5:45 a.m., Sept. 11: Waking up to a nightmare

By Grace Conway

At 5:45 in the morning on Tuesday, Sept. 11, 2001, I lay sleeping peacefully in my bed, oblivious to the catastrophic destruction occurring thousands of miles away.

About an hour later, my parents woke me with three startling words: we’ve been bombed. I shook my head in disbelief, and wondered if I was still dreaming.

My parents gravely assured me it was true, and asked me to turn the news on. America is under attack. Hijacked jets have slammed into the north and south towers of the World Trade Center, as well as the Pentagon.

In less than a minute, these few details changed my world forever.

Momentary disbelief quickly turned to shock and fear. My heart sunk. I had not awakened to such terrifying news since the Oklahoma City bombing, and instantly it was apparent these terrorist attacks far exceeded the damage done in Oklahoma.

Minutes later, I watched in horror as the south tower of the World Trade Center collapsed. A portion of the Pentagon was the next to collapse, and a fourth hijacked plane crashed in southeast Pittsburgh in the following 20 minutes.

By 10:29 a.m. EST, the north tower of the World Trade Center crumbled, producing a massive cloud of fire and ash. I buried my head in my hands and let the tears stream from my eyes. I had never felt so helpless.

After watching the towers being ripped apart by Boeing 767 jets, and subsequently collapsing several times, I tried to contact my family in New York through emails and instant messages, to no avail.

While online, I spoke to terrified friends who could see the towers burning from their homes. I tried vainly to console them, and felt even more helpless for not being able to do so. For the next hour and a half, my nervous stomach forgot about breakfast, and my restless mind forgot about school.

By 9 a.m. I remembered that I still needed to go, and hastily got ready to leave. Everything was uncertain now, and anything seemed possible. Fear of another catastrophe occurring any minute sent me rushing back to the television every five minutes, asking for updates. I dreaded leaving for school that morning. I put off leaving the house and the news as long as possible.

After arriving at school 15 minutes late, and vaguely listening to my instructor, I numbly spent the next six hours making prints in Photography class, and rushed home as soon as I had finished my work.

By 6 p.m. I was grimly mesmerized by the news once more, watching the morning’s devastating events unfold yet again, along with startling new images of an ash covered New York City, and traumatized survivors.

A picture of a man caught in mid air, falling from the towers was particularly disturbing, and my eyes began to well up with tears again.

Later that evening I gained some relief in finding out that my family in New York was all right. My aunt witnessed the second plane crash from a federal courthouse, but made it out of New York City before it was closed off. I spent the remainder of the evening in a dismal daze, immensely unsettled by the knowledge that this attack on America is going to change our lives forever. Although far more troubled by not knowing exactly how things will change.

By 2:30 the following morning I reluctantly turned off the television. I didn’t want to go to sleep and find myself waking up to another nightmare, but I thought I would at least try to go to sleep then. I fell asleep with a singular song lyric by Ben Folds Five, repeating in my head.

“You were not the same after that.” I don’t think any of us will ever be the same again.

I know I won’t.

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