Our Recollections From 9/11: Jessica

It’s been 10 years since the tragic events of September 11, 2001 and we continue to feel very real aftershocks. In the hours, days and weeks following the tragedy, no one could imagine how much our world would change—how our concepts of peace and freedom would shift and morph, and how our sense of national security and global terror were irrevocably changed. The Frisky staff took the time to share our personal experiences of 9/11, and hope that this will inspire you to recall your own feelings and experiences in the comments. We see this as an opportunity to remember, memorialize and come together, and we hope you’ll join us. Yesterday, Amelia and Ami shared their experiences. Here is Jessica’s.

I firmly believe no God would let innocent people die in such horrifying ways.

I was 17-years-old and in my second week of college at NYU. I was sleeping in my top bunk in a dorm on Fifth Avenue and 10th Street (maybe a mile from the towers?) and kept waking up to the sound of police sirens and firetrucks. Then the phone in my dorm started ringing and I answered it because I was the only one in the room. It was my roommate’s dad, calling from Atlanta, wanting to know where his daughter was. He’s the one that told me the Twin Towers had been hit with airplanes. “Turn on the TV!” he said. So I did. It was very weird, like watching an action movie.

I went outside onto Fifth Avenue, barefoot in my pajamas. It was the most surreal moment of my life, watching both of the towers burning. Most everyone was just standing there staring at the towers, which you could see in the distance both on fire, but lots of people were walking uptown. I went back inside and called my mom at home and my father at his office. My crazy brother got on the phone with my mom and started screaming at me about how he was going to drive to New York City and pick me up, which my mom didn’t want him to do. I had to get off the phone with them because they were stressing me out. My dad helped me stay much more calm. He later told me, like nine years, later, that that phone call with me in NYC on 9/11 was the most helpless and scared he ever felt as a parent. The Towers both fell while I was in my dorm room on the phone with my dad; I was watching it on TV and started screaming “S**t, s**t, sh*t!” My dad was terrified something was happening to me. I started crying and saying, “Dad, all of those people are DYING!” I got off the phone with him and ran outside, where this crazy haze of black smoke was going into the sky. Everyone was panicking even more.

The rest of that day was horrible. I was absolutely, 100 percent convinced I was going to die that day. Someone had said the Pentagon had been attacked and another plane went down in Pennsylvania, but also that there were four hijacked other planes in the air. For most of the day, I was freaking out that the other four planes (which didn’t exist) were coming to NYC to hit more buildings. Throughout the day I answered phone calls from my family and friends and of course packed my bags to head home for a few days. NYU canceled classes for a week and many students had to be evacuated from dorms in the Financial District and Chinatown. Fliers with missing people’s faces on them, like “have you seen my husband?”, were posted everywhere, including on my dorm. It was so terribly upsetting and sad.

9/11 really screwed me up for a long time. I’m pretty sure I had PTSD that went undiagnosed. I had panic attacks my entire freshman year of college whenever I heard loud noises, such as construction, and thus had a lot of sleepless nights. I was convinced any loud noise was a bomb. I also refused to ride in elevators or on subways because I was afraid of being trapped if there was another terrorist attack. (Do you know how hard it is to not ride an elevator OR a subway when you live in NYC? I was truly crazy.) I also felt an immense amount of survivor guilt. Why was I alive when over 3,000 people were killed that day? Why did I deserve to be kept alive? It made no sense. I saw one therapist once about this stuff, but didn’t go back again because I was so embarrassed about it. Everyone else seemed to be coping so much better than I was. I seriously considered transferring out of NYU because I had so much anxiety living there. By my sophomore year of college, I stopped being afraid of the subways and elevators and lived a more “normal” life again. The survivor guilt eventually went away, too, although it comes back every single year when the media starts talking about 9/11 again.

I wouldn’t say that 9/11 changed how I interacted with the world in any broad way, other than it solidified my thinking on a couple of things I already thought. One is that I don’t believe in God as a deity, as some dude who sits in the sky and makes things happen.

I firmly believe no God would let innocent people die in such horrifying ways.

But two, I believe war and death are horrible, horrible things and anyone who experiences death first-hand would never want to wish the experience on anyone else. The drumbeat for the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq were both really hard for me because I felt like so many people didn’t understand how awful death is, how utterly terrible it feels when thousands of innocent people die, and how scary it is for everyone else that they might be the ones to die next. I am still, generally speaking, anti-war for this reason (despite the fact one of my best friends from high school went on the join the Army and has actually served in Iraq).

I don’t particularly like talking about my experiences 9/11 in general, because I feel like a lot of people don’t understand what I went through on the day and in the months/years after. It was such a “national experience,” but for those of us who lived/worked in downtown Manhattan, it actually happened to us. Likewise, it really pisses me off when tourists go visit Ground Zero.

I still haven’t figured out what I’m going to do on the 10th anniversary; I’m thinking that I might go to a church service. 9/11 was a lot for a bright-eyed and bushy-tailed 17-year-old to handle and I want to honor that experience in my 27-year-old form.

Photo: Getty