The following is raw, unedited first draft of a personal history exercise written in 2012 for a nonfiction class I took in college. Here are my memories of the day we will never forget.
It is Tuesday morning and I am in Mr. Appleton’s fourth grade class. Every Tuesday morning is math class. We are working on our times tables, addition, subtraction, and other basic arithmetic problems. About an hour into class, Principal Savage comes in and calls Mr. Appleton outside. A few moments later he returns to our desk and we return to our problems. He is quiet and solemn for a minute but he doesn’t mention anything. Around ten, everyone rushes out to the blacktop for recess. I don’t remember what I played, but it was probably foursquare. We then go back into the classroom for a brief snack. I don’t remember what I ate, but it was probably a bag of Utz potato chips. We continue our studies until lunch time. I don’t remember what was served, but it was probably spaghetti and meatballs. The rest of the school day plays out in a completely normal fashion. I meet my friend Alan on the playground after class and we stare at the line of cars, waiting for his mom’s to show up. We live on the same street so our parents take turns carpooling us. The car ride was the same as always: down 83 and up Mt. Rose Avenue.
Entering the house, I notice my mom is home but she isn’t at the doorway to hug me and welcome me home. I follow the sound of the television into the family room and see her sitting on the couch with her hands covering her mouth as she watches the news. I look at the screen and see a picture of a couple jumping from a building on fire. I read the breaking news ticker and voice my confusion. My mom is somewhat taken aback by my question, she thought I would have known, but she explains anyways.
I know where Somerset is. We drive through there all the time on the way to Uniontown, where my mom grew up. I imagine the horror of what could have been if the plane didn’t land in an empty field, if it was only on a more direct path a few hours east.
I know where the Pentagon is. I’ve been on countless field trips to DC and have seen the landmark buildings so many times that they no longer fill me with awe. The only place I’ve gone more as a kid is Gettysburg, whose fields looked like any other and I didn’t understand what made them so special. Yet I can imagine one less building on next year’s field trip.
But I know nothing of these towers. I have never been to New York, so it seems like the tragic events happened in some faraway mystical land. This “Ground Zero” constantly mentioned on the news might as well been a place in China. Having never seen either place with my own eyes, I just have to trust people’s word that it exists. I am having trouble empathizing with this attack.
I feel cheated and betrayed. How can the school hold that information from us? Let us feel, cry and grieve. Let us remember and recall. Let us be passionate humans. This will always be a topic of conversation that I will be excluded from, to which I can’t relate. When I moved to Colorado, and my new classmates hear I’m from PA, they ask about the attacks. Due to timezones, they never even went to school and watched it all unfold live. While I lived my school day just like any other and didn’t hear of the tragedy until hours after it passed.
My dad asked his father where he was when Pearl Harbor was attacked. I asked my father where he was when JFK was shot. When my future kid asks me about where I was and what I was doing on 9/11, I won’t have an answer. I remember nothing.