By Laura Sliker
My first memories are of 9/11. I was five-years-old when the planes struck the towers. I was in Piscataway, New Jersey, just a 20 minute car ride away from Manhattan. I still vividly remember that day 17 years ago.
I loved when Dad got sent on business trips. I always got to go along and get out of school for a few days. Even better, sometimes we went to New York City. This was one of those times. My mother and I were in the hotel lobby, and I was upset because we couldn’t leave for the city yet. No, we had to eat breakfast first. I was sulking when I sat down with my bacon and waffles, looking past my mother as she tried to talk to me and watching the TV instead. It was boring. Hotel TVs were always boring. All they ever had on was the news.
At 8:46 a.m. on Sept. 11, American Airlines Flight 11 hit the World Trade Center’s North Tower.
I had never seen a news anchor look scared before. Maybe the news wasn’t so boring after all. I didn’t understand what they were talking about, but the grown ups in the room sure seemed to. They all turned to watch the TV at once. I kept munching on my now-cold waffle.
The scared news anchor had been replaced by footage as United Flight 175 crashed into the south tower. “Mommy,” I asked through a mouthful of food, “why did that plane hit a building?” Before I even finished asking, the world around us lost it. People were yelling, pulling out their cell phones. Some were still just staring at the TV like I was. Then some were running, and so were we. My mother pulled me along so quickly I couldn’t walk beside her, trailing behind as she gripped my hand for dear life.
I didn’t understand why she was crying, and why she was frantically trying to call Dad over and over. She kept shooing me away from the TV, like there was something on it I shouldn’t see. When I did see it, I understood a little more. The reporters weren’t just saying ‘World Trade Center’ anymore. They were saying words I knew: New York City. Whatever this was, it was here. Whatever this was, we were in it and so were my father and my sister, who were out living their lives instead of sitting with us in our hotel room.
My father picks up the phone almost right away, I hear my mother break the news to him. He comes back to the hotel from work not even 15 minutes later. He’s crying, too. I don’t think I’ve ever seen Dad cry, so it scares me more than Mom’s tears ever could. They’re both calling my sister over and over with no response.
I’m crying, too. Not because I understand…just because everyone else is, I think. My mother was yelling, and in response I cry harder. After a few minutes the yelling stopped. My parents must have remembered they weren’t just in the midst of a terror attack, so was their confused five-year-old. They told me everything was okay. I don’t think I believed it.
Hours later, my sister picked up the phone which was a relief. Not only was she alive and safe in her midtown apartment, my sister was sick and had somehow slept through the entirety of 9/11 even though it happened minutes from her. For the second time that day I heard my mother tell someone what had happened.
Mom explained the day’s events one last time, this time to me. All she told me was that bad people had made the planes hit the buildings, and that we couldn’t go into the city for awhile. That was all my brain could handle, I guess.
The rest of the day was spent with me being herded away from the TV again as my parents watched it around the clock, afraid that something was coming, something even worse than what had already happened. My mother says they were worried someone might drop a nuclear weapon on New York or Washington, D.C.
I don’t remember much of that, but I do remember hearing the reporters say that they were worried Disney World would be bombed, and that the thought of Disney World being blown up made me cry again. Even on 9/11, some things stayed the same.
It was three days later before we could cross the bridge into the city. Police had it closed until then.
I’ll never forget the view as we crossed the bridge. Ash filled the air like heavy snow engulfing everything as far as the bridge. It almost seemed to dull the sun. The whole city smelled like it was burning. I still feel sick remembering it.
I wish we lived in a world where nobody would ever have to see or live through something like that again. But as it is, I just hope the world carries on like New York City did back then: shake off the ash and go back about life, pretend it’s all okay until one day it really is okay again.