Mostly I remember the confusion. I was at work, and that meant that I caught bits and pieces of the news between the times that teachers brought kids to my class. I was also one of the few rooms where the television was fully functioning, so I had a steady string of parents and teachers appearing at my door with expectant eyes.
"The second tower fell," I told them because I had seen it. It was mixed in with the flurry of taped images of planes flying into the first tower, then the second. The first tower fell while I was on my way to work, even though I wasn't sure that we would have school that day. We did. Kids knew that the grown-ups were distracted and nervous, but they were never sure exactly why. In those first hours, none of us were sure if we were witnessing the end of the world.
Like the rest of the country, I fought the urge to stare at the television, watching the same video over and over. Sometimes a new angle would be added as amateur footage got into the mix. And all the while, in the back of my mind, I kept assuring myself that my family and I were safe. My brother and his family had been ready to fly off to Europe that day. That trip was postponed along with every other flight for days afterward. That sound, or lack of it, is what sticks with me today. There were no planes in the sky. None.
And in the years since I have heard stories from friends and acquaintances who were steps closer to the event. When I visited New York City with my family for my fortieth birthday, I tried to cajole my buddy who works in Manhattan to takes us down to Ground Zero. It felt, at the time, like something we should do. As it turns out, he wasn't at all interested in sharing this moment with us. Instead, he offered us a ferry ride out to the Statue of Liberty. It was a sunny day, and our kids busied themselves by going up and down the stairs from the top deck to the bottom, more concerned with the architecture of the boat than the sights we had set sail to see. I recall coming up one side of Liberty Island, looking up at that monument to freedom. Then I looked back to the shore and saw the hole in the ground. My buddy had friends who died that day. They worked in the towers. He watched it come down. Not from across the country, but down the street. He remembers that day differently.