It Was 13 Years Ago Today: Thought Catalog Writers Remember 9/11

James B. Barnes:

I was in the gym of my grad school in Yonkers, NY working out and watching the morning news. They cut to footage of smoke coming from one of the WTC towers and I thought it was footage from the 1993 bombing attempt and they were commenting on it. The girl running the gym (towels and such) rushed over, grabbed a stool, and stepped up to turn the volume up. We watched for a bit and then the second tower was hit. I washed up and as I was walking across campus there must have been 30 people on their cell phones trying to call friends and family. It took eight hours for me to reach my own family. Just a few hours later, the sound of US warplanes flying overhead broke the tension. I remember feeling safe once I heard them.

Kovie Biakolo:

I was living in Botswana at the time. And I was in Standard 6—or 6th grade, as you call it here. Because of the time difference, it was evening and I remember my family sitting in the living room watching the news, mostly in silence. My oldest brother was living in the States at the time (in Wisconsin), but I recall my mother leaving the living room probably to go and talk to him or to pray or both.

I was sitting on the living-room floor, not quite understanding the situation. But I do remember glancing at my dad, who looked simultaneously calm and exasperated. The only thing he said was, “This is not good. This is not going to be good for anyone.” I never asked him what he meant, but knowing him, he was making a comment on the present situation as well as predicting the future.

The next day everyone was talking about it at school—that’s all we could talk about. I think at our next assembly we had a moment of silence and some prayers for the victims. We knew it was a big deal, but we were also removed from it being so personal. It was strange. It still is.

Ella Ceron:

I was in 7th grade, and because I lived on the West Coast, I hadn’t even been at school yet—I was getting ready in my room, and my mom was yelling at me. I thought it was because we were late, but when I finally got downstairs in peak annoyed pre-teen mode, she told me I wasn’t going to school that day because something terrible had happened. I’d never been to New York and only vaguely knew of the towers, but when we turned on the news and saw the towers just…I mean, you almost think it’s from some really bizarre movie. I didn’t really understand the magnitude of what was happening at the time—I think there’s a certain cusp or age of “getting it.” How do you explain that to a 10-year-old? Everyone in Los Angeles was really tense for the next few days. People kept saying we were going to be the next target, that Century City was supposed to get hit, or LAX, or even Disneyland. But even those jokes didn’t seem funny—it just seemed really wrong and sad and confusing all at once.

Chelsea Fagan:

I was in my pre-algebra class in 7th grade, and we were all called to the cafeteria. They told us the news—about the World Trade Center and, closer to us, the Pentagon—and parents started filtering in to pick up their children. I lived in Annapolis, a big military town and home of the Naval Academy, and several of the parents were wearing uniforms when they came in, and everyone was trying not to cry. My mother was on her knees, sobbing in front of the TV when I came home. Two of the kids at our school had a dad who worked at the Pentagon, and I’m not sure what happened to him. That night, there was a huge candlelight vigil downtown right next to the Academy. A lot of people started arguing and fighting because some people were singing anti-Arab songs about bombing them, and I remember a Navy doctor was there, and he told the woman singing loudest that she should be ashamed of herself.

Rob Fee:

I was working for a nonprofit while in college when we found out about the attacks. We were contacted by another organization to come in and help with support for the rescue workers at the Pentagon. We pulled up to it and everyone went completely silent. No one there had any idea about the protocol for this type of situation, it seemed. I spent the next 10 days onsite 50 yards from the point of impact, cooking meals and counseling the young men and women who were searching for survivors. I was at the candlelight vigil and it was one of the most surreal moments of my life. The most striking part of the whole thing for me was when tow trucks came in and started towing cars away. I realized it was the cars of people who were killed. For some reason that made it so much more real to me.

It will probably always be the most difficult thing I’ve done in my life, and what I did wasn’t even a fraction of the work others were doing. I hope it’s something we all never have to experience again.

