By Kelly Haugh
September 11, 2001 started out like any other school day. I was in a double period of 10th grade Chemistry watching the most boring movie ever on basic lab procedures when the teacher next door walked in and told us a plane had flown into the World Trade Center. There was a brief murmur of interest at how weird it was, but we all assumed the pilot of some little puddle-jumper had majorly screwed up. No one gave it much thought.
Fifteen minutes later the same teacher burst in to say a second plane had hit the other tower and a bomb had gone off at the Pentagon, which was the rumor at the time. I looked at my friends and knew by their wide-eyed expressions that I hadn’t misheard. This was really happening, but none of us could believe it. We were all stuck on the same horrifying question: Someone blew up the Pentagon?
At the time, being told the center of our country’s defense was gone was more terrifying than knowing planes had flown into the Twin Towers. Because what could we do without the Pentagon? How much of our military’s command had been lost? No one had any answers or concrete facts. All we had were more questions. What was happening? What did it mean?
The word “terrorism” never even entered our minds. Terrorism only happened in other countries, not ours. Not my America.
As we struggled to process these senseless acts, the class erupted into a fast-flying barrage of questions – Was the Pentagon in Virginia or D.C.? – Mr. Livrone, our chemistry teacher, told us to be quiet and pay attention to the video. Pay attention? The world is exploding and he expects us to just sit there and do our work as if we aren’t terrified by all those things we didn’t know, like who attacked us and what was going to be hit next.
When class finally ended, we walked into a hallway full of kids who’d been watching everything unfold live. You could tell by their faces it was bad but what struck me most was the silence. Never have 650 students moved so quietly.
When I walked into math class I finally saw what had shocked everybody silent. It was 10:28 a.m. Tower One had just collapsed. Ironically, the first images I saw on 9/11 were the last moments of the iconic New York skyline before it crumbled into dust.
Like everyone else across the country, we spent the rest of the day glued to the TV. Lunch was especially eerie. For the first time in history, you could actually hear the newscasters on both mounted TVs relaying the latest information. The deafening din of dining students was replaced by hushed tones, as if we were all at a funeral. Which I guess, in a way, we were. A piece of everyone’s innocence died that day and we were all unconsciously mourning the loss of the safe world we’d lived in before.
If there were any doubt the last few hours had changed everything, sixth period English was the proof. By then we all knew Flight 93 had crashed in Somerset County, but the news was reporting there was still another plane lost over Pittsburgh. If a small, rural town like Shanksville could have a plane dropped on it then Freeport certainly wasn’t out of the question. Nowhere was really safe anymore, and all we could do was wait for another newsflash to announce the next casualty.
We were in the middle of discussing those very thoughts when a deafening roar overhead shattered any illusions of safety we still had. The entire class froze for half a heartbeat as we braced ourselves for a plane to fly into the school. Then almost in unison, the room became of flurry of activity as students hurdled desks in a mad sprint to the windows. But we were too late.
I wouldn’t know until I got home that the low-flying plane that scared the life out of us was actually two military jets. Normally the sight and sound of our servicemen patrolling the sky would have been reassuring, and to an extent it was. But for months afterward, every time we’d hear the rumble of a plane overhead, everyone would hold their breath and look up, all the while praying it wouldn’t fall out of the sky.