The sun was streaming through my window that morning. I was still sleeping after a late night waiting tables. In my dreams I could hear a phone ringing, and then as I opened my eyes, I heard my roommate in the other room. She was mumbling something into the phone, and then I heard the television click on, and a muffled “Oh, my God” came from the livingroom. Her mumbling got closer and she knocked on the door. It was just after nine. My roommate came in, phone in hand, “It’s your mother. She needs to talk to you.” The look on her face told me something terrible had happened.
“Ty, a plane hit the World Trade Center,” my mother said. Her voice was mournful and steeped with distress at having to tell her daughter this news.
Still groggy with sleep, I sat upright and said, “what? What do you mean, a plane hit the World Trade Center?”
“Two planes hit the towers. It’s terrible.”
I tried to understand what I was hearing. I couldn’t comprehend it. I told my mother this was a horrid joke, and that I didn’t know why she would say such things. I knew full well that my mother would never joke about something so horrendous, but at that moment, it was the only possible explanation. Those towers were part of my life. They were the south view from my grandmother’s apartment building roof, they were where I played when I was little. They were where I had seen roller skaters dancing in wonderful whirls and spins. They were interwoven with my happy childhood memories. There was no way what I had heard could be true.
But finally, my mother insisted that I go into the livingroom and look at the television. I was shocked. The two smoking towers were on the screen and a confused newscaster was trying to comprehend what had happened. I got off the phone with my mother and my roommate and I sat transfixed in our livingroom watching the coverage. I contemplated going to class that day. But then the Pentagon was hit.
At the time, a friend of mine was working in Washington. He had just changed jobs a few weeks prior to 9/11 and had been working in the Pentagon. I couldn’t reach him. I had no idea where his new position was, and was afraid he was in the Pentagon. I panicked. I tried his phone again and again. Never getting through. I called my mother crying with worry. I tried to reach my grandmother in New York, certain she was out of harms way but still frightened. I tried again and again. Unable to reach either of them. Finally, hours later, my friend got through to me. He had had to walk home from his office. 8 miles. He was fine, and his office was no longer in the Pentagon. I breathed a sigh of relief.
I finally reached my grandmother. She was ok. Stunned and shocked, but ok. St. Vincent’s, the hospital the injured were taken to was just a block away from her apartment, and she heard sirens all day. But not enough sirens.
That day was the first day I understood was what it meant to be an American. What sacrifice, honor, heroism, and patriotism meant. That day was the day I saw our vulnerability as a country and as people. It was the day I no longer felt that youthful invincibility.