Raul Felix:

I was in my high-school sophomore English class in Huntington Beach, CA and I had heard about a plane crashing into some building. In my mind, I just pictured a small personal jet, not a commercial airliner. Everyone had been saying there was some accident at the World Trade Center. I wasn’t really sure what the World Trade Center was at that time in my life. Then a TV was rolled into the classroom and we saw live coverage of the event right after the second plane hit the building. We saw replay after replay from various angles. The whole room’s eyeballs were glued to the screen. I was too young and naive to grasp the severity of the situation, but I knew that we would be going to war. Later on in my US History class I remember the teacher saying, “Today will mark the beginning of a new era of American history.” How right she was.

Jim Goad:

I was living in Portland and had just come home to my apartment building after staying overnight with a girlfriend. Since this was Portland, my landlady was high from smoking heroin, and through her blasted bloodshot eyeballs she explained to me that someone had crashed a plane into the World Trade Center. As more details became available, it became evident that the perps had been Islamic extremists. Unlike nearly everyone in town—who immediately seemed to become war hawks desperately waving little American flags as if they were talismans that were going to protect them from bombs—I wasn’t surprised at the attack in the least. I was aware that in the decade or so since the original American invasion of Iraq that had ostensibly been launched to protect Kuwait, economic sanctions had led to the starvation deaths of an estimated half-million or so Iraqi children. So I wasn’t surprised that it happened—only that it had taken so long.

Emma Golden:

For whatever glorious reason, my high school started class at 9:15 every day. Because of this, I was still home, not having left the house just yet for another day of freshman year. I was in my family’s kitchen, where we had this really small, really bulky TV that hung from the very end of the kitchen counter shelving. It was still somewhat dark in the house; a layer of sleep was over everything. Already the situation was on every news channel, but no anchor was quite sure what to make of it yet. Being just as confused as them, the only conclusion I could draw was that it was an accident. It had to be. Nothing else would’ve made sense. Then, live, my mom and I watched as the second plane flew into the WTC. She began screaming quietly, immediately calling my father who was at work. “Richard!” she panicked into the phone. “Richard. Are you seeing this? We’re under attack.” I stood completely dumbfounded in the kitchen, unsure of what to do next. I think it’s safe to assume this is a feeling many Americans had in the initial moments of September 11, 2001—the feeling of “Wait…what?” However, my mom has always very much been the “Life must go on” type, so off to school I was shoved where the air was thick with confusion, fear, and complete uncertainty. For the first hour or so, no classroom did anything but watch the events unfold on live television. But soon, teachers were instructed to turn it all off and force a completely unconvincing facade of normalcy upon their classrooms for the remainder of the day. On September 11, 2001, we all went through the motions until the school bell rang and we could go home to face the reality of what had happened.

Brandon Scott Gorrell:

I’m a senior in high school in Salt Lake City, which is two hours behind NYC. At this point in my high-school career, I am the type of person who has absolutely no friends or enemies. No one really notices me at all.

I’m in my first or second class of the day. It’s an AP-type history class that uses an experimental (for that time) format: The teacher is a professor at a university called Utah State, some 80 miles away from my high school, and he’s livestreaming his lecture to us from there. This is 2001, so the tech is seriously buggy. He’s on a big TV that’s at the front of the classroom in front of the chalkboard. We all have microphones with buttons we have to press when we want to ask him questions, and there is something like a five-second delay in communication between him and us.

During what seems like the middle of the lecture, someone enters the scene on the TV and whispers something in his ear. He pauses, then says something to us like, “Apparently someone has attacked the World Trade Center in NYC” before continuing with his lecture.

At the end of the class the bell rings and I go to my next class, which is a throwaway joke-type course—it’s about something like computer literacy. The teacher is the coach of the football team. A TV is suspended in the corner of the classroom and my seat is the closest one to it. On the TV, I see the images of the burning skyscrapers, and I remember my teacher from my last class getting interrupted for that odd moment and telling us, curiously, that something bad had happened. I look at the person next to me, whom I kind of know, and say, “I think something fucked-up is happening,” and he nods. The teacher/football coach, whom I always thought was kind of an asshole, proceeds to give one of the most relevant, poignant, accurate contextualizations about the attacks that I’ve ever heard. He immediately understands and articulates that now, there is “pre-9/11” and “post-9/11.” He foresees, to a T, so many ramifications of the event that I don’t even comprehend half the stuff he’s saying. We listen to him for the duration of the class.

