Monday, September 12, 2011

ten years and a day later

friend posted on twitter today: 

"May we never forget a decade ago yesterday, but may we also be the nation of September 12." 

i love this for so many reasons, but i'm only going to share one of them. 

september 11, 2001 was exactly one week after i started my senior year at stonewall jackson high school, located just 32 miles southwest of the pentagon. 

it's funny what i remember about that day. 

i drove my sister to school, only 2 minutes from our house, in my green eagle talon and parked in the "vip" senior class officer parking in time for the start of our day at around 7:30am. i couldn't tell you who my homeroom teacher was, or what class i had first, but i know that i headed to mrs. boley's concert choir - my favorite class that year - with some of my best friends at around 8:45. i remember identical twins alyssa & lucretia dollarhyde, who had graduated the year before, came back to visit mrs. boley as the class started. i remember thinking something must be horribly wrong when they pulled her into the office and all three came out moments later with tears in their eyes. i remember the way she screamed at all 90 of us to be silent as our principal, dr. constantino, came over the announcements to tell his 2200+ students what happened in new york city just minutes before. 

i remember the horror in his voice.

mrs. boley pulled the great big box tv, on a wheeled cart, out in front of the classroom and we watched as the second plane hit. i honestly can't remember if i cried, or if i hugged a classmate, or if i just sat in terrified silence. but i remember when we found out the plane hit the pentagon. i remember a junior named julie who sat behind me and collapsed into sobs of anguish as she wondered whether she'd ever see her dad again.

the next few hours were a blur. i remember hugging my sister, who was a freshman, when we finally saw each other in the cafeteria. there were hoards of security guards and police officers (we normally only had a few) lining the walls as they put the school on lock-down for fear of additional attacks. parents were flooding the school to take their kids home, and tearful embraces filled the halls. i remember that we weren't allowed to have cell phones in the building, but those of us who sneaked them in our backpacks were met with busy signals and dropped calls. i remember squeezing my friend kat evans so tightly as she cried. her father also worked in the pentagon; since her mother had left them to move back to Korea earlier that year, they were extremely close and she hadn't been able to get a hold of him.

i remember my last class of the day was english, and we were told to write in our journals about our feelings. it was silent in the classroom, and throughout the halls. i can't remember a single word i wrote down, but i remember my teacher was just out of college and i thought he must be absolutely terrified. they declared northern virginia a state of emergency and canceled school for the next few days. the typical excitement that would've accompanied that kind of closure was replaced by a somber tone as we all headed home to our families. without even asking, my friends started to gather in my living room one by one. we sat, holding each other, spilling onto the floor, silently watching the news. we watched president bush promise that "they" would pay, and we believed him, but wondered at what cost.

it was late into the evening before kat finally heard from her dad. he was safe, but trapped in his office, which was only one hall over from being destroyed by American Airlines Flight 77. we drove as far into dc as we could and then waited for him as he walked something like 8 miles to get to us. i remember how scared we both were, as 17 and 18 year olds, when he told us that we'd likely see a draft reinstated.

i can't remember what time i went to bed that night, or who stayed at our house, but i remember waking up on september 12, and finding my mom already planted in front of the television. and i remember watching president bush again addressing the nation, but with such a different tone. one that inspired us to band together, take care of each other, make ourselves stronger. one that reminded us what makes our nation so great. one that promised we'd overcome. i remember thinking "what a difference a day makes." it was sunny, calm weather on that first day of rebuilding, of trying to get things back to "normal", or - more aptly - of trying to redefine normal. the fear was still there, but it was being overcome by pride, and passion, and vengeance. we had september 11 to cry and mourn, but september 12 was about reclaiming our nation.

i hope we always remember the lives lost on september 11. but i hope we maintain the spirit of september 12.

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