Ten Years


Right now, I’m 28 years old. I make exquisite pasta with vodka sauce. I have a BA and MA in English Literature. I write. I can sew on a button or stitch up a broken seam.

Ten years ago, my cooking skills were limited. I was in my first semester of college. I didn’t know what I wanted to study or how I could get out of taking math classes. Anything that needed stitching went straight to my mother.

Ten years ago, I still had bangs. I laughed too loudly. I streaked my hair purple. I didn’t not know who Michelle Cliff or Neil Gaiman were. Ten years ago, I was 18. I was sitting in history class. US I, with a professor who was nothing short of awesome, even though history isn’t my favorite subject. He owned horses and was a little rough around the edges. He wore suspenders and a beard that rivaled that of my 7th grade science teacher. Both resembled Grisly Adams.

There was this guy, Jason, who I’d gone to high school with. He walked in late, and he said, “A plane just hit the World Trade Center.” He’d heard it on the radio on his way to school. The strange part was that we didn’t react to it. At that point, no one knew anything other than what he’d said. We didn’t know that it wasn’t a small plane. We didn’t know that it wasn’t an accident. We had class. Toward the end of it, the professor switched on the tv. A second plane had hit the tower. From that moment, I don’t remember much. Bits and pieces.

I got out of class and frantically called my mother. That’s what you do. You call your mom. Or your dad. Your brother or sister. Your boyfriend or girlfriend. When the world is coming down, you reach out to the people you love the most.

When my mom picked up the phone, she was crying hysterically. I could feel my heart in my throat. I kept asking, “Where’s Dad?” He sometimes had business in NYC. It took her a good five minutes to tell me that he wasn’t in the City that day. He was supposed to have been, but by some twist of fate, he was safe and sound.

I asked her why she was crying. Then, I remembered my Godfather worked in that building. She couldn’t get a hold of anyone. She didn’t know if he was alright. She hung up to call someone else. I called a girl who was my best friend at the time. Or I thought she was. (For the record, she wasn’t.)

She’d seen the news, too. She couldn’t believe it either. We hung up, quickly, but I remember finding it strange that everyone’s reaction was identical. She was several states away, but our campuses were rendered the same: everywhere, there was silence. People were huddled around every available tv. CNN was on. You could hear a heartbeat in that silence. No one knew what to do. No one knew what was going on.

We tried to carry on, like normal. Classes weren’t canceled. I was supposed to attend one in an hour. The hour passed in a minute. My mom finally called to tell me that my godfather was okay. He got out. He was safe.

I told my professor that I had to go home. She seemed to understand, although nothing had sunk in, then. No one knew what to do or say. Follow the routine. Teach. Learn. It seemed to be some kind of refuge. Something to focus on.

Then, all classes after mine were canceled. I drove home. So did my brother. I can’t remember if my dad came home early from work. I want to say yes; I’ll have to ask him. I remember him being there when I got home, but that could be a trick of memory.

My brother stopped on the way home and bought groceries. Just in case. No one knew what was going on or what might happen. There was smoke and silence, screams and sobs. Anger and tears. Fear. That fear was so real I half-expected to find it waiting like a monster in my closet.

The irony of having been in a history class when that tragedy happened never escaped me. I don’t think I’ll ever forget the look on Jason’s face when he told us the news. The next history class, our professor apologized for his lack of reaction. He didn’t understand what had happened. He would never have kept class in session if he knew. He was only human.

Ten years ago, this is what I saw and what I knew. This was where I was. I cannot believe it’s been ten years.

It feels like yesterday and forever ago in a single breath of memory.

  1. Alicia Marie Phillips
    September 11, 2011 at 8:40 am

    This post brought tears to my eyes..I think it’s because I had such a similar experience (in HS halls, not a college campus). I remember having such an out of body experience when my friend told me at my locker. And, living close enough to NYC as we did, I immediately went down my roster of family and family friends that I knew worked in NYC. Wanting to make sure they were OK. Hearing family members of my schoolmates may or may not be safe. That my friends firefighter and police officer family members were driving up to NYC now to help how they could. For as long as I live, there’s no way i’ll forget that day of my life….I’m glad that a decade later we still honor all those who lost their lives, remember the events, and now have the 9-11 memorial built. F* you terrorists. I have faith there’s a special level of hell for those scumbags…and they’ll get what they deserve.

  2. September 11, 2011 at 11:13 am

    It was yesterday, and forever ago. I had to tell my son, who was 8 at the time, that I didn’t think Placentia was a big enough place for them to attack. I knew Los Angeles was, but I wanted to think our little community was immune. Then I had to go to work at the aerospace company and wander the halls with everyone else. There was a feeling that we suddenly didn’t know what to do anymore.

    Wonderful post, Ali.

  3. September 11, 2011 at 12:54 pm

    It’s always so interesting for me to hear people’s stories of 9/11 because, as you so beautifully said, while we may have been hundreds of miles away from New York, our reactions were similar. At my high school (and community college) at the time, we did the same thing. We huddled around televisions and we were silent because none of us knew what to say. It’s also interesting for me to hear stories, like yours, from the East Coast about that day. The urgency of needing to buy food and water just in case is not something that was happening here in the Midwest. I guess we felt more sheltered here.

  4. September 11, 2011 at 9:11 pm

    thanks for sharing! it was quite a confusing and emotional day wasn’t it? here’s my story:

  5. Jessica
    September 14, 2011 at 1:03 pm

    Thank you for sharing this.

    I think the most memorable thing to me is the fear that gripped me, and stayed with me for so long afterwards. I was living so close to the city, and I was so young, I was terrified all the time for a long while.

    • Ali
      September 17, 2011 at 8:27 am

      Jessica, I remember that fear. I can only imagine how much more it affected you, with the proximity.

  6. September 29, 2011 at 10:33 am

    Sorry, Ali, I am finally catching up on all of your posts. This one is excellent, as always. I think those of us who were older than five at the time will remember that day for the rest of their lives. That said… I really wish the networks would quit replaying the footage over and over and over again every year. We all know what happened, we don’t need a reminder of that horror.

    I was in Charlotte, NC – working in a building across the street from the Bank of America tower, the tallest building in the city. I was the emergency coordinator for my floor, so, like the other coordinators, I was one of the few people who got notified pretty quickly as to what happened. We then had to keep people calm, because the evacuation was being carried out in stages, but, of course, everyone wanted to leave NOW. And then we had to remain in the building and personally check that everyone was gone. That big tower across the street the entire time, and many airplanes still unaccounted for.

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