By Brittney

On September 11, 2001, as would be the case with about 85% of the following decade’s major events, I was asleep. When the first tower was hit, I was a thirteen-year-old high school freshman in Aurora, IL, drooling on my desk in my darkened second-period World History class while my erstwhile teacher, Ms. Ferkenhoff, dutifully read her overhead projector notes, slurped her Diet Coke, and attempted (unsuccessfully) to scratch herself discreetly. I’d just gotten out of gym class at an ungodly early hour, our class’ swim unit well underway, and I was exhausted from doing laps.

When class ended and I wiped the drool from my face, preparing to go to my next class, the hallways were eerily silent. I entered my choir class and it was Mr. Degroot who told us that something terrible had happened. He explained that someone had bombed a building in New York City. He turned on the TV as the second airplane crashed. I remember that there was a girl whose father was in NYC for a business trip. She began sobbing hysterically, convinced that her father had died. The girls nearest her comforted her and urged her to call home. (I never found out if her father was okay or not.) The rest of us began quickly mentally running through our list of acquaintances and family friends, anxious to make sure that everyone was accounted for.

By the time third period had ended, everyone in the school knew what had happened. The hallways were abuzz with rumors and hearsay about what was going on. There were rumors that there were planes headed for LA and DC (we would later find out about the crashed plane at the Pentagon). Rumors that we were under attack, in a war, that Chicago was next on the list. Just all kinds of reckless rumors come up with partially by shell-shocked sensationalist journalists…and also by really stupid teenagers (No one could tell the difference in the chaos).

I honestly don’t remember much else about the day. The teachers were just as shocked as we were and no lessons were taught. We simply went from classroom to classroom on our schedule, to watch more news coverage. I remember watching people jumping from the towers to substitute a fiery death for one much more final.  We saw the blood-stained cement and couldn’t comprehend what could produce that much blood – until we realized that’s what probably happens when you jump from over 100 stories high. I remember seeing the footage of people struggling through the ashes of downtown New York. I remember feeling perpetually nauseous, light-headed and wishing that I could cry so that some of these feelings, many of which I couldn’t even begin to name, would go away.

One thing that I remember though, is a conversation I’d had with some of my classmates in 2000. We were in our classroom across the street from what would be our high school, ruminating on the possibility of a nuclear war. Our logic was this: We lived in a suburb of Chicago that was, at best, about 40 miles from the center of the city, which, we reasoned, was far enough away that we would have mild radiation poisoning but ultimately live. Though Chicago is a major city, our main export is local government corruption, therefore making it much less likely to be a target. We would be safe.

On September 11th, even knowing this information, facing the fact that our country, the United States of America, which hadn’t been attacked in almost 60 years, was vulnerable to acts of terrorism that would take thousands upon thousands of lives, made us wonder: Would we be next?

9/11 didn’t really hit home for me until 2003. We had just moved from our cramped apartment in Aurora to a cozy house in Plainfield, IL and I unwillingly transferred schools in the middle of the second semester of my sophomore year. My father, caught up in a whirlwind of financial straits and civic-minded duty, rejoined the Army and was deployed with his Reserves unit to report for duty in Georgia as a training post on their way to Iraq. For reasons that are as hilarious as they are sad (that both my father and Homeland Security would probably kill me for sharing), their mission was scrubbed six months after my dad left and he returned home, never having left American soil.

Saying that I was “one of the lucky ones” implies that I was ever in any danger, which is completely untrue, but on September 11th, underneath all the confusion and the anger and the fear and the sadness, I felt lucky. Lucky that I didn’t live in a major city. Lucky that I had never been collateral damage in the wrath of faceless, terrifying terrorists. Lucky that I was able to go home and all of my family was present and accounted for.

Lucky that when all was said and done, I could go to sleep at night. Or in World History class.

Lucky that I would wake up.

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