When Words Fail

Words fail me today. They do every year on this date.

They say you’ll never forget where you were when a life altering national event occurs. On 9/11, I was in tenth grade, second period gym class. We were watching a movie about golf. An announcement came over the loudspeaker that a plane had crashed into the World Trade Center in New York City. I’d never heard of that building. It didn’t make sense at the time.

Classes rotated and there was a feeling in the air. A sense that something was wrong. In my language arts class, we sat in stunned silence as the second tower crumbled to the ground on live television. Imagine, a whole room of sixteen-year-olds with nothing to say. No one cried. No one moved. All was still. The dust. The fire. The sirens. Fear crawled inside me and posted itself there.

After class ended, I tried to explain what I had seen to one of my friends. “The building. It fell down. They think someone did it on purpose. Terrorists.” It sounded absurd. I didn’t have the words.

A somber cloud hung over us. Rumors ran wild. Terror filtered in and suffocated us. We were under attack. The Pentagon. A plane in Pennsylvania crashing in the middle of a field. That plane turned around over our airspace. It was close.

In my afternoon biology class, we went outside to collect insects for a project. It was a warm day and the sky was a dazzling blue and there wasn’t a plane in sight. I don’t know what I would’ve done if I had seen one. In the distance, elementary school kids squealed on the playground, chasing each other, climbing and swinging. It was a chilling juxtaposition.

I delivered newspapers after school and I didn’t want to be alone, so I grabbed my brother off the bus. The bus monitor tried to stop me and I argued back.  I started talking about the terrorist attack, and he looked at me with a blank stare. He didn’t know. He was in seventh grade. The principal chose not to tell them. I repeated the horrors I had seen, censoring my words to protect him.

The daily newspaper bundle was dropped at an apartment building where I started my route. They were face down. I flipped them over and removed them from the clear plastic wrapper.

I don’t remember the headline.

I don’t remember the words.

I just remember the picture of the American flag on the front page.

I felt the power of my responsibility to deliver those words to my community, my neighbors, my small town world that suddenly felt big and threatening and unsafe.

It’s hard to repeat this story without my eyes filling with tears and my voice wobbling as I speak. It was a moment when I knew, at fifteen, that nothing was ever going to be the same.

There are no words.


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