I was in chemistry class. More accurately, I was walking from my French class on the second floor of Marquette Senior High School to the chemistry room on the first floor, just rounding the corner to the second flight of stairs at the building's main entrance when the announcement came over the intercom that a plane had flown into one of the two World Trade Center towers.
Or maybe the announcement was just that there was some sort of national emergency and we would be watching the regular news instead of our usual made for high school students national news program. I can't remember. I can't remember being in class before that announcement on Sept. 11, 2001. I know it was English and then French, because those were the first two classes I had my Junior year.
In chemistry we sat with the classroom television on and watched as Katie Couric and Matt Lauer sat in their brightly lit Today Show studio and attempted to explain the situation in between getting breaking news through their earpieces.
After a while, the teacher started us working on some sort of lab assignment, so we were half paying attention to the lab instructions and half watching what was going on on the television. I don't remember the footage of the second tower falling as clearly as I remember footage of people on the streets of New York City as large clouds of dust came rolling over them as the building fell.
I don't remember the rest of that day either, until I got home and found out from my mom that my uncle, who works in Manhattan, was fine, but she was having trouble getting in touch with him because all the phone lines into the city were tied up.
What I remember most from that day and the days after is the confusion. The strangeness of trying to do a chemistry lab while your country watched the towers fall in shock. Not knowing how many people had died and watching the news as rescuers attempted to find those who had survived. Hearing about grounded airline flights and then the new security measures that were intended to keep us safer.
How do you process a disaster if you've never seen one unfold in front of you before? As a 15-year-old, I don't think I could. I watched what was happening, and I saw the interviews. I saw the pictures of people jumping from the burning towers when it became clear they couldn't escape. I saw the photo of two tourists at the observation deck of one of the towers that someone had heartlessly Photoshopped in a picture of a plane headed for the building. But I couldn't really feel what we had lost - lives, a sense of security - deep in the pit of my stomach until later.
Maybe you can't understand someone else's disaster until you experience your own. It's like being a kid and having a family member go in for surgery and coming to the realization that everything is a lot more serious than the adults around you want you to realize, becoming aware all at once that bad things can happen.
I hope that kids who aren't old enough to remember the events of 9/11 won't have disasters and attacks to think back on.
But do I believe that nothing bad will ever happen again? No, I'm not that young anymore.
Johanna Boyle can be reached at 906-486-4401. Her email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.