September 11, 2001 was the type of day where you didn't mind getting out of bed. The weather was about as beautiful as you could get. It was the kind of weather where you would put your MetroCard away and walk twenty blocks instead of taking the subway or eat your lunch in Central Park instead of a stuffy cafe.
After greeting my classmates and setting up my locker at St. Joseph Hill Academy, it was off to class. It was typical first-day fodder. In my second class of the morning (I would assume around 9:30am) there was an announcement over the loud speaker. Typically, these announcements weren't anything important. But on this day, the particularly shaky voice of our principal came over the system:
"There has been an accident in downtown Manhattan at the World Trade Center. Please pray for all those in the area."
Those words shook me to my core. An accident? What kind of accident? Did a car hit the building? Did someone fall? What does this mean? Is my Dad he safe? Is our school safe? We didn't have computers or cell phones (I was getting my first cell phone on the first day I was allowed to drive, my birthday on October 1) so I decided to leave class and head down to the office to see what was going on.
As I walked through the glass doors at Hill, I noticed many members of the staff sitting around the TV, with hands clasped over their mouths. "What's going on?" I asked. That's when I saw the most horrific image I ever saw in my entire life--a plane flying into the World Trade Center.
"I have to use the phone," I cried as I ran down to the pay phone. I didn't care about the rules at this point. If there were ever a worthy time to get a detention, this was it. I found a quarter and immediately called my mother. After three or four attempts, she finally picked up.
I will never forget this conversation. "Mom, what the hell is going on?" It sounded like mayhem on the other side. "I just talked to Dad, he's OK." "How the hell did a plane hit the building?" I asked. "Roe," my mom started calmly, "A second plane hit the other tower. A third hit the Pentagon. This isn't an accident."
In the two minutes I was on the pay phone, a line of equally worried teenage girls filed behind me. That's when the announcements began. "Jennifer Jones please report to the office. Will Mary and Liz Jane please report to the office?" What did it mean? Half the time it meant that a student was being picked up... the other half had a missing parent or family member.
A few hours later, my mother had arrived and I could go home. I wanted to go home desperately and this was the only way they were letting students leave. She filled me in--my father was on my way to work and never reached his office. It's possible that he lost his entire business, but none of that mattered at the moment.
As soon as we stepped out of the building I smelled the smoke and ash coming from Manhattan. By the time we reached my house, the towers had collapsed. We stared at the television in disbelief. This cannot be real, I thought. When will this nightmare be over?
I was in absolute shock. Those buildings can't be gone. I was just there last week, shopping in the mall underneath the Towers. Nothing can take those buildings down. There's a lot of smoke, maybe we saw wrong. I assume this was pure shock because I did not cry at all during this time. I truly thought I was going to wake up... that this could not be real. And then I saw this photo:
Over the next few weeks we began to cope. My family was safe, but like everyone else in New York I knew people that died on that horrific day. I still am in disbelief that those buildings are gone.
Walt Disney World changed as well. Bag checks are now required when entering any park. When I worked there, I learned of the many security features that were implemented following the attacks. I am pleased to say that Disney truly thinks of everything and they work very hard to keep the guests in their theme parks carefree. I was shocked to learn that Disney Parks are actually huge terrorist targets. When you think about it isn't that strange though - if there was a place that represented what America is all about, it's Disney. It represents freedom, capitalism, happiness and the inclusion of all people from all walks of life.
Reports from guests in the park that day say that Cast Members remained calm. There was announcement that told guests to please evacuate the park. Cast Members sprung into action and they did what they were trained to do. Knowing what was going on (and that they were sitting on a huge target) they still managed to keep smiles on their faces and directed thousands of guests out of the parks within twenty minutes.
On a separate personal note, I never really spoke about September 11. Everyone in New York was there, they lived it. They did not need to speak about it or rehash their feelings. However, on 9/11/04, my College Program roommates sat around me and listened to my entire experience from start to finish. They hung on my every word and cried when I cried. It helped me come to terms with the event.
On the eve of 9/11, ten years later, I know that day will forever be etched in my mind. I will never forget, and this is just one memory that will be with me as long as I live. May those who were lost rest in peace, and may their loved ones find peace.
Thank you for reading. My story is one of many. Tell me yours in the comment section below.
Edit: Monday, September 12, 2011, 12:09PM
My favorite Disney podcast, WDW Today, did a special show this week on this topic. If you would like to listen, here is the link: September 11th