I was sixteen when 9/11 happened, and to my surprise, I didn’t remember that day clearly until today.
7:30 AM that morning, I was in my family’s kitchen scarfing down a bowl of Total because we’d just ran out of Cheerios, and Total was the cereal version of Plan B. The World Trade Center was still there, though it looked like the smokestack of some factory on the TV. Or maybe it looked a little dim because the lights in the kitchen were off. Plenty of sunlight came in through the windows. No need to waste electricity when we didn’t have to.
I didn’t have my driver’s license then. I was a late bloomer with driver’s ed. didn’t learn until senior year; this was junior year. My mom drove my to school. I was at La Canada High School near Pasadena.
9/11 was on a Tuesday, just like today, so I had all my classes on the schedule. The first was computer science. I remember that because the school’s psychology teacher, Mr. Williams, came in at some point of junior year to promote his personal management class for the seniors next year, a course on how to cook and watch our finances and basically take care of ourselves when we went off to college; the class was cancelled before it began due to an apparent lack of interest from the students.
We had a long project in computer science tracking the stock market and recording the data on Microsoft Excel, but few of us actually did the work that day. Most of the time, we hit the “refresh” button on Yahoo! to get new updates on what was going on in New York.
After computer science was SSR – sustained silent reader – which meant another half hour of searching headlines. Second period was geology with a bespectacled aviation enthusiast named Traeger. We’d been in class for about fifteen minutes when the principal came on the PA system to tell everyone that the school was being evacuated. He didn’t actually use the word “evacuate”. Instead, he said that officials in LA county thought it would be best if the schools closed early and the students went home. In truth, La Canada High was down the street from the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, and after what happened at the Pentagon, nearly every government building was deemed a potential target. If a plane crashed and missed the lab, a couple of thousand high school students could be hit instead.
Most of my classmates cheered because, hey, school’s out. I didn’t. Hearing about people suffering didn’t seem like a joyous occasion. But I got my stuff and went to the front of the school where pick-ups were done. I didn’t have a cell phone. I was behind technologically much like the situation with the driver’s license. The school let me use a phone in the main office and I called my mom to get me. The front of the school was crowded with cars, so I walked part of the way, stopping in front of the house of a kid I went to grade school with. It was an easy landmark for my mom and I to meet.
There was a tree on the curb by the house and I sat down in the shade waiting. It was weird how quiet it was. There wasn’t anything flying over JPL, no helicopters or jets ready to shoot down anything from an incoming plane to a sparrow. Mostly, I just kept my eyes open for my mom’s car. She came soon, and we went pick up a couple of things at the local pharmacy. Bush was on the radio telling us not to “make no mistake” and that “we (not the royal we, for you British readers; the we of a nation) will hunt down and kill these evil-doers.” Even today, “evil-doers” sticks in my head. It sounded like something from a cartoon or a comic book, and made the day feel even more surreal.
My mom and I went home after the pharmacy. We kept the TV off. She didn’t want to know any more about what was happening. I don’t blame her.