It was school picture day. I was wearing my favorite blue tank, a really cool headband and I thought I looked pretty great (see photo to the right for proof of how cute I really was). I remember being annoyed that morning because I had gym first thing, meaning that my hair would get messed up before I had the chance to get my photo taken. After gym came orchestra. At that point it was 8:30 a.m. CST. Disaster had already struck yet I have no memory of my orchestra teacher indicating that anything was wrong in the world. It wasn’t until I got to Social Studies with Mr. Rheinecker third hour that we learned that something was wrong. Mr. Rheinecker was the best sort of teacher. He didn’t coddle us and instead calmly explained what had happened. I don’t exactly remember how he explained it, but I remember being confused. I had never been to New York and had no real concept of what the World Trade Center was or even what a terrorist attack was. In the 12 years I had been on the planet my life had been sheltered. Planes were something I associated with fun and Disney World, not attacks.
The school didn’t want teachers showing us footage of the events, and Mr. Rheinecker, probably because he was going crazy not knowing what was going on, told me to get on the computer to find out information about what was going on. Proud to have such an important task, I set about gathering information while Mr. Rheinecker attempted to teach class. With 10 minutes to go in class I shared the information I had learned with the class. The only fact I remember was that papers from the World Trade Center had been found an ungodly amount of miles away.
The next hour of the day was Spanish and my teacher, Mrs. Kenyon, did the exact opposite of Mr. Rheinecker. She cried for about 25 minutes and then, abandoning any semblance of teaching, gave the girls mirrors so we could look at our hair before we took our pictures as we weren’t allowed to leave the classroom that day. Looking back, it seems so silly to be worried about hair, but at that point, not having seen any TV footage, none of us understood really what was going on.
That day rumors abounded. We kept hearing helicopters fly over the school and, realizing that perhaps The Arch or Boeing could be a target, I began to feel a hint of fear for what was happening. However it wasn’t until I got home and watched footage from the day on TV that I started to understand exactly what had happened.
But even then life went on. I went to dance class that night, did my homework and went to bed. My mom seemed upset–later she would tell me she saw the second plane crash live on TV–but I didn’t quite grasp what had happened that day.
Ten years later, as I watch specials about the attack, I grasp it. At 12 years old I still thought I was immortal. At 22 years old and a recent college graduate, my grasp on real life is about as strong as it can get. Ten years ago when I watched the footage I felt a detached sadness. Now I can’t watch a minute of it without crying. It’s almost as if 10 years of watching the same footage and 10 years of knowledge that if this happened once, it can happen again have finally hit me.
That day 10 years ago I got my picture taken. That photo is like a portal into a different world. When I look at it I see a girl who knew war as a topic to study in school, not as a reality. I see a girl who didn’t think twice about getting onto an airplane. (I also see a girl who still thought it was okay to wear the same color jean jacket as her capris but we won’t get into that here). I see a girl who didn’t realize that there was actual evil in this world and that it didn’t only exist in movies. In short, I see a girl who was innocent of the world around her.
I won’t claim that I grew older and wiser in the days immediately following 9/11/01. But the roots of growing up were placed that day, not only for me, but for my entire generation. Our most formidable years have been spent growing up in an uncertain world, and we have become different people than who we might have been because of it. I pray that my generation won’t have to go through something like this again, though I know it probably will. I pray for peace, I pray for a world free of fear and I pray that someday little girls will be able to get their school pictures taken in a world a little bit less scary than the one that was created on that school picture day 10 years ago.