My high school had block scheduling: six classes, each two hours long, organized into two alternating days. There were A days and there were B days, and Tues. Sept. 11 was an A day.
Like all other A days during my freshman year, at about 9:30 a.m., I was waiting outside of my third period geometry class, the door to which Mrs. Riera always locked when she vacated it between periods, to go use the bathroom or do whatever it was that teachers do during breaks. I had to Google her when writing this, because, like most details from 10 years ago, I couldn’t be sure whether or not I was recalling her name correctly.
This kid Adrian, an IB student, a really nice guy, walked up and asked the handful of us loitering at the door if we’d heard that a plane had crashed into the Pentagon. Then Mrs. Riera appeared behind him. That’s weird, she said. Another plane crashed into the World Trade Center.
In that moment, the news of the Twin Towers didn’t spook me quite so much as that of the Pentagon. A plane crashing into two of the tallest buildings in the world didn’t seem like such an impossibility. The headquarters of our national security? This was a cause for concern.
I’m not sure how long we played pretend in class before surrendering to the TV. There were those tall, spectacular examples of architectural and technological and human progress, their throats cut, blood smoking out of them. And then one was gone, and then the other one too, and from that point on we lived in a world where the World Trade Center didn’t exist anymore.
During lunch, some administrator in the office read a steady list of students’ names over the loudspeaker to the entire school. So many parents had arrived to yank their children to safety, it seemed like the campus was half empty by the final block. Personally, I thought it was audacious for anyone to think that the four-year-old Coral Reef Senior High School was a target for terrorists.
My last class that afternoon was P.E., and the teacher let us stay in our regular clothes and gathered all genders into the girl’s locker room. She sat in her office while a television, specially rolled in on a cart for the occasion, supervised us for the afternoon.
I think the most defining aspect of the day was how much television everyone consumed as details were discovered and connections were made. Once it all started to fall apart, the TV sets didn’t go off. At home that night, it was all that was on, obviously, but even more so because my family didn’t have cable, so we couldn’t find reprieve in a non-news network, if that was what we wanted or needed. At one point I stood in front of our living-room set, flipping through our sparse channels, going out of my way to stop on Telemundo or Univision, I’m not sure which one, but it was definitely a Spanish language station. They had footage of a person falling to their death.
It’s been 10 years, and like I couldn’t be certain of my geometry teacher’s name, it’s impossible to recollect most of the trivialities of the day, on a day when almost everything else seemed so especially trivial. I don’t know what I ate for lunch or who I ate it with or if anyone talked about anything besides what was happening in New York City and Washington, D.C. and in a field in Pennsylvania, if I took the bus home and if there were many kids left on it that afternoon, if my parents came home early, or if my brother was there at all, even though he surely was.
It’s even more difficult to actually remember what I saw on TV that day when I’ve seen all of those terrible things over and over and over again, from different perspectives, from different newsrooms, narrated by different broadcasters. I do remember feeling ill when we sat down to an improvised dinner, the nausea of witnessing a body free-fall against its will, even if it was through wires and tubes and a sheet of glass, solidified in my stomach. I picked at a bowl of Campbell’s Chunky Chicken Noodle Soup. I do remember the soup.
And I can still feel that weird energy of the day and the days that followed, the collective emotions of the shared tragedy. There were special assemblies at school for the next week, but they were voluntary and I don’t think I went to any of them. The next year, another assembly on the anniversary, and on TV this time was a reading of the names of everyone who died broadcasted from where the buildings used to stand. I didn’t know whether I should wear red, white, and blue so I think I just wore black.
The year after that, the school didn’t do anything. But I could be remembering it wrong.