I was 12 years old-too young to know, or to care, really, that there was a primary election taking place in New York City and too shielded by adults’ delicate descriptions of horror to know what a terrorist or a war really was. It was my second day at Boston Latin School, an exam school in Boston, and Mrs. Kelly, our Head Master came on the loudspeaker during English class. She announced, “Ladies and gentlemen of the student and faculty body…”
I don’t remember the rest of the statement, but teachers tell us that for my six remaining years at the secondary school, every time she began her routine announcements with, “Ladies and gentlemen of the student and faculty body,” my class would freeze, expecting the worst and reliving our first encounter with that statement: the terrorist attacks of 9/11.
In Boston, I was poised to have a very different experience from many New Yorkers, who witnessed and experienced 9/11 firsthand. The only thing I really knew about the World Trade Center was the amazing view from the observation deck, which I had visited a week and a half earlier, and that I had had my 11th birthday party at Windows on the World, the restaurant on the top floor of one of the towers (get the metaphor?).
In my high school in Boston, the mother of a member of my seventh grade English class was supposed to be on one of the planes from Boston to Los Angeles that were used to bomb the World Trade Center. She screamed when the news announced that the planes had left from Boston, causing the teachers to convene and decide they were not qualified to subject us to this type of news coverage. The TVs were turned off.
It turned out that her mother had actually missed her flight, and she showed up at the school a few hours later to retrieve her daughter. This mother was one of many. Parents started arriving in droves, coming to protect and rescue their children from any possible harm. About half of the school of 2,500 was quickly emptied out.
The announcement came, I don’t remember from where, that all air travel had been grounded. Within five minutes, my class had another panic attack as a helicopter flew perilously close to our building. Our whole world was clearly under attack, and our teacher asked out loud if we should move away from the windows. Then another announcement: The plane that had seemingly been on the attack was only a Harvard Medical emergency vehicle coming in to land next door.
The momentary relief of knowing I was OK made me remember that my entire family, with the exception of my mom, lived in New York City. After the attacks, every member of my family got a cell phone-but on 9/11 itself, we had no way to contact each other but to desperately call each other’s house phones. I was closer to my grandmother than to anyone else in the family, and it took us until 11 p.m. that night to reach her via her landline.
Two days later, I got on a Greyhound bus to New York, against my mother’s wishes, to “protect my grandmother.” How nave of me. As soon as we could, my grandmother and I visited Lower Manhattan. As soon as we exited the subway station, a squadron of Army men marched by, guns at attention, boots crunching through the grayish dust encrusted with brown.
I was later told that the brown in the dust was probably blood, and that freaked me out enough to realize I couldn’t protect grandma. We quickly acquiesced to my mother’s pleas and I went back to Boston to watch the news on TV, rather than experience it firsthand.