Sixteen years ago I was sitting on a circular numbered rug in Mrs Grasso’s first grade classroom, waving my hand frantically to get her attention. It was that time in the morning to talk about what day of the week it was, the weather outside, and discuss the daily rundown of our school day. She never picked me that day though, until the phone started ringing off the hook.
One by one, students were being called to go home. I was one of the first, and I distinctly remember my classmates being jealous of me leaving the school day at 8:45 am. It was weird to me too, but all I could think about was I’d be going home for the day! My happiness would soon be dismantled, when I got home and saw the city on fire.
My mom tried to hide the news from us. She demanded we stay in our rooms or in the playroom until she and the other adults in my family were done watching the tv. But, as a curious five year old, I couldn’t be stopped.
I remember watching the replay of the two planes directly impacting the North and South Towers of the Twin Towers. I remember the look on my moms face when she saw me watch the buildings crumble to the ground. I remember the phone ringing non-stop with questions about where my dad was. Where was my dad?
My dad, a detective for the New York Police Department, was down in the city as a first responder. He was there when the Towers fell. He was there when people were walking from the depths of the city to wherever home was. He was there, as people cried while frantically asking “why would someone do this?” Why would someone do this?
I remember my dad coming home at night, and basically stripping out of his clothes at the front door. Covered in dirt, debris and god knows what else, he took the top layers off before entering the house. I remember begging to help him untie his shoes, which I was never allowed to, a form of protection that I didn’t realize (or appreciate) until I got older.
September 11 2001, and the days following, seemed like some of the longest days of my life. And if they felt long to an impatient five year old, they must’ve felt like eternities to my dad and the thousands of other first responders who dedicated their days to sifting through the debris of the tragedy. I never found it important to ask what my dad saw while he was looking through the rubble, and I don’t think I’d want him to remember it, either.
I’ll never not be thankful that my dad was lucky enough to safely make his way home, that day and every day following. I’ll never not be proud that my dad, along with thousands of others, risked their lives that day, the days ahead of them, and even now. I’ll never forget that day, and how the city of New York was affected as one and came back as one.
Today, we remember all the men and women who lost their lives due to a ruthless attack on our city. We remember and appreciate all the first responders, who in the wake of tragedy risked their lives for those who had lost theirs. On this day, we remember. And we will never forget.