By: Ebonye Gussine Wilkins
Thirteen years ago, I stood with my mother at the bus stop. It was roughly 6:30 am. It was still dark outside, the sun was barely beginning to rise. Down the long avenue, I saw the bus coming, it’s distinctive lights were moving toward me slowly.
“Oh shoot, I forgot my cell phone,” my mother said to me.
“Oh, go get it!” I said. After all, we just lived across the street from the bus stop.
“No, I don’t want to be late this morning,” she said.
We got on the bus. She went to work and I went to school.
I was asleep in Spanish class when it happened. I had no idea. No one in my class had any idea, as no one told us what was going on. I was in high school, and two more periods went by before we found out.
My English teacher looked at us all gravely during fourth period. “Does anyone have anything we want to talk about?” he asked us. None of us did. After all, we had no clue what happened. He resumed his lesson.
We shuffled off to fifth period, which is on the third floor of the school’s building, and as we entered, our history teacher said to us. “history is being made today.” I thought to myself, “history is made every day” and sat down in my seat.
A few minutes later, the teacher said, “Everybody look out the window. Remember what used to be there?”
We all went to the window to take a look. No one knew what used to be there. It was a dusty cloud of smoke. I assumed it was a house burning nearby.
“The World Trade Center used to be there,” he said to us, as we were returning to our seats.
Everyone ran back to the window and stared out of it. What originally looked like a house fire from a few blocks away was actually the enormous cloud of dust and smoke from the collapse of the World Trade Center. I couldn’t believe it. We could see smoke and dust all the way in lower Manhattan? We were in southeast Queens! But our school was located on one of the largest hills in the local area, and we were on the top floor of the school building, facing lower Manhattan. So yes, we could see the smoke an entire borough away.
Everyone panicked. Some of us stayed in school, others left immediately. We weren’t sure what to do. I tried calling my mother repeatedly. I couldn’t get her on her cell phone, since she didn’t have it with her. Her office phone just rang and rang and rang. She didn’t work in lower Manhattan, but she did work in Midtown. At the time, we didn’t know which places were being targeted. But as the day went on, we found out several other places had been hit too. We didn’t know the extent of the damage at the time.
The ride home on the bus was strange. There was nervous laughter in the air, some silence and just a general disconnectedness. Most of us on the city bus were school-age and we didn’t have information about what happened. We would have to wait until we got home.
When I finally walked through the front door of my house, my entire family was already there. My mother was in a bathrobe drinking tea from a mug. She told us the subways had shut down for security reasons. She had walked across the 59th street bridge, and a large part of Queens.
On TV, we watched 7 World Trade Center collapse right before our eyes. We learned about Shanksville and the Pentagon too. It was a frightening time.
When I did return to school two days later, I walked up the hill to school. Even though I a large part of my school’s population were Muslim immigrants, I had barely noticed the mosque that was on the way to school, one block away from the school’s building. But I noticed it on September 13th. It had a police car out front, and a large banner was strung across the building. Clearly in fear of retaliation, they had hung the banner as a plea to those who might rob, loot or harass.
It said: “We condemn the attacks on America.”
I lost my innocence that day. It was not anything that most Americans will ever believe will happen to them. Yet, in places around the world, these kinds of attacks are commonplace. It shouldn’t be a way of life, and it shouldn’t happen anywhere.
As you go about your day, today and everyday, be careful of how you treat others. You never know what someone is going through, so be kind. You don’t know what battles someone has fought, you don’t know what nightmares they are struggling to overcome. This has always been the primary message of Somewhat Close To Normal. Believe it or not, we all struggle for reconciliation in our irrevocably changed world.
Always remember the victims of September 11th and their families.