On September 11, 2001, I was living in Phoenix, Arizona. Arizona is on Mountain Standard Time so Phoenix was three hours behind New York City. I first heard about the terrorist attack when my alarm was going off to wake me up for any Tuesday teaching second grade.
The first time my alarm sounded, the radio deejays were razzing the newsgirl for locking her car keys in her trunk. I hit the snooze button. The second time it went off, the deejays somberly announced the World Trade Center had been bombed. I thought, “What the f***, AGAIN?”, rolled my eyes, hit the snooze button and went back to sleep for nine more minutes. The alarm had to go off again, since I set my alarm an hour before I have to get up, but it must have been all music because I didn’t hear anything else about the bombing until after my shower.
I put on the television because I didn’t understand what was going on. By now I knew it wasn’t a bomb, but a plane flying into the Tower. A plane flew into the Tower? What were they talking about? I thought maybe I could find something on Good Morning America. I couldn’t believe my eyes when I saw those two Towers on fire – all that smoke! At that moment I realized why they had been making such a big deal of it on the radio show. I also felt bad about my initial response – but at least I was honest. I turned the TV up loud so I could hear it as I got ready for school.
At 7:30 I was standing in front of the television when the first Tower collapsed, live on TV for all the world to see. I was in shock; going to work was the last thing on my mind. I wanted to stay home and watch the news. But I had to leave for school. I listened to the radio the whole 20 minutes to work. I had no idea what to expect when I got there.
At school, I went right to my room to get ready. The principal announced an emergency meeting for all available staff to meet in the library. I wondered if it had gotten worse? Or if we were sending kids home? At the library, no one talked. We were all in shock. Plus it was only 8:15 – 11:15 in NYC – so there still wasn’t much more new news.
The principal forbade us from talking about what happened. We weren’t allowed to watch the TVs in our rooms, even if there were no children there. This, of course, was ridiculous so we did it anyway. The librarian had switched the real-TV channel to CNN. At our preps we were all standing around the custodian’s TV, waiting for anything new. That was when we found out they grounded all planes and some were missing. How could planes be missing?! Then they told us the plane crashed in Pennsylvania. That was the only time I felt scared that day; I was 2,500 miles away from my family and planes had been hijacked to crash near them.
When I got home I switched on the TV. By then the news had the footage from the filmmakers making the documentary on firemen. They captured video of the first plane hitting the Tower. I refused to watch it. I did not want to see it. It was several weeks before I saw any of the tapes showing the planes crashing; it was horrible and surreal. Of course, now, a year later, it’s no big deal to see it. It is sad how we have become desensitized to it.
Watching the news all the time is what started to freak me out – we had no idea what was going on, who did it, why… I started to feel stressed-out and anxious. But it kept sucking me back in; I was transfixed by the promise of new footage or new information. It was a few days before I would just turn off the TV, or find something else to watch.
9/11 consumed everything.
After moving Back East and being here for the first anniversary of 9/11 (nine-eleven), I realized I’d had a very different experience than people here, especially in the school setting. In Arizona, we went to school and had a somewhat normal day. Here, teachers were crying openly. Students were sent home early. Parents lined up down the hall and out the door to take their kids home. It sounds like complete chaos. There was no traffic, malls were closed; everyone was holed up in their homes. Yet out in the desert, life went on in the everyday way. The biggest – only – change was the lack of planes in the sky. I almost cried when I saw the first one flying that next Friday.
To summarize the non-effect it had on me Out West in Sunny Arizona, I thought about calling my mom, but didn’t. It didn’t seem like that big of a deal.
But now we know, it was.