Everything started at Physics class in Stuyvesant High School at around 8:45 in the morning. The class had just come back from a five minute break in the middle of a 90 Minute lesson on scientific notation. Mister Wang was covering it just as exhaustively as my Biology and Chemistry teachers had, so I wasn’t paying attention. Then, everyone in the class heard a boom. It was followed by car alarms going off. Lots of car alarms, which is how I realized something major had happened.
While I was slow to react, several kids had already gotten to the window. Some talked about how a car had probably exploded, and were looking at the street, trying to find it. When I was able to look outside, I saw the smoke in the sky. It led to one of the towers of the World Trade Center, which covered its twin from my line of vision.
We were on the eighth floor. My school was just a few blocks from the World Trade Center, so I had a good view of it. Two sides were visible from where I was, and there was a several story hole in one of them. A lot of smoke was coming out of it.
We didn’t know what had happened. It could have been a bomb, a missile, or a plane. Some kids said they heard a flying sound right before the boom. I didn’t recall that. I didn’t think it was a plane, because I couldn’t see any airplane parts. There was too much smoke for me to be sure.
Mister Wang opened the curtains for another window, although the view was not as good. Some girl began talking about the tragic loss of life. Another wondered if it was a terrorist attack. “Yea,” I said sarcastically “We’re at war.” But when I finished saying it, I realized that if you wanted to start a war with the United States, there’s no better way to do it.
The entire class was crowding around me, and looking out the window. Mr Wang tried, and failed miserably to continue his lesson. Kids who had been in the bathroom, or just returned from the break were coming in, and being told of the situation.
Someone turned the TV on to watch the news. Less than two minutes had passed since the boom, and most channels were running talk shows, or commercials. Only VH1 was showing the story of the year. The image had a lot of static, and they didn’t know anything either. Someone in the class said that it was tragic how many people probably had died, but how it looked so cool. Another student talked about wanting a camera, and I agreed. Most times when I wished I had a camera along, it was to take pictures of escalators being repaired or rats in the Subway, or something mundane.
We eventually got back to our seats, but couldn’t just continue the lesson, as much as Mr Wang wanted to. I started writing what was happening, because I had promised myself that if something really interesting happens, I’d write down any observations. The notes would become the basis for this piece.
Around 8:55 AM an announcement came: “A moment of silence please. A small plane hit the World Trade Center at 8:45. Debris is still falling. All students are not allowed to go outside for their own safety. We will investigate whether, or not you can go outside during the Lunch Period.”
I began to think about my brother Michael, who had not yet gotten to school. He was a freshman, and I was pretty sure his first class didn’t start until 9:30. He was probably in the Subway, and I was concerned about how bad things might be for him. I wasn’t afraid he was in the World Trade Center, or anything. I was just thinking about how bad the delays must now be. This would’ve been his second complete day of high school.
We heard planes, and helicopters. The lesson continued. Then we heard another boom. There was now a hole on the other side of the tower. Amidst the smoke, pieces of metal, and glass were slowly falling. It was eerily beautiful.
Mr. Wang noticed Principal Teitel on the roof of a building across the street. We looked at the people on the roof. A kid observed how instead of looking at the World Trade Center, we were just looking at people looking at the World Trade Center.
There was a small debate on how the fire would be put out. Someone suggested a really long ladder. Someone else said they’d use helicopters. Another asks “How are they gonna put all the water in the Helicopters?” I suggested extinguishant, although I doubt anyone heard me. A girl who sat next to me said there was a special powder that could be used. We didn’t consider that the towers could fall, just that there would be a hell of a repair bill.
I had just gone back to my seat, when the message came. “This is Mr Blaufar.” He was some official at Stuy. That was followed by about fifteen seconds of silence. We began to laugh, although Mr Wang wanted us to be quiet. The message finally came, as Mr Blaufar told teachers to keep students away from the halls, and round up any students walking in the halls. He also said he’d keep students posted on any new developments.
He was the Assistant principal. While rereading the notes a few years later, I realized that he didn’t keep his word.
When the class ended, I went to look at the window one last time. Smoke seemed to be coming from behind the visible tower, and I realized that there was likely serious damage on the two sides that I couldn’t see. I didn’t think of the other tower.
I walked down the stairs to get to Photography class, on the first floor. Several freshmen were talking about what they saw. A guy was hugging his girlfriend. I wished I had a girlfriend to hug. I saw Sunny, a friend of mine, and asked him what he saw. He hadn’t seen anything, and I realized I had one of the best views in the school of what was happening.
Memories are a funny thing.
For example, I started thinking about my own whereabouts on 9/11 as the anniversary came around this year. Was working at a Barnes & Noble in Co-Op City that morning, and first time I heard about it was on Ed Lover’s radio show that was playing in the backroom. Then some customers were talking about something happening downtown and how they were stopping to get coffee before getting the hell out of Dodge. There was definitely this slow influx of information. Bits and pieces that didn’t get quite you worked up into a frenzy, but at least made you somewhat aware that something was wrong.
I start to find my memories suspect, though, when I pull up Google Map and try to trace a line of sight from my job in Co-Op City to the Twin Towers. I could have sworn we finally stepped out of the Barnes & Noble to witness the cloud of smoke hanging in the air over where they used to stand. But I’m not sure we did. Not as clearly as I thought we had, anyway.
Anyway, glad you’re writing all this down. It’s important to remember.