Where were you on 9/11? Some people have asked me where I was, and here’s what I tell them:
It was around 8:30am on the morning of Sept. 11, 2001, and my dorm room was flooded with light. I had moved in days before to the coveted window side of the “z-room” in the cool, high-rise part of campus, and my roommate Alicia, who thankfully didn’t mind the windowless side and had even brought a small-screen TV for us to share, was up making coffee. My clock radio alarm had already gone off, and I was just laying in bed, staring outside from the fourth floor. It was a gorgeous, sunny fall morning in Amherst, Massachusetts. I had to get up and get ready for my first 9:30am Archaeology class on the other side of campus.
Alicia turned on the TV and I heard the anxious voices of news reporters. She was a shy, polite type, so when she came over and said, “come look at this right now,” I knew something was wrong. The news was replaying an image of the first plane, which had just crashed into into the North Tower and was billowing smoke, and my stomach dropped. I opened my Startac and frantically dialed my grandmother, who lived on the Upper West Side, but I was unable to get through. I tried my parents on Long Island, then my boyfriend in Brooklyn, then my brother in Westchester, and couldn’t get through to anyone. The lines were all busy. Panic set in.
As one of the few people in our dorm with a TV, people came to our room and sat on the floor as the news reporters, some of their voices cracking, continued trying to make sense on-air about the first plane having hit. Out of nowhere, as we all watched in real time, the second plane flew into view and hit the South Tower, creating a massive explosion. We all gasped; it looked like a terrible movie. Through it all, I reasoned I didn’t want to be late for class on the first day. For some odd reason, I thought maybe if I just go to the lecture, this whole thing will go away.
I walked north in the morning light, and it felt like I was floating across campus. I tried to focus on something else, other than the visual images, but it wasn’t working. I’d already memorized the route I would take days earlier- this was long before Google maps- so I kept my mind focused on walking.
The lecture hall had that new-school-year smell of new paint and used textbooks. I sat in the front row of the auditorium, all the way to the right. The professor got up in front of the two-hundred or so students and cleared his throat. “This is a class about Archaeology. But before we start, I want you to know that what happened in New York this morning has changed the world forever.”
I was 18, and didn’t have a lot of life experience yet, but I knew in my heart he was right.