9/11, looking back

I don’t remember where I was when it happened, when the planes hit.

No one told me it had happened — I was 11, I was in school, they made a decision not to tell, which my teachers steadfastly stuck to, I guess, even while others turned on the news, made phone calls, started to cry.

So I don’t remember where I was when it happened, but I remember the weight of the air in Londonderry Middle School that day, the feeling that something was going on, the fragments of conversations I could overhear but not understand.

And I remember where I was when someone finally did tell me. On the school bus, after a 2:35 p.m. regular dismissal. I can see the substitute bus driver’s embroidered bucket hat and and denim barn coat as she pulled up to the stoplight at Mammoth Road and 102.

I can quote her verbatim still, but I won’t, now.

She told us the country was shutting down, little by little, because the World Trade Center had been bombed. Planes crashed. They were closing airports, Disneyworld.

And when I think about it, I’m still 11, running across the street and through my yard and up to my house and bursting into tears as soon as my dad answered the door and asking him what happened.


Eleven and a half years later and now that was half my life ago and now I’m standing in the living room of my apartment, hovering, late for work but unable to get going until I make a decision.

It’s Friday, April 19 and our neighboring cities are on lockdown for a manhunt, looking for a terrorist not far from my own age, someone I’ll later find out is also the alleged murderer of Officer Sean Collier, a name I haven’t yet learned, a name that won’t be in the news until I put it there.

But right now I’m standing in my living room, watching my roommate, my best friend, sleep on an air mattress, having ceded her room to her visiting mother.

It was a 5 a.m. text from Watertown that did it for me, that woke me up and picked me up and dropped me down into a new world, where it’s scary to even go outside and you don’t have answers to anything anymore and don’t know when you will again. And now I’m wondering — can I do that to Becca?


In the end, I compromised. By which I mean took the easy road out. I put on my work shoes so I’d click-click-click as I walked around the kitchen, made as much noise as possible opening cabinets. That, and a similar text to the first one I’d gotten, did the trick. And then I explained.

And then I went to work, where I had more to explain, on a mass scale. Where I had to pause and take a deep breath before hitting “Tweet” that morning, almost able to see individual worlds and lives change as I did.

And I never understood the decisions made by my school administrators on Sept. 11, 2001 until today, right now, 12 years later, when I remembered April.


Sometime after the fact, I think they explained it as, they wanted to let our parents tell us. We were too young to know how to deal with it — they didn’t know how to deal with it.

I have always, always hated being kept in the dark, not knowing what’s going on. It’s why I didn’t like going to bed as a little kid — not because I thought I’d be missing out on something fun, but because I didn’t know what I’d be missing out on.

So I remember being angry at how they handled it. I remember hearing after the fact that guidance counselors, administrators — someone — would pull kids out of their classrooms if a relative had called because they had family in New York, or near D.C., or flying that day, pull them out and tell them something like, “Your dad is OK.” And that would be it. And I remember not understanding why that was better, thinking how agonizing that would be — why wouldn’t their dad be OK, what had gone wrong?

But 12 years later, looking back, I’m so glad to have had those extra six hours where the world still made sense.