I had just arrived to New York; I was starting out my freshman year in college at Manhattanville College (a small private college in Westchester County). I remember being nervous starting a new “school” again. But it went breezy, just like the other million and one experiences of being the new kid. I was lucky enough that I had family 15 minutes away from campus, so I was able to get away from the hustle and bustle of college life and be around familiar faces.
I woke up on that Tuesday morning to my alarm going off. I had class and I didn’t want to be late, so I rushed to the bathroom, got myself ready and noticed that people where acting a little odd. I didn’t think much about it; I personally thought it was freshman the jitters. I walked by someone’s room and I heard something about a plane crash, but didn’t think twice about it. Since I didn’t have a TV in my room, I turned the radio on, but all I was getting was news. News? What freshman college student in their right mind wanted to hear news in the morning? Not I. So I turned it off and started getting my things ready for class. My room phone rings. It’s a friend of mine who lived a couple of doors down.
“Ines, did you hear?”
“There’s has been an attack on the twin towers. A plane has crash into one of them.”
I hung up the phone and ran as fast as I could down the hallway to my friend’s room. And there it was, the twin towers being destroyed. A million and one things ran through my mind. I didn’t know what to do or what to say. I just stared at the TV monitor in awe. My friend and I headed to class, but shortly after entering class, it was cancelled, as did every class in the college and probably in the country. As I walked through the quad and looked to my right, in the horizon, I could faintly make out Manhattan. Chills.
After a few hours of watching the news it occurred to me that I hadn’t contacted my parents, my brother (who was living and working in Boston at the time) and my uncles. As I was getting my calling card, my mom called me. She said he had been trying for hours and finally got through to my brother and me. The conversation was short, because with all honesty what more could we say than “I’m ok”? I hung up and called my brother, he didn’t answer. I panicked. At that time authorities were evacuating many of the high-rise buildings in most cities across the country and my brother worked in one of them, the Hancock. Finally, after an hour of trying, I reached him. He said he was fine and that they were evacuating him and the others to a safer location and that he would talk to me later. Finally, for the first time that day, after talking to my brother, I felt a sense of relief. I also managed to call my uncles just in time, as the phone lines went sour.
The entire college, city, state, country and world went in mourning following the attacks. I had never, in my life, seen such a unity.
Two weeks after the attack, my cousin’s – who were living in the DC area, drove up and my brother drove down from Boston to New York to unite as a family. We decided to head down to the city and visit. The smell. The people. The wreck. Those things are all embedded in my mind. Dust and sand was covering every building that was close to where the twin towers stood. You would see truck and fire department vehicles from all over the country. The military was also present, at that moment I wondered, are we safe? Believe it or not, seeing those men and women in military uniforms (forgive me when I say, that at that time I did not know what branch they were) holding rifles, made me feel safe. They are here to protect us.
We finally reached our final destination, Ground Zero. There are no words to describe that place, the feelings and emotions. We stood across the street from Ground Zero in silence.
A year later, on the anniversary of 9/11, my cousin and I returned to Ground Zero to remember those who died. It was a beautiful sunny day, just like it had been a year ago, and windy, extremely windy (I have my beliefs as to why it was windy that day, but I’ll let you have your own). We reached the area where they were reading out the names of the victims, and again, stood there in silence. I could not believe that we were here, in New York City, remembering what happened a year before. Remembering that tragic day and the victims. It felt incredibly surreal.
Now we are commemorating the 10-year anniversary and it still feels unreal. It still feels like it was a nightmare and I’m ready to snap out of it. But it isn’t and it wasn’t.