Nicole Ozoa: ‘The day started like any other’
Published: Tuesday, September 11, 2012
Updated: Tuesday, September 11, 2012 01:09
Sept. 11, 2001, is a day that personally tugs at the heartstrings. At the turn of each September, many reflect on the question, “Where were you on 9/11?”Eleven years ago, I lived in Westchester County, N.Y., a suburban community about an hour away from New York City. It was common for many people, like my father, to commute a long distance to work in the city and Sept. 11, 2001, was no exception.
The day started like any other. It was 8:30 a.m. when I made it to school. I sat in “homeroom” in the front and center seat of my fifth-grade class ready to seize the day. After eagerly waiting for my teacher, I looked over and saw misery on her face. 9:05 a.m. Appalled by the contrast between her upset expression and her usually very sunny personality, I knew something wasn’t right. Shortly after, the principal walked into our room and told our class the very solemn news that “there was an attack on America, planes flew into the twin towers, and that the state of New York was in a lot of turmoil.”
When I heard that, my heart sank because I knew his simplification of the issue didn’t even scratch the surface of how grave it really was. In my own frenzy, I ran to the school office to borrow a phone to call my mother to see if she heard from my dad. The line was painfully long. By the time I got to talk to my mother, she was in tears, and so was I. As a child who didn’t exactly understand the geography of New York City, I assumed the worst. I asked if dad was alive, and my mother told me that she didn’t hear anything from him due to the poor cell phone service in the city. Left with no answer, I panicked through the rest of the school day praying that my dad would come home for dinner.
At 8 p.m. we still hadn’t heard from my dad, but I watched the reruns of the twin towers falling on the news trying to spot him in the crowd of people running. I was told he worked pretty far from the towers, which only slightly calmed my nerves. I watched people jumping from the towers on TV and tried to decipher if they were trying to save themselves, end it early or if they even really had a choice.
The garage door opened at 10 p.m. I knew it was my dad arriving home. Filled with relief and excitement to see him, I ran downstairs to pummel him with the biggest hug I could give him. He was covered in dust and I had never seen him look so exhausted. My father recounted his story to my family, telling me that he heard the twin towers fall and that the city was covered in dust. He told me because the roads were packed with emergency vehicles, the quickest way out of the city was by foot. He walked across Triboro Bridge to the Bronx where he hitched a ride with a friend to get home.
The days following the attack were solemn, yet unifying. While I am lucky that I did not lose any family members to the attacks, the community I lived in was shaken with casualties of neighbors and acquaintances. Memorials for the fallen were accompanied by candles that lit the streets of our neighborhood at night. Blood donation centers, food drives and monetary donations were hugely advocated and garnered high rates of participation. There was such a high air of friendship and selflessness that helped comfort such a sad time in New York.
Through the turmoil and sadness, the heroic efforts of the emergency relief personnel and the cumulative efforts of New Yorkers and Americans nationwide proved that we were an unshakable country. Eleven years later, my memory of the day replays through my head during each anniversary. At such a young age, this tragedy taught me a lesson about unity and made me gain a strong sense of American pride.