In the hall going to my next class, I hear over the loudspeakers that school is closing early and that we all get to go home. The attacks are not real to me at this point, so I’m more excited that I get to leave early than I am affected by the event. I go home alone and probably smoke weed or something. I don’t understand the tragedy until years later.

Christopher Hudspeth:

I was in 7th grade but I went to a year-round school and was on a break at the time. I remember my mom watching the news and explaining to me what happened, but initially I didn’t understand how serious it was. I recall going along with her to run some errands and it was just a weird, different day. Everyone was talking about it; people appeared concerned and the day had an increasingly somber vibe. On the way home, radio hosts discussed it. On TV, every channel seemed to be discussing it. I can even remember networks like ESPN covering the events and this made me aware of just how unaware I was. I knew that I wasn’t grasping the magnitude of the situation, but seeing everyone hurt, concerned, in fear, worried—that day had an ominous feel to it that I haven’t since forgotten. In recent years, when mass shootings, a bombing, or some sort of unfortunate attack takes place, there are shades of that same September 11th discomfort.

Michael Koh:

I was in middle school when it happened. It was just around the beginning of class when our music teacher barged into the classroom and yelled out, “The Twin Towers, they’ve been hit!” We all erupted in discussion. We didn’t know if she was making it up or not. She brought her portable radio, and our English teacher Ms. Espaillat confirmed it as her face went white with shock.

I remember looking out the classroom window, which faced toward Riverdale (our school, MS143, sat on top of a hill by a reservoir near Lehman College), trying my damnedest to get a glimpse of the island.

We were all silently taken to the auditorium where the principal, Mr. Faselino, directed the teachers to keep a head count and take note of the students that left with their parents. I remember Ms. Kergoat, our math and science teacher, say, “He’s a smart man,” referring to the principal.

I think I had read, or was in the middle of reading Rainbow Six, and I was coming up with theories of terrorists (mostly Eastern Europeans, thanks to the Rainbow Six video-game series) positioning themselves on rooftops, armed with sniper rifles to shoot us students. It never occurred to my 13-year-old mind that the culprits were Middle Eastern in origin.

I remember the auditorium thinning out—I don’t quite remember what time it was, but I, too, along with my brother and my friends were released from the school. I had initially hoped that my parents would come to pick us up, but being that my mother worked in Westchester and my father in Manhattan, that was out of the question.

I vividly remember how empty the streets were. I remember mentioning this to my friends as we walked home. The buses we normally took home—the #1 or the #2—were not running. The subways were suspended. There were no pedestrians except for us. It was so quiet walking home, you were able to hear the traffic lights change. The walk home was quite surreal.

When my brother and I crossed Grand Concourse, a normally loud and busy eight-lane stretch of road, I remember there being nothing coming from both directions—no taxis, no children, nothing. I remember getting chills down my back.

Our apartment building was quiet, too. I think everyone was glued to their TV set. When we turned our TV on, there were no channels available, except for a very blurry Channel 2. My brother and I looked at each other and looked at the screen. The World Trade Center towers, both of them, were gone. We watched the towers collapse over and over again. I forget who the news anchor was for Channel 2, but I remember the panic and devastation in his voice.

My father worked in Manhattan. I looked frantically for his work number but couldn’t find it. I tried to phone my mother, but the phones were down. I remember holding my brother’s hand and telling him everything was OK and that mom and dad were OK, but truthfully I had no idea.

I think our father got home before our mother did—he worked around the UN, which is on the east side of Manhattan in the 40s. He said that there were police everywhere and that the subways weren’t working and that they had closed all of the bridges. He walked up Manhattan with thousands of other people and crossed into the Bronx, where he managed to catch a cab with two other people.

