My most clear memory of the World Trade Center is standing in line at the TKTS booth that used to be on the second floor under the windows on Saturday mornings. My roommates and I would get up from various beds/couches/futons in our studio apartment (shared between three people) on Water Street and head over to the World Trade Center to see if we could get good tickets to a decent show that night. Standing in line, we’d count the flags of all the countries and try to identify the more obscure ones. This was before cell phones, and definitely before smart phones, so we had little else to occupy our time.
That day in September, I was asleep. Comfortable and relaxed, despite the persistent buzz of my alarm clock. I’d been up late the night before – out at the Irish Times near Union Station. I needed to get up for my 9AM civil procedure class, but didn’t feel much like actually starting my day.
My mom called and told me that I needed to turn on the news, but she wasn’t worried.
I was less than a mile from the capitol in the tallest building in the area, but no one was really worried. She just thought I would be interested in the news because so many of my college classmates were starting their first jobs in lower Manhattan and she wondered if any of my roommates were in the World Trade Center. We knew a plane had hit and that people had likely died, but we didn’t think much beyond the tragedy of 100 lost lives.
I woke my neighbors and roommate up and we watched the second plane hit on our small living room television.
We didn’t know what to to do so we went to class.
We went to class.
As soon as we got to class, they sent us back across the street to the residence. OF course there was no class.
Then they evacuated the district. Tanks arrived on the corner outside the residence. From the roof of our residence hall we watched people streaming out of the district. The phones weren’t really connecting and we knew there might be a plane headed for the capitol, but nobody told us anything official so we just watched the soldiers clear the streets and waited.
Nothing happened to me that day. And I will never forget. I will never forget the feeling of seeing soldiers and tanks on the streets in Washington, D.C. I will never forget the feeling that we were not safe – that we were not as isolated and far away from the worst as we had always believed.
It was a beautiful day. The sun shone, the weather was perfect – that warm, yet crisp fall breeze that DC can get. When the city seems to change geography – moving from the sweaty, buggy, swampy southern feel of summer to the warm, but crisp, breezy, salty feeling of summer. And it was the worst day. Not of my life, but of the country’s.
Standing on the roof, we could see the smoke rising from the Pentagon. We cried because everyone knew someone who was lost. When the towers fell or when the plane hit the pentagon. Everyone knew someone who would not be home again. We lost something that day. A belief in the inviolability of America. Of our place in the world. That day was the day I tipped from child to adult. Not too many people can identify a specific day and time when that happened. But people my age can. It was the moment those towers fell and we realized that safety is an illusion. That power is a trick. That we’re all just doing what we can, while we can, but are never truly in control of our destiny.
We will never forget and we will never be quite the same.