Trauma has an astounding effect on the memory. I can recount pretty much most of my memories from September 11th, 2001. I was 11 years old, sitting in sixth grade English class when the planes struck the towers.

I remember sitting next to my friends at lunch, one boy explaining to me what exactly what the Pentagon was. I remember watching one of my best friends escorted from the cafeteria in tears. His mother was supposed to be at work at WTC 7. Another girl was quickly ushered out along with her brother. Their father was in the north tower. Another friend just disappeared altogether — her dad had been on Floor 81 in the south tower.

My suburban town in Northern New Jersey lost 11 lives that day. My father was working in the city, and his company was only alerted to the chaos when my mother called to see if he was evacuating. He eventually made it home — 12 hours later — after having to walk across the Brooklyn Bridge.

The emotional impact of September 11th wasn’t just felt by those who lost loved ones, at least not in the mid-Atlantic region. Everyone was connected to multiple memories and stories from that day. A neighbor, working on Wall Street, described how he watched people fling themselves into the sky. My father recounted how he walked along a deserted Fifth Avenue, awed by the sight of the nation’s richest street left a ghost town. A friend’s mother, who was late to work, stepped off the ferry, watched the Towers burn and immediately stepped right back on to go back home to her children.

For me, I saw the attacks the same way the rest of the world saw them — through the news camera lens. I remember my mother planting me in front of the television, saying, “Tell me everything you see,” as she tried to calm down a close family friend on the phone. Her husband was supposed to be at the World Trade Center that day.

Yet I also heard firsthand the history of the Towers rise into the New York skyline. My grandfather’s construction company helped build the twin towers in the early 1970’s. He was responsible for building the ceilings in the towers, and he used to describe to me the massive effort involved in the construction. He also described how many men died on the scene, some due to accidents and others who committed suicide by jumping down the elevator shaft  —including a man whose wife had left him. Those memories, and the fresher ones of watching a city wrapped in smoke and debris, are the reason my grandfather still refuses to watch any footage of 9/11 to this day, the memories still too painful to bear.

Yet for all the security upgrades the United States as a nation would go through, the New York City region was much, much more paranoid. In the week following the attacks, everything was reported suspiciously. The George Washington Bridge was reported to have had explosives placed along its underside. The next day, a suspicious white truck was spotted entering the city. My mother was constantly afraid every morning when my father left for work, afraid to cross the bridge to see our family living in New York, afraid that Indian Point Nuclear Power Plant would be the next target. Fear overtook the region. Subways, buses, trains, schools — everything could be a target. New Jersey had been a launching point for the attacks. A few of the terrorists lived in Paterson, just a ten minute drive from my town. Newark Liberty Airport was where one of the planes took off.

Yankee games were now out of the question — ballparks and stadiums were seen as prime target points. Vacations too — nobody was going to fly out of JFK, LaGuardia or Newark anymore. Even conversations were harrowing — all anyone wanted to talk about were the attacks, or the neighbors who had lost loved ones. A woman down my street lost her husband.

 

Last spring, when several of my classmates sprinted to the White House to celebrate the death of Osama bin Laden, I was disappointed in the reaction. I made the observation that many of those who made the trek were not from the mid-Atlantic. They had not dealt with the horrific fear that a loved one may have died. They did not deal with going to masses and vigils to pray for members of a community that would never return home. They did not deal with the photos and the posters of those who were lost, which decorated the entrance to every North Jersey town.

Yet in the end, 9/11 was instrumentally important in shaping my views of fate. It proved that at any given moment, a world can change. That perhaps good and evil can exist, even if they are in the extreme. That when pushed to the edge, humanity can rise to the sky. 9/11, like Pearl Harbor and the Cuban Missile Crisis, helped shape generational security concerns. History and Hollywood will look back on these events with drama, but I sincerely hope that my children will never know the fear and emotion that gripped my world on that day.

Michael Palmer is a senior in the College. He is a member of THE HOYA’S Editorial Board. 

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