I was twelve, and in Mr. Schaefer’s first-period seventh grade geography class. Mr. Schaefer was a member of the National Guard and I’m pretty sure also a veteran, but I was so young and the school year was so fresh and, honestly, I didn’t care at that point. I remember an announcement over the junior high intercom, and then him stoically trying to continue to teach and being so frazzled and distracted. He flipped the news on for the last ten minutes of class, right as the second tower was hit.
Mrs. McCabe in second-period math was, frankly, kind of a bitch and yelled at us for talking about it. She point-blank refused to address any of our confused, juvenile, innocent questions. I had already decided earlier in the week that I hated her, and her squelching of our desire to know, to participate, to process what we by then knew was a turning point just cemented that fact.
Mr. Funk and Mr. Keifenheim, in third-period band, didn’t even try to teach. They wheeled the two TV’s out and turned on the news and let us watch the entire hour. Mr. Funk cried. That was the first time I had ever seen an adult cry, outside of a wedding or a funeral, and I think that was the moment I realized this was our generation’s defining moment.
It’s funny, when you first start to process something through an adult lens rather than that of a child. For me, as nascent as my awareness of the world around me was at that time, 9/11 became the point that I started to think that way. I stopped identifying with the world through the precocious, advanced adult literature I was reading, and started observing the real adults around me more. Seeing how this stripped their emotions and remoteness away, leaving them processing it just as raw and unsure as we were, is really the first time I ever remember feeling truly vulnerable.
When I went off to college, I encountered so many people whose experience of the events was so much more immediate than mine. Many of my close friends were New Yorkers, and the way that 9/11 shaped and touched their lives made my own connection to it pale and seem paltry in comparison. That said, though, I think for all of us 9/11 was a point of coalescence and a collective loss of a certain innocence, the first time all our lives were collectively marked by tragedy and we were ever unified by a universal experience. We were all old enough to understand, to remember a distinct “before” and comprehend the “after.” It became the moment that will define everything we have experienced and will experience thereafter, in some way. Every year, I find myself thinking about that. I think I always will.