They say we’ll always remember where we were when we heard that a plane crashed into the twin towers the same way that our parents will never forget the day Kennedy was shot or the moment man first walked on the moon. My memory of September 11, 2001, now a decade ago is not one typifying moment of shock or awe, or a rush of tragic understanding that belonged to a single image, but a mosaic of confusing and vivid pieces that I try to make fit together into a single picture.
I was only a couple of weeks into 6th grade, school having started the day after Labor Day. As I look back, I project onto my memory of the day a comfort and familiarity with my new teacher and new classmates that sitting here now, two weeks into a new semester, I realize must be revised history. The attacks happened so early in the morning, but being an 11-year-old,, whose knowledge of the goings-on in the outside world was completely dependent on what her teachers would tell her, I wouldn’t find out that today would be the last time I’d date my papers 9-11 and think nothing of it until 3 in the afternoon.
I’d like to say that I immediately noticed some strain or fear in the eyes of my teachers or that some deep sense of unrest began to grumble and grow within me even before I knew what had happened, but it just isn’t true. The day puttered on like any other, while the buildings burned and the world changed, I ignorantly worried about the attention of the boy I liked and whether I remembered all the latest spelling words and how much I disliked the smell of my teacher’s breath.
It wasn’t until it was time for recess and they didn’t let us go outside, that something felt off. We had never been denied fresh air and playground wood chips at the time of the day—never. We were informed that it was because of yard work being done. I still remember leaning over the windowsill trying to get a glimpse of the gardeners whose work was that important and seeing only a deserted schoolyard.
Though our teachers did their best to contrive a day that proceeded like any other, everyone noticed that this day was not like any other. Children started getting unexpectedly checked out of school. Well-dressed strangers kept dipping their heads in and when the doorway was empty again so was another desk. Rumors flew about what the reason could be. Popular kids gave definitive explanations that everyone around them accepted and which were all wrong. No child could have surmised the truth. It was all strange and disconnected from me personally until P.E. came and I watched my best friend slowly stand up and follow some stranger away as the others had done. I never would have connected her early release from school with her Dad’s employment at that five-sided building in Washington, D.C.
By day’s end, a good quarter of the students–the quarter of the students, it turns out, whose parents worked in government offices in or around the Pentagon, had disappeared. When the intercom came on that would normally announce which buses were ready to load up, it was a very different message that came through the speaker system. A faceless voice told us that the Twin Towers (buildings I had never heard of before) had been struck by a pair of airplanes. I don’t remember what else the voice said, but I do remember the look on my teacher’s face, her brows crinkled with so much concern and sadness as the faceless voice ushered in a different world with its narration.
On the bus ride home, a kid sitting behind me laughed as he told his friend that he’d heard it was a “kamikaze,” a word I’d never heard before. When I walked in the door to my house everyone was gathered around the TV. I looked around at their faces, their brows crinkled the way my teacher’s had been. I looked at the screen, amazed at the things being shown there, that were by now replays, though they remained as unbelievable as the moment they actually happened. I always hear people remark how they were glued to their television screens and radio that day, but I remember looking around at the eyes of the people in the room more than I looked where they were looking. I felt so confused and sad and very small and had no idea how I should be responding, no idea of the impact a single day can have.
The world changed after that day. I wasn’t really old enough to intimately know the world before, but even I sensed that things would never be quite the same. America was united by that event in a way that it never was before and never has been since in my lifetime. At the moment the second plane struck the south tower, a witness being interviewed on NBC said “they must be having air traffic control problems,” but it wasn’t an accident or a fluke and the American heart beat as one because we all felt attacked. We all had matching crinkled brows that 11-year-old Mariah saw and didn’t understand. And matching empty places in our hearts, a new and perplexing universal loss.
I will not attempt to comment on the result or how we have dealt politically in these past ten years with the events of that day, but I will say that in an America where it seems nothing is sacred anymore, one day remains hallowed. Though we’ve left it ten years behind us, we will never forget.
Mariah Proctor is a senior at BYU.