The Sept. 11 memorial in New York City. Marla Hoffman/Sun Journal

My story begins like many others.

It’s the morning of Sept. 11, 2001. I am sleeping. It was the first few weeks of college, after all, and I didn’t often see daylight before 9 a.m.

The phone rings. You know the kind — the one I had to get up to answer because it was attached to a cord and the wall.

It’s mom. She tells me to go turn on the TV in the common room of my dorm.

Confused and tired, I find some socks and a sweatshirt and throw my hair up in a scrunchie. I close the door behind me softly so I don’t wake my roommate.

I can see the end of the hallway. There are people crowded near the common area.

It’s quiet. I hear the faint sound of the big-screen TV. I get closer and I can hear the news is on.

I reach the crowd and find an open space to move closer inside the room. The room is filled, and everyone is silent.

The woman broadcasting is talking about how many people work in the building. She wonders whether there is still power in the building.

Next to her face is an inset image of a building that looks like it’s on fire. It’s on the New York skyline. It’s one of the twin towers.

Unknown to me at the time, what she says next is imprinted in my mind.

The Sept. 11 memorial in New York City. Marla Hoffman/Sun Journal

“For our viewers just tuning in, a plane has crashed into the World Trade Center here in New York this morning. It’s just after 9 o’clock. We’re not sure exactly what’s happened, whether this is a horrific accident or whether it was intentionally flown into the building. From video footage it appears almost as if the plane turned into the building, but authorities are not saying yet …”

The inset video footage shows a plane flying into one of the towers. We think it’s a replay.

“… are not saying yet what they … oh my god. Was that another plane? It looks like another plane has crashed into the second tower at the World Trade Center. Oh my god. I can’t believe what we’re seeing.”

The 40 people gathered around me gasp in unison. A girl I know begins sobbing across the room. Someone next to me whispers, “She’s from New York City …”

The anchor’s voice quivers.

“We’re going to go to Jim who is downtown right now. Jim, what’s happening down there. Can you hear us?”

We hear rustling and yelling. A man’s voice comes over the air.

“A second plane has hit the second tower! Oh my god! We’re under attack. It’s chaos downtown. People are running away, others are just staring up at the buildings. I can’t believe this. I can’t believe …”

Those indelible moments are forever in my memory. It’s the day our world changed. And for my very first time being away from home, it was scary. As the day unfolded and we saw the images of the towers crashing to the ground and of the Pentagon and the field in Pennsylvania, we all had an understanding that this was only the beginning.

As fresh as those memories seem in my mind, it’s hard to believe it’s been 18 years.

How different our world is today. I’m not sure there’s a college student today who has a plug-in corded phone in their dorm instead of a cellphone.

I’ve changed, too. I have a stepdaughter who’s only four years away from being the same age I was in 2001. I have co-workers who were toddlers on 9/11 and have no memory of it. I have a cellphone. I don’t wear scrunchies anymore.

What hasn’t changed: Some of the people who watched that broadcast with me on 9/11 are my friends to this day. My mom still worries about me. I still don’t like mornings.

Something that will never change: I will always look back on that day 18 years ago with sadness. It shook me more than I realized at the time. I grew up in southern Connecticut: a place where everyone knew someone who worked in NYC — people who were in the city that day. Even years later I was discovering more people I knew who had been downtown and survived.

The Sept. 11 memorial in New York City.

A couple weekends ago I had the chance to visit the World Trade Center site for the first time since before the attacks. I was able to view the memorial and the park surrounding it. It was surreal.

I gazed over the falls that had been erected in the exact spots the towers once stood, my eyes welled up, and for a moment I thought about the man who had been downtown reporting what was happening in the broadcast I watched as a college student. I wondered if he was still alive. I remember his name being Jim, but when I thought about it I couldn’t recall if that memory was accurate. I remember the studio anchor being blond, but on second thought she could have been brunette. Her words seem so clear, but maybe not exact.

As I lay my hands on some of the names of the victims on the memorial I thought about the video footage of the planes and the sound of the anchor’s voice and the sight of seeing my fellow student break down as she struggled to get a connection to call her parents who lived in the city.

The passage of 18 years could make any memory a bit hazy, but some things you don’t forget.

On this 18th anniversary, let us all reflect on how far we’ve come as a nation and how far we have to go. As the world continues to change and evolve, we must remember that what brought this nation together in the wake of the attacks was a sense of compassion for our brothers and sisters who died, and who heroically rescued hundreds in New York, Washington, D.C. and Pennsylvania, the first responders who even today struggle with the emotional and physical scars.

The hijackings brought our nation to its knees, but it was love that picked us back up again.

Marla Hoffman is the managing editor/nights for the Sun Journal and lives in Auburn.


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