I was 14 years old on September 11, 2001. It was the beginning of 9th Grade, and I was very nervous. I was nervous because I was a little on the chubby side, and had braces. I was nervous because just the year before, the girl who I liked (and still continued to like) informed me she would only lose her virginity to Brad Pitt. And I was nervous because I was terrible at Spanish, and my Spanish class was scheduled to be my first class that day.
Like most mornings, I arrived at school, and went to the cafeteria to hang out with friends, and grab some breakfast. Liz, the much beloved Hispanic cafeteria lady, made a bacon, egg, and cheese sandwich that would even make Gordon Ramsey a little wet. Said sandwich probably played a supporting role in my above mentioned chubbiness. As I waited for my sandwich to be prepared, I started watching the miniature-sized television Liz always had set-up near her cooking station. Usually, her television clamored with Spanish soap operas or unintelligible interviews with, I assume, Hispanic celebrities. This morning, however, it was the local news, in Spanish.
Out of boredom, I tuned in, and attempted to understand the foreign language that completely befuddled me for my Middle School and High School years. The slick-looking anchor mentioned something about an "avion" and an "edificio." Coincidentally, these were two of the very few Spanish words I actually knew. I thought to myself, "Plane and building! I can understand Spanish! I did it!" I was basically fluent now. But then the news segment cut to b-roll of the "avion" crashing into the "edificio." My moment of self-celebration and approval turned quite somber and scared. What the fuck just happened? Moments later, the Dean of my grade entered the cafeteria, and announced that there would be an emergency school-wide meeting in the auditorium. I grabbed my egg sandwich (remember, I was chubby), and joined my schoolmates towards the auditorium.
I took a random seat in the packed audience, and braced myself for the news. The auditorium was usually a place where we watched awkward Jewish girls attempt hip-hop dancing, student-presidential candidates promise us the likes of installing vending machines (a notoriously impossible, but popular platform), and even that one time when my school thought it would be a good idea to let a zoo keeper come in and release a hawk. For better or worse, the school's auditorium was always used as a vehicle for positive events. But over the course of the next 10 or so minutes, its oft-light-hearted stage and podium informed us that New York -- that we -- were under attack.
Many students began crying. Others were just silent with their thoughts. And some, unfortunately, realized that their family members worked in or around the World Trade Center area. We all had different emotional reactions. For me, it was the first time -- ever, in fact -- I stopped thinking about my low self-esteem, the supposed "girl of my dreams," and the fact that I sucked, really hard, at Spanish. This moment was much more significant than anything comparatively petty that had happened in my privileged life.
With the help of a friend's parent in the neighboring area, I walked across the bridge, from the Bronx, and back into Manhattan. I hailed a cab, and arrived home. Upon entering my apartment, I instantly hugged my parents. Once their expected, Jewish neuroticism subsided, and I assured them that I was -- obviously -- okay, we all sat down to watch the news. Over the course of days, we tuned in -- glued to the television -- trying to cope with and understand the how, why, and who's of this tragic attack.
There are still many facets of September 11, 2001 that remain unknown, and might never be fully unearthed, but a lot has happened to me in 11 years. I have since graduated High School and College, I've gotten laid a few times (though not by my former crush), and I've lost weight and proudly sport straight teeth. Yet, as those various life events -- important in their own right -- become a combined blur, it is still that incredible isolated moment -- awaiting my breakfast sandwich, and beginning to realize the calamity of, arguably, our nation's greatest moment of vulnerability -- that I will never forget. And for the record, I am still terrible at Spanish.