SPECIAL: A September Day Like No Other – 20 Years Later

As we honor that tragic day twenty years ago. I remember fondly where I was and what I was doing. It started like any day as my sophomore year in Senior High School. It was the second week of school and transitioning back to my home school district after a year away at a residential treatment facility. I was getting used to my new school and was doing fairly well.

The morning started like no other, arriving at school and going for the beginning of the school year until a necessary schedule change of a later class had me experiencing adaptive physical education first period. This was also the year where the homeroom was not every day where we reported to the first period first thing. Next was the second period, English class with about five or six of us in a very large classroom. My teacher, Mrs. Shreve, who still says hello to me in my adult years and still teaches at the high school had a television in her classroom and some mornings as we worked she would have the news on. Like any other morning after her lecture this was the case. By watching Good Morning America we would discover the first plane striking the World Trade Center thinking nothing of it. I was just keeping with my day. 

My next class was biology and it was just across the hall but to get to it you had to walk around a service closet to get to it and it was a smaller classroom more purposed for learning support. My high school was built in the early 1970s and had many classrooms without windows, which was the style at the time. This was one of those interior classrooms that had large windows displaying the classroom to let in light from the alcove and adjoining hall. As I rounded that corner to that classroom around 9:00 that morning, I saw the second plane collide into the other WTC tower. I knew this was no accident.

The Science/Special Education teacher had her planning period prior to my arrival and had seen this with me. She knew this was something we needed to watch for the class and we did. During the class period, the principal of the school made announcements for everyone to remain calm. Next I had two study halls with lunch in the middle. The first study hall had a well educated English teacher and this was at the time a plane struck the Pentagon in Washington DC. He illustrated the National Mall and other landmarks of the town on the bulletin board. Also at this time, with the news on CNN, we heard of the plane crash in Shanksville, Pennsylvania which is about an hour and a half due east of my home. 

I became anxious, and students were leaving school. I knew that would not be an option as my  mother would be home asleep from her night shift job and my dad had no technology as we were used to at the time. He was retired at the time but he didn’t even have a cell phone and spent a lot of time outside. Like any other day at my new school, I grabbed my lunch from the cafeteria and headed to the nurse’s office to consume my lunch because I couldn’t withstand the noise of the cafeteria my sophomore year and had accommodations for many things that year.

The other study hall came and more and more students were leaving. But I knew I would have to ride out the day and I was scheduled to meet with my wraparound counselor after school and my grandparents later that day. So we just sat in the classroom and watched the news. Three periods left in the day, two in a very small classroom and one in the classroom where  I saw the first plane collide. It was a different day as there were no lessons and for those two periods in the small classroom we went to larger classrooms with TVs that could accommodate us. We saw the armed forces prepare for additional attacks and things in the bigger cities become shuttered. We saw the president address the nation that day from several locations from where he started his day by reading to children in a classroom in Florida. He was moved to places around the country, flights were stopped, phones sometimes didn’t work. 

I finished the school day and went home to where my wraparound counselor was there to greet me. We went to the gym like we normally did and then walked around an eerie downtown before I finished the day with my grandparents where I can recall eating a bag of hot cheese curls watching the news with them. 

I always found it odd that on a day when the world stopped turning, it was like a normal day for me. I am absolutely not discounting that the act of terror was nothing to occur. In fact, I love my country very much and am a very patriotic person. I support our fine armed veterans and armed forces, in fact my dad served in the Army Reserves and my uncle served in the Vietnam conflict, but on a day that was to seem different, it just seemed like a normal day to me,

It was also interesting that my parents went on with their lives as normal, because that is what we did. That day has taught me over the past twenty years to be resilient in what I do and when I am thinking clearly I know I have  to be the one to keep my emotions in control. I couldn’t imagine how it would have been if I didn’t. That would have made things worse and not helped the tenseness of the day.

That school year posed its challenges not so much for me but for the entire school body. It taught me that I couldn’t always have what I wanted and if I asked properly my needs would be met. Two days later we had a bomb scare at the school, where we had to evacuate to the Junior High next door. We also experienced a heating system malfunction, electrical outage and water main break that altered our school routine. By my junior year I was no longer eating lunch in the nurse’s office but with my peers in the cafeteria. I was also changing classes with the students too instead of leaving a few minutes early. If anything, the abrupt changes and events of 9/11 made me realize more that things can change and that sometimes things can happen without knowledge and it can be hard to be calm when tragic things occur without notice and that I need to be there for my peers and leaders. Yes, sometimes I may have a slight backslide, but I am not as bad before that September day.

As the years have passed, I have visited Shanksville three times. Once two years after the attacks at what was then the temporary memorial and the new National Memorial including the new “tower of voices. It is sad that those 40 people died but we must remember they did it as true patriots for their country and did it without seeing anything but love for our nation and prevented a more catastrophic event by thwarting it. We must always remember this day!

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