Ten years ago I left home, finally, to see and live in a city that had always fascinated me. I'd seen many times in movies, heard about in hip hop songs, and saw it on the pages of fashion magazines. I was moving to NY.
I went there at 19 to go to college at The College of New Rochelle (CNR) completely unbenownst to me that I was headed for a majority minority college. The campus tour in spanish didn't tip me off. The student statistics that had 5% men enrolled in our "All Women's School" and the only 3% whites didn't trip any alarms either.
I'd seen the campus and found a compromise with my nervous parents. CNR was only five minutes from the Bronx in Westchester County. The buildings were built like castles. My address was 29 Castle Pl. The green between dorms was lined with trees and had actual wild life.
And yes, finally, there was the diversity I longed for. Not diversity in color, but diversity in culture, language, values, and ideals. There was diversity in buildings and bars from one section of the city to the next.
My very first foray into NYC with a group of college friends was to the MTV Music Video awards Sept. 8. I had never even taken a train or the subway before. My friends Kiki from Harlem and Cheryl, my room mate from DC, held my arms so I could walk safely while looking up in awe at all the buildings, the bright lights, and feel the party atmosphere.
We managed to find the hotel where Mark Whalburg, N'Sync and Britney Spears were staying and scouted it out as they left the building to go to the award show. My room mate stood behind me screaming "spear Britney, spear Britney" the whole time.
When it was finally time to head home, our group of 5 or 6 decided to play practical jokes on bystanders by "mistaking" them for a famous celebrity in town, like Usher.
We'd pick our target, someone with a similar look and stature, then we'd start screaming like crazed teenage fans and snapping photographs.
I was amazed how many people would follow our lead snapping pictures or asking for autographs believing they really saw someone famous.
What I didn't see when I looked up, and what I wasn't looking for, were the twin towers.
That was the first and only time I saw NYC in it's glory. The following Tues. Sept. 11th happened.
We felt so safe, so safe in fact that when the first plain hit, newscasters everywhere called it an "accident."
People were told not to worry, "Stay where you are, even if that place was in Tower #1." People were told, and they obeyed. I couldn't comprehend the people listening, Staying still, staying seated!! They were following orders just as so many tourists had followed our lead when we jokingly mistook an average person for a celebrity.
I had an 8am early class that morning in the communications lab with a growing friend, Daisy.
I'd told my family I was ditching school that day to shop in the city, but since I was up, decided to go to the lab first.
When the first plane hit, I emailed my parents immediately to reassure them I was safe in New Rochelle, at least 15 or 20 miles away.
Then all communication was lost: no computers, no cell phones, and no smoke signals.
It was eery smelling the burnt steel, and hearing the silence in the air where JFK once routinely flew, or the emergency sirens that never stopped.
At the time, there was no research telling us to look away, that watching the events play out on tv could be just as traumatizing as being at the site itself.
My communications teacher lead our class to the lounge saying this was our job, we were seeing history in the making. Daisy and I sat close together, not knowing each other well enough to really show our fears and hold each other, but we weren't alone.
Groups of us sat paralyzed watching as the first plane hit, then the second. We watched people choose to take their lives in to their own hands and jump through windows until eventually the first tower fell then finally the second in a plume of smoke and rubble.
It was clearly the greatest tragedy of my generation.
Now, ten years later, the media is celebrating the anniversary of the lost, the survivors, the workers, and all the heroes who emerged that day, and I'm wondering how it changed the lives of a few simpletons, like me and the other young women who had started their college careers only weeks earlier.
Before 9/11 I was debating getting a communications/journalism degree or a nursing degree. That day, I so desperately wanted to run to the site and help, take blood pressures, check pupillary responses, but my hands were tied. I had no specific education regarding national catastrophe's or even nursing.
My school, having lost its downtown campus in the blaze took a week before starting classes. I decided to head home back to NH.
All routes South of the city were closed so many of my classmates were required to stay for the week because there was no possibility of accessing or communicating with their loved ones.
I opted to go home with my parents, back to the country, where I thought I might belong for good.
I carpooled with another student from NH and offered to bring droves of friends home with me, but the only two I took were the two I felt most comfortable with, the two who seemed most like me superficially, two white friends.
|From left to right: Yanellie, Laurette, Me, Colette, Kiki (in back) Daisy, and Brynn in front|
Though my parents had told me for years I would be out of the house and on my own if I didn't attend college immediately after high school, that rule quickly changed to their begging me to quit and never return to that awful dangerous city.
But I was left even more curious. Who were these people that stayed sitting at their desks, working, while under attack? Who were the first responders and the volunteers that ran to ground zero without regard to their own health? And which one was I?
Over the course of the week, my relationship with the two girls I brought home became strained, and I regretted not packing in the other 5 or 6 who had asked to come. I regretted leaving Cheryl, Laurette, and Kiki because of my fear of the unknown, because I'd never encountered women like them before.
And when I say I'd never encountered women like them before, I don't only mean black women, though coming from NH any race other than white was foreign to me.
I mean strong, loud, funny, brilliant women who would have gotten up out of their seats and ran for the exits if they felt a threat, dragging their coworkers along with them.
|Us a few weeks ago. Front Xander, Laurette and Leiliani|
Back Left to right: Kiki, Me, Colette, Maggie & Daisy
Like so many disasters, the tragedy resonated for years and forever changed the way we as Americans lived, but at such a pivotal turning point in my life, the actions of heros superseded the evil in my mind.
I found my role models that day in the first responders, in the men and women who jumped to their feet to save other New Yorkers, Other Americans. Under attack and covered in ash, there were no CEOs and janitors, there was no black and white, there was only Americans.
When I got back to school, I changed my course of study to nursing, and I took a review of my life and friendships. I'd been pushed so far out of my comfort zone through the culture shock of changing schools and Sept. 11th that it was easy for me to pick friends based on the traits of honesty, strength, and integrity alongside the knowledge of how to have a really good time.
To this day my heart breaks hearing about Sept. 11th. I beat feet out of NYC this past Friday as memorials started on a day eerily similar to that Tuesday, warm with clear blue skies, but to this day I still have the lessons I learned and the strong beautiful women who supported me then. Thanks Laurette, Kiki, Cheryl, and Daisy. I love you ladies. And I always have the utmost respect for those who got out of their seats. ran into the fray, saving lives while sacrificing theirs, inspiring me to do the same.