On September 11th, 2001 I was 12 years old and in my second week of 7th grade at a public middle school on the Upper East Side of Manhattan. I remember I was so excited for the day because I had band first period – my favorite class, all 4’11” of me played the tuba and we were going to learn how to oil the valves on our new instruments. As I mentioned (during the tour intro), it was also a beautiful day – I usually took the city bus to school, but that morning the weather was so nice I walked. After first period, we were brought down to the auditorium for an assembly about the dress code, and at the end of the assembly they announced “if your parents work in the World Trade Center, please stay here.” A murmur swept through the auditorium and I turned to the person next to me and said, “Oh, I know! They must be planning a field trip,” and then we went up to our next class. It’s funny, in the museum, they have a copy of the NY Times from that day and on the front page there is an article about school dress codes – I found that really eerie when I saw it. Anyway, not more than 15 minutes of class had gone by when they announced over the PA system that we were to come down for another assembly, which seemed odd because you never have two assemblies in a row in school. That assembly is where they told us that two planes had crashed into the World Trade Center.
I don’t think anyone, students or teachers, could process or comprehend this at that moment (I don’t think anyone anywhere in the world could), so we went back to class where my teacher continued to teach – I don’t think he knew what else to do with a room full of 35 twelve years old but he couldn’t get through more than three sentences before they started calling names over the loudspeaker name after name of kids whose parents were there to pick them up. Now, two things about being a kid in New York City, by twelve you are probably going to and and from school by yourself, it’s not typical that you would need to be picked up by your parents, and you may also not go to school terribly near where you live. I had friends in my class whose families were in Queens or the Bronx, and since I lived only a mile away I figured my parents would be among the first there.
As the hours crawled by and names kept being read (our school had close to 3,000 students), it felt like we were all waiting to be saved and I was wondering what was taking my parents so long- when was it going to be my turn? Suddenly, it hit me that my mom was on a plane. My brain immediately jumped to the worst case scenario. I am extremely lucky that it was not the worst case scenario, but she was on one of over 255 US bound flights diverted to Canada when US air space was closed that day. She, along with about 6,000 others, landed in a tiny town called Gander Newfoundland which has a population of around 7,000 and an airport that normally sees just a few flights per day. The airport was so over capacity that it took them 19 hours to get off the plane. I have to mention that the people there were wonderful – they put food out on the ice rink because it was the only place in town large enough to keep food cold for that number of people – and they made up beds everywhere they could, including on church pews. My mom had an generous gentleman offer her an air mattress her first night, which she refused because she did not want to seem privileged above anyone else, and after one night on a church pew she went and found him again and got the air mattress. She was stuck in Gander for one full week.
Back in New York City, it wasn’t until around 3pm when my doorman asked my father where I was that he realized he was supposed to come and pick me up. To his credit, I’m sure he had a lot on his mind that day- and he knew where I was and that I was safe. We lived on 93rd street, over 8 miles from the World Trade Center, and that night we stood on our roof with our neighbors and watched the smoke coming up from the buildings.