Where were you on this day?

Today marks thirteen years since the terrorist attacks of 9/11. It’s remarkable to consider the amount of time that’s passed since the terrible events of that day. Thirteen years transpired in nothing more than a fleeting heartbeat.

I was a first year veterinary student on 9/11/01, and only few short weeks into my curriculum. It was a time of many major life adjustments, not the least of which was the move I’d made from the New York City area to Ithaca less than a month prior. Learning to live life in what was, to me, a vastly rural area, was incredibly challenging.  I managed my homesickness in the best way I knew how – I journaled my feelings.

The following is the entry I wrote the day after  September 11th. It’s part of a larger compilation of work chronicalling my transformation from a PhD student to veterinary student to veterinarian. I’m working on organizing the stories and random thoughts into a unified manuscript, but in the meantime, I wanted to share this piece as my small token of how to commemorate the anniversary of this most significant day.

September 12, 2001

There are no words to describe the emotions shared by many individuals this morning.  There are no explanations.  We may never understand the motives.  I cannot begin to fathom what life must be like, waking up this morning in New York City.  A new perspective has been gained.  Truly I fear for the unfolding of this horrific tragedy.

We were changing classes yesterday morning when the news of the tragic events came through in broken pieces and whispers.  I immediately sought out a pay phone to call out to Brooklyn, only to realize I had no money and no calling card.  I don’t even own a cell phone anymore – I opted to cancel my service when I moved to Ithaca to try to save some money. A classmate I barely knew gave me her calling card to use.  Immediately, it became obvious that all the lines were down and there was no way to communicate and at that point, absolute panic set in.  I searched for one of my most trusted faculty members with the hope they would let me use their office phone, and upon entering the radiology lab where he would typically be setting up to prepare for teaching, I found half of my class gathered around the myriad of computer screens and began to comprehend what had actually transpired.

There were at least thirty people crowded around different terminals, desperately searching for information or pictures or audio clips, whatever small bits of news they could find.  We operated in stunned silence. Some people began to pray. In the distance, we could hear the booming voice of one of our anatomy professors coming from beyond the partition that separated the large room into two equal halves. In that portion of the room, the remaining half of our classmates were being lectured to, as if nothing out of the ordinary had happened.  It was absolutely surreal.  On our side of that wall, we spent the next 45 minutes listening to radio reports or watching the computer screens, paralyzed by anxiety and finally, until the faculty dismissed us to go home if we wanted.  It was a mildly reassuring notion on their part to let us know we wouldn’t be missing anything related to our studies. I left immediately.

I expected to come home to multiple messages on my answering machine reassuring me everyone I knew from back home were all safe and sound. Instead, I came home to blankness on the machine, and the ability to watch the horror unfold directly on the television.  There was really nothing more to say. The damage was done.

By 2:30 am, I knew all of my immediate family and friends living in the New York City area were ok.  And the same was true for the loved ones of my roommate and my other friends at school as well.  In talking to people, there seem to be too many “just missed it moments”.  Guardian angels appear to have been working overtime yesterday.

In the back of my mind, I keep picturing the staggering number of people I know were in the World Trade Centers at that time yesterday morning when those planes crashed.  I can see myself, scrambling along with the thousands of other commuters, heading up the various mazes of escalators and stairs as I did each day walking towards work. Each of us traveling with invisible blinders on, avoiding eye contact, and virtually knocking each other down as we pushed our way though our respective subway stations, street corners, or office buildings.  I’ve walked that same path hundreds of times without any appreciable consciousness of my surroundings.  The numbers are absolutely staggering in my head.  I can only hope and pray actions were taken to prevent those large numbers of people from being in the wrong place at the wrong time.

I am torn between wanting to be here in Ithaca, miles away and completely safe in the place I am only just starting to consider home, and to be back in New York, where my heart will always lie and where the people I love the most in my life are trying to live their lives.

There are no words to describe the emotions.  I won’t even begin to try.

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