely
terrified for her safety. It wasn’t right. After all, not all terrorists are
Muslim and not all Muslims are terrorists. Saying the opposite is like stating
that all Mormons are polygamists or that all Christians share identical views
with David Koresh. It simply isn’t so. I was very concerned (and in many ways,
I still am) that we, as Americans, were nearing a line – driven by fear and the
aftermath of 9-11 – where we’d actually consider interning Muslims and/or
people from the Middle East just like we did to the Japanese during World War
II. Of all the things that could potentially rise out of the ashes, I continue
to hope and pray that this kind of religious-based hate and distrust is not