I’m going to introduce a topic a bit removed from the usual fare. It’s nonetheless important in character development and the evolution of emotional acumen. It’s not easy, but it’s right, and it certainly deserves a reflection. I haven’t touched upon the September 11th attacks since they happened. I always figured there were enough news and information pieces. People were healing in their respective ways. Focusing on the externalization of the events allowed me to bypass my emotions.
I was a high school freshman at Brooklyn Tech. The school is a massive giant, ranking #10th largest high-school in the US. Reaching up 12 stories, the views on the upper levels (more accurately numbered 7th floor) extended past the Brooklyn Bridge and afforded spectacular views of Manhattan. If you arrive early, you go to the cafeteria. I came early that day and found myself looking at something different than usual from the cafeteria windows. I don’t think I know the details of what was what anymore. I think I was in shock. Smoke billowed from the towers.
The students were all called into the auditorium that morning and separated based on who had loved ones in the towers and those who didn’t. The events were current, and the details were scarce. Ultimately, everyone sulked home.
The subway ride was one of the most packed and quietest I have ever experienced in New York. I took an above ground train to get home, which snaked along the edge of Brooklyn and Queens. Everyone looked out the windows at the burning icons of New York City. It was eerie, scary and numbing. When I got home, I turned on the TV only to see the situation go from bad to worse. The buildings collapsed. My family didn’t process- I don’t remember us talking about the events at all.
The following weeks, Brooklyn Tech overflowed with new students from our sister high school. Stuyvesant HS was used as a triage center. We shared the school in shifts while downtown Manhattan underwent clean-up efforts.
I hadn’t been to the site since before the attacks happened. Four days ago was the first time in over 15 years. I think I numbed myself so much over the last 15 years that I didn’t expect for all the emotion to come tumbling out at once. I knew there was sadness, but I didn’t know how much I’ve packed in over the years. Tears started flowing as I walked through the metal detector into the museum entrance. There was no particular memory or reason. It all just was. Nothing was as I remembered it, and I think I preserved the memory before the attacks so well that it didn’t make sense.
I couldn’t pinpoint any emotion; it was just a catharsis. A mass exodus of shock that has been bundled up so neatly inside me. My husband and brother-in-law went down the stairs of the museum. I turned to a pole along the stairs and cried before running into the nearest bathroom to compose myself. I cried again upon immediately leaving the bathroom as soon as I heard the recording “It was the quietest subway ride..” I’d have several more of these episodes before we left. And I never did make it through the room overwhelming the senses with newsreel footage from the day and detailing the timeline.
My husband asked why I’m so emotional and whether it was because I remember fear from the day. I think there was overarching fear about the unknown, but the shock never let it pass through. Ultimately, the feeling I was left with was anger. I was so angry I was shaking. The anger didn’t discriminate- it was aimed at the world. A deep-seated cynicism sparked up that day, and despite all the heroism displayed, I lost some part of me that held on the notion of inherent goodness of the world.
Just like other monuments and historic markers, the memorial will serve as a history lesson to future generations. But to people who witnessed the event and who lost loved ones, it will forever bear a story of deep emotional impact.