Reporter's Notebook: 9/11's Spirit Comes Full Circle
I never wrote down my memories from September 11, 2001. As a student at Stuyvesant High School, only a few blocks from the Twin Towers, we had a unique experience.
When I spoke with my friends, however, I detected a recurring sentiment. We knew that so many others experienced true heartbreak, and so, there was a sense that we didn't want to overstate our memories and experiences.
But there is no doubt that events from that day will stay with many of us for the rest of our lives.
I spoke with my best friend, Blagoja, who was on the Stuyvesant football team with me, about 9/11 for the first time two weeks ago. We had obviously touched on the subject in different ways over the last 10 years but I had never asked him, "So what do you remember from that day?"
His answer surprised me. He demurred a little before saying, "I just remember being confused. We were really young. I don't really like to talk about that day. It makes me sad and angry. I get patriotic."
We were all confused and sad and angry and too young to really get everything about what was happening. But we lived it and we remember, perhaps all too vividly.
That morning as I approached the bridge that bypasses the West Side Highway and leads to Stuyvesant High School, I looked to my left and took in the Twin Towers. I might have done that often. I don't know. But I remember doing it that day. It's as if your mind clicks, 'File,' 'Save,' after important days in your life.
I was in gym class with one of my football coaches when we heard that a "small plane" had hit the towers. My first thought was that we probably wouldn't have football practice. I remember being a little happy.
After class, with the school buzzing, we rushed to a chemistry lab, where we knew we could see the towers. I remember an angry orange outline surrounding what looked like the aftermath of a huge bite being taken out of the building.
It almost looked beautiful. But the rest of what was happening wasn't. Because it wasn't just chunks of metal that were falling from the building. And I know a lot of students who have told me they remember seeing that.
I then went to Physics class. My teacher was a genius who wrote books on physics, but English wasn't his first language and he tried to lighten the situation and make jokes. I don't blame him. No one knew what to do in this situation.
Then he tried to teach and we didn't let him. We asked him to turn on the TV. The news had a live camera on the smoking World Trade Center when the second plane hit live.
I remember feeling complete confusion about what was happening. I think it's a little bit like what the beginning of a war might feel like, where you don't know what will happen next.
The school's administration (we later learned) had been in constant contact with the city Chancellor's office and held off on evacuating us because of safety concerns. But when the second tower was struck, and first building collapsed, that decision changed quickly.
We were ushered out of the building slowly so that panic wouldn't set in. As we went out through the back doors of the school and into the sunlight things became more hectic. We crossed east, and prepared to walk north. We knew we were supposed to go left but we couldn't help looking to the right. As I reached that juncture I saw the second tower crumbling and a large smoke cloud making its way towards our direction.
One of the guys who worked with disabled children was also our coach for weight lifting. He was standing there yelling that we should, "Go North!"
And we did.
I jogged. Some people ran. I remember that girls were crying and a lot of people kept looking back, as if things might be different. Or maybe just to confirm that they were safe from the smoke cloud.
My friend, Brian, who was on the football team, yelled at a photographer who was taking pictures. The person calmly told him that it was his job. At that moment I never would have thought that I would end up going into journalism and that I would look at this exchange through a completely different prism years later.
At some point the people I was with turned into a group. A lot of them were on the football team. The father of my teammate, Spencer, met up with us and he bought us food (after the adrenaline wore off I remember being really hungry). We went to Spencer's house. As I looked around I saw a lot of familiar faces. And I'll never forget that there was one random student with us. No one really knew who he was but no one said anything. We ate and we turned on the TV.
Every single channel was showing the towers collapsing over and over again. We had no interest in watching on tape what we had already seen live. We decided to play video games. It's a memory that sticks with me. We turned on the Super Nintendo and played NBA Jam.
Phone lines were in disarray, as much of the city was, but eventually I got to speak with my parents. My mom seemed a little worried, we had a short chat and then I spoke with my dad. He seemed completely nonchalant.
"Are you ok? Ok, good. We'll see you later," he said.
At first I was a little confused by this but then I realized his demeanor (whether forced or natural) was actually calming. It said that everything would be ok. Everything would be fine.
When I spoke to Stuyvesant alumni for my story on the effect of 9/11 ten years later, they each told me what they remembered and how it changed their lives. But their enduring memory was about the sense of unity in the city and in the country – humans reaching out to each other, amid destruction and heartbreak.
I saw this happen again recently. There was a bit of controversy over whether Stuyvesant alumni who were there on 9/11 (the classes from 2002 to 2005) would be able to attend a commemoration at their high school on the 10th anniversary.
When the school's principal, Stanley Teitel, and the Battery Park Authority (who has jurisdiction over the space) gave pushback to their plans, the alumni came together. A Facebook group ballooned to 1,000 members and the former classmates mobilized to make sure that they would be able to observe the anniversary the way they wanted to. A media campaign and outreach to local elected officials began.
The Battery Park Authority relented. And on Sunday, September 11, Stuyvesant alumni will find themselves exactly where they were 10 years earlier. They will be together and there will be an open mic for students who wish to speak. There will be an art installation to write messages on, which will be donated to the school. There will be a livestream for alumni who can't attend the event, so they can watch from their computers. And there are plans to create a charitable donation fund.
It shows that out of tragedy, yes, there are lifelong memories. But there are also unbreakable bonds and a spirit that's as strong as ever.
I can't wait to see everyone.
Contact Adrian Carrasquillo at Adrian.Carrasquillo@foxnewslatino.com or on Twitter @RealAdrianC.
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