September 11, 2001
On September 11, 2001, I was a sophomore in college. I woke up, got dressed, and went to breakfast. I heard something about a plane crash — I don’t know if a television or radio was playing, but I heard it over a speaker. I didn’t think anything of it, and I went to class.
My professor walked in but didn’t sit down. He said, “Y’all need to go back to your dorms and watch the news.” Class was dismissed.
Today, we are used to smartphones telling us what’s happening in real time. It took me about 10-15 minutes to get back to my dorm. When I walked in, my roommate was sitting on the top bunk, watching TV, and not blinking.
I looked at the screen and saw the towers fall.
Everything was a blur, and I didn’t know what to do. I had another class — chemistry — and I went, thinking that my professor was going to cancel.
He didn’t. Everyone was confused but no one left. I remember him saying he had family in the DC area but I don’t recall what the lesson was that day. I just wanted to call my mother.
“We are at war,” is what she said when I got her on the phone.
The details of the day were still very fuzzy. I heard about the Pentagon, the White House, and George W. Bush. I called my little brother, who was 7 at the time, and asked if he understood what happened. His response: “Planes hit a building.”
The details continued to come, and the shock of it all continued to escalate. Everyone was glued to the news. I had a feeling that I needed to call my editor: I was a reporter on the school newspaper.
At the time, it was published on Tuesdays and Thursdays. 9/11/01 was a Tuesday. I called him, and he asked if I could come into the office to work on a special issue.
I talked to quite a few people that day. Although I didn’t know what to do with my own thoughts, I managed to connect with others about theirs.
Two Months Later
I’d always wanted to go to New York City. As a journalism major, NYC is #goals: The jobs, the culture, and adventure — it’s all there! My aunt lived in New Jersey, so my older brother and I had tickets to visit her and spend Thanksgiving there. Her daughter and friends would also be there, and it was a short drive to Times Square and all the things I’d heard about and seen on TV.
After 9/11, I wasn’t sure if we’d still be able to go. Or if a terrorist would be on the plane and try to crash it. It was all still very fresh.
Nevertheless, my mom drove us to the airport and it was the first time that she couldn’t go with us to the gate. We made it safely, and a day or so later was my first trip to New York City.
You could feel the grief in the air. Blocks were lined with “Missing” signs of loved ones, and the debris from Ground Zero was still visible. “I ❤️ NYC” memorabilia was in abundance. Although I got to see sites like Sylvia’s in Harlem, MTV’s TRL studios, and Radio City Music Hall, I also experienced my dream city through the lens of unimaginable terror … and resounding hope.
I had an opportunity to move to NYC when I was 24. I was offered an internship in Rochester with a major newspaper … but I turned it down. (That’s another story but I’ll leave it right here: Always choose your dreams first.)
As I was approaching 34, I had the urge to go back. Only this time, I was considering moving there. I had been researching jobs, salaries, costs of living, and places to live. I had a few friends in the city and made plans to connect with them. I’d planned a solo trip, but after talking with one of my best friends about my plans, it eventually evolved into a birthday trip with the whole crew of best friends (6 people total).
It was the ultimate NYC trip: A City Pass afforded us access to all of the major tourist attractions, we had amazing seats to “The Color Purple”, and a multi-hour food tour of Greenwich Village was an amazing experience. I stayed in the city a few days longer than the group because I wanted to see what it felt like to navigate the city solo. One of those days was spent at the National September 11 Memorial Museum.
I was there for six hours. Time stood still. It was truly a full-circle moment.
The museum is a beautiful tribute to the lives lost and the survivors. Over the years, I’ve met people who lost loved ones on that day. I offer my condolences and listen to them share their stories.
To learn about the museum, click here. From the memorial: “No day shall erase you from the memory of time.”