15 years later: memories of 9/11/2001 and how it changed my life.

  1. I was sitting in my algebra II class taking a test when another teacher burst into the room, panicked, saying, "There's been an attack."
  2. She could hardly string the words together.
  3. After several seconds of incoherent babbling and teachers whispering and a lot of confusion, the bell rang and we were shuffled to our next class.
    Everyone was confused. Was there an intruder in be building? Why were we switching periods like nothing was wrong?
  4. The classroom overlooked the NYC skyline, with a direct and clear view of the twin towers.
  5. The iconic towers my dad rode the train into every morning for work for as long as I could remember.
  6. The ones I stared at from my bedroom window every night and down Montgomery Street as I rode to school in the morning.
  7. The ones my dad worked across the street from.
  8. The ones I squinted my eyes at and craned my neck to see the top of from the ground below on "Take Your Daughter to Work Day."
  9. The ones that Sam, the falafel guy my dad bought lunch from sometimes, had his cart parked in front of.
  10. And now one of them was smoking, a plane having hit it.
    Surely it was an accident. Maybe a hijacking, but who would crash a plane into a building?
  11. My English teacher, Mr. Russo, was using a Sony Mavica camera and snapping pictures from the window.
  12. My classmates and I were transfixed. Most of us had parents who worked in the city, and grew up in the shadow of the towers.
  13. So it was a complete shock when we saw this.
  14. Surely it was my depth perception being off and the plane would go behind the towers.
  15. It had to. My dad was probably on the train. He mentioned going to the Chase bank on the bottom floor before going to work. He was probably due to pull into the World Trade Center station any minute.
  16. And then this happened.
  17. Panic set in. I felt the hairs on the back of my neck stand up.
  18. My mouth was hanging open, dumbfounded.
  19. Students were out of their chairs.
  20. Those that had cell phones were desperately trying to call their parents.
  21. Mr. Russo started snapping pictures more furiously.
  22. The tiny ceiling mounted TV flickered on.
  23. My classmates were crying.
  24. Smoke was pouring into the classroom.
  25. Mr. Russo put the camera down and started shutting the windows.
  26. He locked the front and back classroom doors and put black construction paper over the small windows.
  27. Time was moving so slowly. No one knew what was happening. It was pandemonium. Cars were backed up outside and honking their horns furiously.
  28. Helicopters started flying overhead.
  29. Then military jets.
  30. Debris was falling from the towers. Large pieces of black stuff I couldn't make out. The smoke kept billowing towards us and eventually it was so thick, it was hard to see.
  31. One of the towers came crashing down. It sounded like slow, never-ended thunder.
  32. My friend Stephanie was hyperventilating. Her dad worked on the 92nd floor of the south tower and she couldn't reach him.
  33. The principal came on over the PA system and asked everyone to remain calm. They directed students who had immediate family in Manhattan to come to the main office to use the landline. The cell towers were on the top of the towers and weren't working.
  34. Hours went by.
  35. I stood in a line of what felt like 100 other students (25% of the school) in the hallway, waiting to use the phone.
  36. My dad's cell kept going straight to voicemail
  37. Eventually the loudspeaker came on, hours later, at 2pm, informing me to go to the front desk with my belongings.
  38. My dad had this embarrassing habit of waving to me with both of his arms from across the street of my school when he picked me up sometimes. I hated it when he did that. And now it was all I wanted to see.
  39. I got down to the front desk and it was him. I had never been happier to see him. He looked worried. I'd never seen him look like that before. He had this way of always being the assured one in the room. That was gone.
  40. He put an arm around me and rushed my into the car outside. He kept looking around, as if someone was going to come after us.
    No one knew who attacked our home or why. And at this point we knew it as a coordinated attack in multiple places.
  41. It took us 3 hours to go the 2 miles to our house. I'd never seen traffic get so bad.
  42. I was starving and had no appetite at the same time.
  43. We drove home without saying anything other than my dad telling me he missed his train that morning because my sister refused to get out of bed that morning. I was so thankful.
  44. His friend stayed with us for the next week, stranded in NJ as all the bridges, tunnels, and trains were shut down.
  45. The TV was only picking up PBS. The antenna for all the NYC broadcast networks fell with the towers.
  46. My friend Bianca tied an American flag bandana around my arm and insisted I wear it.
  47. She was worried in the days after the attacks, as people of South Asian descent were being attacked and murdered on the street as revenge for a crime they had nothing to do with.
  48. She thought it would protect me.
  49. But I was spit on.
  50. Cursed at.
  51. Attacked in an IKEA parking lot.
  52. I was angry.
  53. This was a crime committed against me and I felt like I was being blamed by some for it.
  54. I felt I had to do something. I had to prove my Americanism. I had to show that I wasn't just a brown kid born to hard-working immigrant parents who gave up any loyalties to their homes in exchange for a new one in a foreign place.
    Sounds ridiculous now, in retrospect.
  55. I didn't know how to do it though.
  56. I talked to a Marine Corps recruiter and my mother freaked out. She forbade me from joining the military.
    She was worried I would get killed, or raped, or both.
  57. It took me six years of feeling uneasy in my own skin, in my own country.
  58. And then I decided I didn't care about the danger, and I joined the Army. It felt right. And that uneasiness went away.
  59. It's funny the things in life that are like punctuation marks. That day was like a semicolon in my life.
  60. The last 15 years have been like the second clause in the sentence.
  61. And what a meaningful sentence it has been.
    I met my wonderful husband and fellow soldier. We've been sent to all sorts of interesting and exotic places. He's been to war. I've prepared and volunteered for it. And we are now back where it all began, in New York. And it feels like such a long time ago, but at the same time like it was just yesterday, and we were just scared kids trying to prove something.