I was 18 and a freshman at the University of Nebraska-Kearney. The semester had started 3 weeks before. I was sleeping in my twin bed on the second floor of CTE tower dorms. My roommate was already at her 8 am class. Back then, I slept with a radio on. My boombox was on the dresser. I woke to hearing that a plane had crashed into one of the towers at the World Trade Center.
Little did I know, the events that unfold throughout the day and weeks would change my life.
Honestly, I didn’t even know what the World Trade Center was. I knew it was in New York City. I knew it was big. But I didn’t know it had two towers. I didn’t know it was a hub for large financial businesses and companies. I got up and showered still listening to the radio. (yes I had a TV in 2001) I went to my work study job at the college library. By this time, the second plane had flew into the other tower. The staff had already put a TV in the lobby and people were standing around. I remember students coming in and out, going about their business. I stood there watching the smoke and flames. Wondering about the people stuck on the floors above the plane. How will they get out? How will they escape the fire when a plane is burning below their feet? I couldn’t imagine the fear those people felt. The desperation rising up inside of them. To get out. To live. To be safe. Away from death that was threatening them. Panic. Confusion. Time running out. Then, I watched on the screen as someone jumped out the window. Then another. And another. People running in every direction. People stopping on the streets because they couldn’t look away. I couldn’t look away.
Then the most unexpected thing occurred. At 8:59 am Central Time, my eyes saw the South Tower collapse. The scene is burned into the back of my brain. I will never forget watching the concrete, steel, and glass just fall to the earth. Right there in front of me, I watched hundreds of people die. Twenty nine minutes later, I watched thousands more die when the North Tower collapsed.
I remember being in shock. Yet, going about my duties. I finished filing away my books. I spoke with my supervisor. I picked up my bookbag and made my way to class. It was a Tuesday. A gorgeous Nebraska day. Not a cloud in the sky. No wind. Slightly cool. I don’t remember what I was wearing that day. But I can remember exactly how the weather felt like. It was the most beautiful day out.
Some classes were cancelled. Some just sat and watched the footage. One of my classes had lessons. As though the world outside wasn’t in turmoil. My thoughts were all over the place. I had a sister living close to O’Hare in Chicago. Would she be hit? Her city? Washington D.C. was hit. Another would have but crashed in a field. All planes grounded. She is only mere miles away. Cell service on my black Motorola phone was basically shut down. In middle America, people were lined up blocks long to fill their cars up with gas.
There wasn’t a plane in the sky. It was quite. The bluest of blue skies perfect for there wasn’t white streaks from planes. And I sat inside a friend’s dorm room and watched the horror unfold on the TV. We watched for hours. Others joining us. Food brought in. No laughter. No jokes. We sat in silence mostly. We had heard that President Bush was heading to Nebraska. I remember being scared. What if they hit Nebraska? We watched mass amounts of people walk home that night. Walking across bridges to get to the boroughs. We watched people hold each other. We watched people stumble around with ash, debris, and death coating them.
The naive small town girl from nowhere Nebraska learned a very harsh lesson that day. This was the very first time I had to experience something so traumatic away from the comfort of my family and parents. That there were people in this world that hated our country and the people who live here so much and so passionately, they planned our deaths. They plotted. They conspired. They loathed. They killed. Because they hate what we stand for and believe in. I saw real hate that day. I also saw love. Compassion. Caring. Bravery. Selflessness. Integrity. Community.
For days, weeks, months, all I watched and read revolved around September 11, 2001. I watched everything that was associated with this day. So much that I struggle with seeing imagines from that day. It bothers me deeply to watch a documentary or movie about the events that occurred. Even just seeing a picture of that day churns my stomach. 16 years later. And I have a hard time. Even now as I am writing this, my throat is tight and I feel tears burning my eyes. So I don’t. I don’t need to see movies and pictures about that day because they are still vibrant in my mind.
Textbooks teach students of this day. Memorials and museums remember and honor those lost. Movies are made about the stories of heroism and courage. Events surround the anniversary. Articles explaining the grave consequences of those who valiantly searched, recovered, and cleaned up. Soldiers who were moved to join and fight for our country. A war that still carries on. Years later. We still are affected.
I will never forget. Never. For I was changed by something that occurred 1,403.7 miles away from me. But impacted me for life.
One day I will go. I will go to New York City to the place where those lost lay. I will honor their lives lost. I will see where the destruction happened. And where hope and life continues to move forward. Because that is the way of the American people.