My mother came home just around noon (I think) and hugged all of us. She, too, had worried that something bad had happened to us. There had been an act of terror here, on US soil, and we were only 12 miles from the site. She said she tried calling us, but the phones were down. That had added to her fear.

We watched clips of the towers burning and falling until it burned into our minds. I had no idea just how big of an event this was. My little mind couldn’t understand the gravity of the situation, just that we as a nation had been attacked and that we as Americans felt exposed and vulnerable.

I remember going to school the next day to a half-empty classroom. Our lives had changed; we just didn’t realize it yet.

Lance Pauker:

I was in 6th grade, in a middle school about 60 miles east of New York City. In between 2nd and 3rd period, I remember hearing discussions in the hallway. Mostly rumors and hearsay—one girl said the Empire State Building blew up; another claimed the Statue of Liberty had been bombed. The rest of the day went by with this spooky sort of uncertainty—none of my teachers made any sort of official announcement, but we all were aware something terrible had happened in the city. Period after period, kids were being called to the office to be picked up by their parents. By the end of the school day, almost half of the school was gone. It wasn’t until I got on my afternoon bus that we learned what truly happened.

The rest of that day was of course beyond brutal—spent watching the news with my mom and brother—but perhaps the most harrowing portion came in the aftermath. There were a lot of firefighters from my hometown involved in the rescue, some of whom lost their lives. A few of my classmates spent the next few days having no idea whether or not their fathers were alive and eventually were confronted with the horrible truth. It was heartbreaking on so many levels, and the emotion associated hasn’t remotely waned thirteen years later.

Chrissy Stockton:

I was in high school in my first period when they made an announcement and I thought it was a joke at first, like a plane made a mistake. I couldn’t comprehend how big of a deal it was but it sunk in throughout the day. Went to soccer practice and everyone was looking at the sky because everyone thought more attacks were coming. Went to work at a restaurant afterwards and no one came in all night.

Jamie Varon:

I was still living at home in California and was getting ready for school. I was a sophomore in high school. I had just taken a shower, and as I stepped out of the bathroom, my dad called up to me in a panicked voice. I walked downstairs in my towel. My hair was still wet enough that beads of water were collecting on my shoulders. I stopped halfway down the stairs as I saw the footage of the planes hitting the World Trade Centers. I asked my dad very quickly, “Is this real? What is this?!” It took me about five minutes to even comprehend what was happening. It became increasingly real as I saw footage—not sure if it was live or not—of people jumping out of windows from the top of the towers. It all felt unreal and unbelievable. I remember going to school and there being no teaching of any kind and then just sort of leaving at whatever point my friends and I left. All the teachers and students walked around in a sort of stunned daze.

Brianna Wiest:

I was in 4th grade. My dad was working in the building next to the towers. I didn’t know that at the time, but everybody around me seemed to. Nobody came to get me from school. Nobody thought I needed to be around to see the worst of the worst. My teacher was going over a math lesson and someone came in and told her and she said, “Oh, my God” and went back to teaching, and that was it. I got home and we were pretty much all quiet and we hadn’t heard from my dad. My mom was pretty put-together, all things considered. My dad came in about six hours later, covered head-to-toe in debris. He was on the 34th or 36th floor of his building, and his office had huge windows, all of which he claims were completely blacked out by smoke. He is a former Marine and so he was doing a lot of internal management and crisis control. Long story short—he was OK, but not everybody was. My neighbor lost his brother and my best friend lost her uncle. A few classmates’ parents and grandparents were gone, too. In total, I personally knew seven people who died, though please consider I was probably eight and “personally knew” was more like “being acquainted with.”

In a college class many years later, however, I heard a particularly ignorant peer say something to the extent of, “I don’t know why people make such a big fuss on the anniversary, like, I didn’t know anybody who died.” And a few people agreed with her, because where they were in PA wasn’t near any of the attack sites. I kept my mouth shut. I shouldn’t have. Thought Catalog Logo Mark

image –Shutter Stock

More From Thought Catalog