On my first day of boarding school the planes crashed into the towers in New York.
Some of the flights came from Boston, where the parents of the kids surrounding me had flown from that morning, and no one knew whose parents were where, and none of the phones seemed to be working. (Did people even have cell phones then? I didn’t, I don’t think. It all seems so long ago.) I thought about calling someone but I wasn’t sure who I would call.
I first heard about it from a teacher at the start of my math class, my second class that day. I had lined up my notebooks and pens just so on my desk, nervously glanced around the room, looking for pretty girls or even just a friend. The teacher was talking in hushed tones with a colleague at the front of the room, and I just heard “New York” and “explosion” and I remember thinking that she was discussing the plot to a film I hadn’t seen. The teacher went on with the lesson. She didn’t know enough to cancel class.
Then more details came out. In history class Mr. Crawford looked down and told my class, all of us barely 14 years old, that this would be a day we would remember until the day we died, a day that would be discussed in history books for hundreds, if not thousands of years. He mentioned Pearl Harbor.
I thought at the time he was being hyperbolic, and now I feel shame for thinking that.
From there the day loses form, like a whirlpool dissipating in the shallows of the ocean near my home in Maine.
Somehow I ended up in one of the older boys’ dorms, in the faculty apartment of one of the philosophy teachers, who criticized the media’s coverage of the event, pointing out how ridiculous it was that the news reporters were in shirt sleeves, playing up the drama. He cautioned us to watch how “the narrative was being shaped” and not to be suckers to the advertising-controlled mass media efforts to dramatize the events.
I wasn’t really listening. I watched. I saw a stick figure pinwheel down the side of the building, and didn’t process what that meant. I wanted to look away, but I couldn’t. So I watched the footage over, and over. And over.
Later on, maybe, or maybe it was before all that, I walked to the chapel. A massive, ornate building at the heart of campus. I sat in the back, surrounded by monstrous columns, and I looked up at the carved angels smiling down at me.
I remember thinking that I was probably supposed to cry at times like these, so I cried a little, there in the back of the chapel, alone in the thousand-seat house of God.
Four years later, on the night before my graduation, I would sit in nearly the same seat, this time surrounded by my family. The faculty handed each one of us a small birthday candle, and then they shut the lights off and we lit our candles and the room went aglow in the shimmery light, a thousand little prayers hovering in front of everyone in the room.
I didn’t think back to the first day, however. Instead I thought about how the room looked, and how the falling wax was burning my finger, and about how scared shitless I was to leave this place. I was young.