My mom has watched 9/11 documentaries for the past decade. She wasn’t in the city on that cloudless, smoke-filled September day. As a New Yorker, it’s her way of keeping the memory tangible, her way of telling those who lived it, “I’m with you.”
I’ve had the opposite reaction. Every year I remember those we lost that day, but I steer clear of the media specials. As an NYU student, I witnessed much of the day’s events, having absolutely no idea what was going on. I knew that I was ok, but didn’t know where Dad was, and so I pushed down my own feelings. But ten years later I remember every detail.
It was the first full week of my sophomore year at NYU. I was commuting from home in Queens. Headphones in my ears, I walked out of the West 4th St. subway station, in a rush to Chemistry lecture like any other Tuesday morning. I noticed people lined up on the street in silence, staring downtown at a smoking building. I thought it was just a fire, as a fire truck sped down 6th Avenue. I kept walking to class, and noticed more people lined up, some taking pictures on their cell phones, some shaking their heads in disbelief. One of the World Trade Center towers were on fire, and I could see the smoke billowing through the Washington Square tower.
By the time I made it to class, I heard my classmates talking. Through all of the murmurs and hushed conversations, I remember two phrases: “World Trade Center. Massive loss of life.” We had class, but throughout the lecture we were all talking about what was happening outside of the walls. When I told someone that my dad worked there, they handed me a cell phone to call his office. The phone just rang like any other day. I knew that Dad was definitely not late for work, and the calm ringing just intensified the fears.
I walked aimlessly out of class. Outside Weinstein Residence Hall, a man started giving out hugs to a line of people that formed. I walked past Washington Square tower, and the two buildings that used to overlook in the distance were completely gone. They were replaced entirely by smoke. Somehow I stumbled into my best friend. And all I could say was, “My Dad.” That day, those were the only words I think I said. She hugged me and we walked to Main Building, trying to figure out a plan. I wanted to go downtown to find him. As we listened to former President Bush’s address on the radio, we knew at that point that it was a terror attack, and that the U.S. planned to take action. But none of these words mattered, because I just wanted to make sure my Dad was ok. We walked to Coles gym, where students were told to gather. My friends living in the dorms downtown were dropped off there, covered completely in dust. They wouldn’t return for another month. As I waited on the long line to call home, my friend comforted me: “Jada, don’t worry. There were tons of people walking out of the buildings. It’s really going to be fine.” When it was my turn to use the phone, I called home. My grandmother was happy to hear that I was ok. All I could say was “Dad?” And the other words I remember from that day: “He’s ok.” It was about 1pm at that point, and the relief made me sink to the floor and burst into tears. It was one of the absolute happiest moments I’ll ever experience. Dad called the family at about 9am, and he was fine. Dad was fine.
From there, my best friend and I tried to find our way home. We took the subway, and we talked about the silliest things, to keep our mind off some attack on the subway. When we got off at 179th street, my mom ran and hugged us. When we dropped off my best friend, her mom hugged us both. As she hugged my mom, she told her, “They didn’t get the Lady.” I wasn’t sure that she meant the Statue of Liberty until I got home.
When I heard Dad’s voice on the phone, I broke down. He told me that he was just fine, and to try to calm down and not watch the news too much. At this time, it was around 7pm. That’s when I found out that the towers were hit by planes, hi-jacked by terrorists. I saw the people jumping out of windows, family members giving descriptions of their loved ones to news reporters, and hospitals filling us in about potential survivors. I remember praying that night for any sign of life, for the rescue teams to find survivors. Any sign of life as the days passed would bring hope. But somehow we never gave up on it.
As we returned to school, the subway was covered in missing people ads. I said a silent prayer that each would be found, a prayer for the family. And a thank you that Daddy came home.
My best friend and I moved into our first dorm downtown on Cliff St., once students were allowed to return to the area. The collapsed towers and Dad’s Building 5 completely decimated, looked like a war scene. The smell of smoke, rubber, and loss was overwhelming and left me sick. Months afterward, I walked through with Dad. He showed me the streets where he ran, the bar where he called home. We took pics. We hugged.
We speak every 9/11, just a simple call to say, “I love you.” I never take that moment for granted. I felt him slip through my hands that fateful day and I’ll never let him go.
Ten years later, although I don’t speak on it, I carry that day with me. I’ll never forget the loss, the courage, and the hope.
We will never forget. We carry you with us every day. We love you and we love your families as our own.