I was 9 years old and beginning fourth grade when two planes crashed into the World Trade Center. I remember the day began for me just as any other normal day.
I watched "Catdog" with my breakfast, made sure I had all my homework done and also reminded myself to bring my books for piano practice after school (I was the coolest of fourth graders). Little did I know, this was the day when I would learn for the first time how prevalent violence truly is in the world.
While my day began innocently, the same was not true on the other side of the house, where my Mom woke up and dropped her coffee on her prized white carpet as she watched the news reports.
She wasn't even sure herself how such an atrocity happened, she but on her best face, as if this were any other day. She's never been a good actress, and I could tell something was up.
The worst way you could ever find out about 9/11 is from a gaggle of 9-year-olds. It seems I was the only one who woke up and watched cartoons.
Some kids were pulled out of class, even though rural Northern California wine country probably will never be the target of any attacks, unless the next war is fought over wine.
The ones who were there definitely only knew very sparing details from their erratic, emotional parents. "The Arabs are gonna kill every American," said one. (Reminder: We were in a conservative rural town.) "Don't ever get on planes, that's how the terrorists kill you," said another. "I heard they want to wipe California off the map," said a third.
The teachers tried to quell our stories about what was happening on the other side of the country. Some with families over there were hysterical. Being at a religious school, my teacher of course tried to turn this tragedy into a Bible lesson. Looking back, it was probably not a good idea to fight religious fanaticism with religious fanaticism.
The whole day I wandered around scared and confused. It wasn't just because for the first time I was hearing words like "terrorists" or "Osama Bin Ladin" (which sent shivers down my spine for months). It was the first time I saw the adults at my school just as confused and terrified as I was.
It was then that I realized that for the first time, no one felt safe. Violence had entered my world, and I learned that these mass attacks don't just happen in other countries (after all, the history books liked to reassure children that wars were fought overseas in the past century, so we had nothing to worry about).
America is a target. The world shut down for a day and so many people lost their lives. I came home demanding my parents tell me what was going on. My parents were both harried messes, trying to keep their minds off of the terror and on me making it to my piano lesson on time.
Yeah, piano lessons weren't happening; it was 9/11. We came home and my parents had to find a way to tell my brother and I that there were people out there who wanted to kill Americans. It was scary and disheartening, to feel that in some parts of the world, we were the hunted and someone just struck a critical blow.
The world stopped spinning for a full day it seems, and every part of our culture changed. It was in that day, all of us 9-year-olds grew up. The world was not only a much scarier place, but we also saw how much of a kind place it could be.
Our town did a variety of fundraisers; our class wrote letters to a school near the World Trade Center and had pen pals for a few months. All in all, there was nothing immediately traumatizing about 9/11 in my personal life, but it showed how we, as a nation, could be so utterly blindsided, but then rebuild and recover.
It was a strange time to live through a child's eyes, but it certainly ensured we all grew up fast.
Photo Courtesy: World Trade Center Memorial