I still can’t look at the New York City skyline the same way. After all those years of weekend trips to visit family just a few minutes away and counting the landmarks — the curvy-top bridge, the exit sign, the Statue of Liberty, the twin towers — it will never be the same.
I was starting my senior year of high school in Northern New Jersey — just a quick hop on a train away from Manhattan. I was in Math class. I hated Math class. Hushed whispers between teachers, something is up. And then being sequestered in the brick building, with little to no information. Rumors started about the in-town business park — the International Trade Zone — mixing with bits of the truth, finally revealed in a schoolwide announcement and a day of disbelief and fright. I saw teachers leave their cup of steaming coffee on the desk as they went to frantically find the fate of their husbands and sons. I saw a classmate just about collapse in worry about a parent who worked in one of the towers. Friends in nearby towns wrote AIM messages about being able to see the smoke from their bedroom windows. Within a week, large flags — most of which are still there — were draped from bridges over the nearby interstate that leads to NYC.
And by twists of fate, I wound up living one county away from the final resting place of Flight 93 — something that had almost been overlooked by me just years before. I covered two somber ceremonies at that site, meeting with the families and friends of the 40 heroes on that plane 10 years ago. And it’s back in my face again this year, an entire career change and the memories of Flight 93 and 9/11 are literally knocking at my door, with our hotel only 30 minutes away from the new memorial in Somerset County.
I don’t know how to forget the twists of metal, formerly a series of familiar buildings, jutting out of the empty space of a skyline. I don’t know how to rid myself of the knot in my throat whenever I see the collapse of the towers, the crater in a field in Pennsylvania, the hole in the Pentagon. I don’t know how to forget my elementary school aide, sweet Ms. Marcin with her German accent, her picture and name scattered along with her memory across a field near my home.
I don’t know how I’ll ever explain this to Zack; how he’ll possibly ever know the magnitude of that day.
I’ve graduated high school, changed colleges, graduated college, worked in two careers, moved to Pennsylvania, got married, had a baby and learned more than I ever wanted to know about Down Syndrome. And yet, this time of the year, I always feel like my entire life has stood still and I’m still 17, watching my world collapse, watching familiar skylines change overnight.
Like I’m still holding my breath.
Never forget, always remember.
Life goes on, it just has to. But that doesn’t mean we forget and it certainly doesn’t mean it’s easy.
It just means we’re human and we’re living in a world that’s crazy and confusing and sometimes doesn’t make sense. But that’s OK. It makes us who we are. As a girl, as a New Jersey resident, as an American.