Ten years ago today my dad woke me up to say "I don't think you're going in to school today, a plane just hit the world trade center." I was living at home and commuting into college (this was my sophomore year), and normally I would be on a subway in Manhattan when the planes had hit, but that semester I didn't have a Tuesday class until 4pm so I had been taking the later train in and was still asleep.
At the time we had no idea what was going on- we figured it had been an accident until a bit later when the second plane hit. I spent the day on the couch watching TV- channel 2, CBS, the one channel that worked. My parents didn't have cable, and every channel except CBS had been broadcasting from the top of the World Trade Center (CBS broadcasted from the Empire State Building). The whole thing was one of the most surreal things I have ever seen. My little brother who was an EMT went off to the the triage center they created at Liberty State Park in NJ, where they were going to send survivors from lower Manhattan by boat. Only he told us very few people were coming over- only a few people for smoke inhalation. He also passed on rumors of boats full of dead bodies floating around in the Hudson River, and said his impression was that everyone had either died or was pretty much ok, so there wasn't all that much he could do.
Later that night my ex fiance and I went to his office building in northern NJ, which was a high rise building that had a great view of the NYC skyline. From there we saw the huge cloud of smoke and ash and people that was rising up into the air from lower Manhattan.
That semester was a nightmare commuting into NYC every day. NYers were on edge, and some bright individuals thought it would be funny to throw bags of flour down subway station escalators and yell "Anthrax!" when all the anthrax scares happened a little while later. At least four or five times I had to take an alternative subway route to get to classes cause this anthrax BS had shut the Times Square station down, and I would have to walk across town to catch the 6 train- I was constantly late to my first class of the day that semester. Once a plane went down in queens about a month later and I arrived at the path train to find every turnstile was red (meaning no entry allowed)- Manhattan had been shut down.
A couple of students and alumni from my college died in the attacks. We had big bulletin boards put up in the hallways where people could share their thoughts about 9/11. My professors held support groups during class. All sorts of horrible stories started emerging from friends, and friends of friends...I personally didn't know anyone who died, but I knew people who were in the building when the plane hit, including my dad's friend who was in an elevator that thankfully just went down to the bottom floor and opened up, so he was able to escape. My grandfather worked in the WTC neighborhood and his office windows were blown out, and he had to walk across the Brooklyn bridge on foot. My aunt knew someone whose husband called her from the stairs down, but never made it out of the building. Everyone was telling stories after 9/11, and they were all one of two kinds- either of a miraculous escape, or of a phone call from someone who died in the towers, right before they died.
The armory next door to my school that had always been used for conventions and expos now started being used as an armory again. Soldiers with machine guns were everywhere, and big tanks started rolling up and down the street outside my college. They blocked off part of the street next to my college so they would have a clear path for all the military vehicles coming in.
People started using 9/11 for politics. Giuliani, who everyone in NYC hated before 9/11, suddenly was forgiven for being an asshole who tried to shut down all the gay bars. I hated the way everyone started using 9/11 for political gain and the way our civil rights were suddenly up for question and everyone was just going along with it cause they were afraid. There was some incidents on campus involving anti-Muslim graffiti on the signs of the campus Muslim group. I had my first ever public speaking experience (Since my Bat Mitzvah) when a staff person at my school who overheard me ranting to a friend asked me to be a student members on a school discussion panel about "9/11 and democracy." Until 9/11 the only part of the newspaper I read was the NYTimes style section on Sundays and the comics and crossword section of the Bergen record, but after 9/11 I became an obsessive news reader, which I still am.
All politics aside, what I remember most about 9/11 is not anything that happened on 9/11 itself, although I will never forget what it was like watching the news when that first tower came down. But what I remember most is the missing persons signs.
When I commuted into NYC my first two years of college, I took the path train, which is a train that crosses over from the NJ central train station to NYC. The path train used to have two routes that left from the same station. One was the route that I took, that went to midtown. The other train was one that had it's final stop under the world trade center.
So after 9/11 there were hundreds and hundreds of missing persons signs put up in the path train station, of the people who were killed in 9/11. No one would take the signs down, so for months every morning while I would wait for the train there was nothing to do but read hundreds of missing persons signs and stare at the pictures of these people. People were pictured with their kids, with their partners, with their pets, smiling at christmas and at birthdays, and there was always a desperate message attached to the sign with the names and phone numbers of the surviving relatives. And we all knew that every one of these people were dead. These were people who I had brushed shoulders with in that train station while we all commuted into the city.
That's what has always stuck with me the most. The people. For all this had been used by various douchebag politicians for various horrible political gains, to erode our rights, to try to get elected in future presidential elections (*Coughgiulianigough*) in the end, this was about the death of thousands of people, people who had kids and partners and pets and birthdays and who had other people who cared enough about them to go put up missing persons signs in the train stations where they used to commute to work, even though they knew their loved one was probably dead. Let's never forget that.