Ten years later, it’s still difficult to reflect on Sept. 11, 2001. The reams of journalism, the streams of social media updates and the photo galleries of people falling 100 stories to their deaths… it’s just so overwhelming. My heart breaks for all the victims, the heroes and soldiers who died that day and since.
I was in 8th grade when it happened. I turned 14 only two days before. It was a clear, blue morning in Ridgewood, NJ, some 25 miles from Manhattan.
My class had just walked back from gym into Mrs. Ziemba’s social studies class. The small TV perched at the top right corner of the classroom was on, and I could see the orange flames engulfing the top of the World Trade Center. Mrs. Ziemba quickly shut it off and explained to the class what little she knew about the terrorist attacks. I can’t imagine what that must have been like, to break such tragic news to kids.
I remember being stunned. I thought immediately of my dad. A few years ago, my dad had quit his job at Ernst & Young in Midtown to start his own accounting firm in Teaneck, NJ. However, he would still go regularly into the city to meet his clients, many of them North American subsidiaries of Japanese companies. I tried to remember, did he mention that morning he was planning to go into the city?
Kids were starting to cry in the room. Living in a bedroom community, many of our parents worked on Wall Street, taking the NJ Transit train some 40 minutes from our suburb into the city. So many of us had moms and dads, friends and neighbors working in those Towers. We were told we could go to the guidance office if we needed to call home or wanted to talk to someone.
Class resumed. Benjamin Franklin Middle School tried to carry on, but nothing about that day was normal anymore. My mind was blank as I stared into that equally blank TV screen where moments ago we saw the world as we knew it suddenly change. I don’t remember learning anything at school that day.
This was the age before most students had cell phones. We were all cut off – shielded for a moment perhaps – from all the chaos and hell going on outside. But the fear was palpable, it was everywhere. Hard as we tried, it was etched in our faces.
I dashed off to the pay phone after the period ended to call my mom at home. She had been running errands all morning, and didn’t know what had happened. I remember telling her to turn on the TV and call my dad. Was he in New York that day?
The rest of school was all a blur. I was shocked and angry and sad as I ambled about from class to class. After school let out, my mom picked my brother and me up. My dad was all right, she said. He hadn’t gone into the city that day.
When we got home, we sat glued to the TV, watching as the Twin Towers fell over and over and over again.
Those gleaming silver skyscrapers were more than just buildings. They were a symbol of American ingenuity and economic strength, the tallest in North America and an amazing feat of Japanese architectural design and American engineering and construction.
I remember going on a field trip there once in elementary school. We were making collages about New York City, and our teachers at Travell wanted to inspire us. I was so excited the day I visited the observation deck of the World Trade Center. The elevators went up so fast my ears hurt. But it was worth it. We were on top of the world and it was so magical and breathtaking.
Despite growing up in New Jersey, going to school in Chicago and currently living in Las Vegas; I will always be a New Yorker at heart. I was born in New York City, and to me, it will always be the greatest city in the world.
In the immediate aftermath of the attack, I remember our community and country coming together. As I attended the many vigils, ceremonies and dedications and saw the long lines at blood banks, all those brave firefighters and police officers working at Ground Zero, I never felt so so united, so patriotic, so proud to be an American.
I quickly found out my neighbor across and a few houses down the street from me died on September 11. I didn’t know him personally, but I will always remember him.
His name was Steven Patterson, and he had a wife and two twin 5-year-old boys. I would later learn he had just started at Cantor Fitzgerald not one year ago when one of the hijacked planes hit the North Tower. Patterson was just one of 12 residents Ridgewood lost that day. Whenever I stop by Van Neste Park, I always try to remember to stop by the memorial and look at his name engraved in stone.
I will never forget.