So, Saturday was September 11th. It has been twenty years since our country was attacked. Most people tend to remember what they were doing when the news broke that horrible day in 2001. I will tell my story, and how it affected the rest of my schooling at Hiram G. Andrews Center in Johnstown, PA.
I graduated from high school in 1999, and though I spent two terms taking a few courses at a local community college, The Commonwealth Technical Institute at the Hiram G. Andrews Center was the first major part of my schooling (I eventually went to Shippensburg University for a degree). Hiram, is a school for students with disabilities. It was also my first time staying away from home, which for me was a challenge. I was there for four terms. School years at Hiram were broken into trimesters. Hiram is a college that has a summer term that most students take. Fall 2001, was the last term I was there before I graduated. Before continuing on to that morning, there are a few other facts that are worth being mentioned.
Hiram being the first time I was away from home alone was a big deal, and a difficulty the whole time I was at the college. Once I had taught myself how to ride the public bus, and was comfortable riding it, being in town was my solace during the long year and a half away from home. Familiar restaurants like KFC and McDonald’s, and a shopping mall named the Galleria, which was very similar in appearance to the York Galleria were my solaces, other than calling home every night on the phone. For those who don’t know, this was before cellular phones with data plans, and I would go every night to the community phone, and use a calling card, and talk for about an hour. Eventually learning how to use instant message (the old version of Skype) was also important. For three quarters of the time, I had a ride home on most weekends. Come the first week of September, 2001, the person taking me back and forth quit, due to problems at home. Living away from home, and having my transportation home on weekends yanked away from me, combined with the effects of 9/11 itself, which we will talk about next, caused a bad last semester of school.
On the fateful Tuesday morning I was sitting in a long, and boring auditing class. The teacher of this class would even joke that the class would put students to sleep. Instead of being a class with problems to solve as most accounting classes were, it was simply a class of reading, and memorization of material. The prior weekend I was out at the Galleria, and everything seemed normal other than being down about having a whole semester ahead of me without a person to drive me home. Still, everything else was typical, for example, I saw people milling about at the central bus station. I thought this Tuesday would be a quiet, sleepy, Tuesday when a teacher from another classroom came over, and pulled my teacher aside, and asked him if he heard about the attack on the twin-towers in New York City. My stomach felt queasy! I heard the teachers talking, and from the bits I heard, it didn’t sound good. After fully processing what was said, I knew the situation was dire. A teacher thought it might have been caused by either terrorists or guerilla fighters.
Class informally disbanded, and my teacher led my class into the other teacher’s classroom where he had a large television that was turned on. The news coverage showed the towers coming down, and talked about the event. While teachers and students alike were chattering someone said out of the blue, “Did the Pentagon get hit?” Then they started to talk about that attack. A little bit later another plane went down, this time in Shanksville. I had never heard of this town, but many students and the teachers were familiar with it. Shanksville is a small village in western Pennsylvania south of Somerset, that wasn’t that far from the school! It was only a few miles away from Johnstown, where my school was, as the crow flies. A group of hijackers took control of the plane, flight ninety-three, but were intercepted by a group of heroes on the flight who tried to retake control of the plane. The plane crashed in a field, and everyone on the flight was killed, however, the heroes helped prevent the hijackers from reaching and destroying their intended target.
The events, all close together, all bad, and one close to the school really had me confused and terrified. As mentioned before, the students and two teachers were chattering away, and watching the television. Class was never officially dismissed, and everyone just stayed in the classroom. I didn’t know what to do. I didn’t want to watch the television, but felt required to. That’s what everyone else was doing. Since nobody else was going anywhere, I simply stayed. The more I heard between the television, teachers and students, the more confused and worried I became. Eventually I decided to ask my teacher if I could go to the counselor’s office, and he said I could go.
When I arrived, I was silent as I wasn’t sure what to say. Eventually, I muttered out what was bothering me: the terrorist attacks. After talking to him for a while, he asked about calling my mom. My mom was a school teacher, and I knew that she would be in the middle of teaching. The counselor called anyway, and explained the situation. An interesting side note, at the elementary school level, the teachers were certainly aware of the situation, but were expected to continue teaching their students like nothing ever happened. Between young people needing structure, and not being able to comprehend events, it was deemed better to handle it this way. Eventually after talking to her for a while, I was dismissed to go to what was remaining of my Tax Accounting class, which was the other class scheduled for the day.
In the days and weeks ahead, I still felt scared. For a while, I was afraid to go outside. I thought terrorists might be out there. I was afraid they would climb in the first-floor window into my dorm room. Other than any opportunities to go home for the weekend, I stayed in. I stopped going to the mall, or the restaurants. I still did buy sodas from the store. How, you may ask? Hiram was a college campus located within one building. The dorms, the classrooms, evaluation rooms, the nurse’s room, the PT/OT area, the cafeteria, and a convenience store were all housed in the same building. I never needed to go anywhere, but prior to the event, I liked getting out. Of course, being stripped of my primary source of enjoyment (other than calling home), it made times even more difficult. Besides being alone, I also had thoughts racing through my mind related to the events. I have obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD), and I certainly perseverated on the events. Eventually, I was coaxed outside again probably by my counselor or maybe by Mrs. Fredericks, a teacher who helped me from time to time.
I also had a professor who joked inappropriately about the school housing terrorists in the basement. This was a recurring theme. My asthma doctor from home prescribed a medication for my anxiety that would work with my asthma medications. My parents considered pulling me out of school. The affects the attacks had on me were too great, and I really didn’t have any good way of dealing with them. This situation never came up before. Another thing to keep in mind was that I took school seriously. I would never consider leaving without graduating. They didn’t take me out since it was my last term. Fortunately, I was able to finish the year, and graduate.
Also, my dad had to call the school, and talk to a person about getting the teacher in question to stop carelessly telling the jokes about the school housing terrorists in the basement. The teacher stopped telling the joke, but he lost my respect. It’s unfortunate because before the attacks, I really liked that teacher.
Another problem emerged, in my Tax Accounting class. Firstly, I did not understand the class from the beginning. I have never understood it. My foundation for the class was shaky as when it was covered in high school accounting, I had been absent. The high school teacher had another student help me get caught up on the missed lesson. Since 9/11 happened early on, I had trouble focusing on this class. The practice set was started early on as well. Due to 9/11, I fell behind.
Here is how the practice set worked: unlike prior practice sets that were similar to major projects, this time the teacher would break the project down into sections. She would give a target date for so much work to be completed, and then give the students the correct answers to compare with their answers. After comparing answers, students had an opportunity to correct their mistakes early on before advancing causing bigger problems. In any accounting practice set, every answer builds on the last. Well, my answers didn’t match; I didn’t understand the teacher’s instruction, and I fell farther behind. Still being focused on 9/11, I made slower progress then I should have, and didn’t seem to learn much.
One evening I was eating supper at McDonald’s, and then it hit me. I was really behind. I remembered at the very beginning the teacher telling the class if (s)he needed help, the person could get help from a tutor. The teacher had a lady who served as a tutor for her classes. I spent some long hours in my dorm room getting caught up before awkwardly seeking help. The tutor looked at it, and became upset. She wondered why I didn’t come to her earlier. The woman said that I was really behind, and had it messed up beyond repair. She told me that the only way forward would be to give me the correct figures to use, and continue on from there.
I spent some long evenings to get caught up, and eventually finished the beastly project, but I got it done. I got a D on it, which wasn’t good, but at least I finished it. Needless to say, I got a C for the class, which though wasn’t good for me, was actually amazing when I look back thinking about the circumstances, and getting a D on the major project for the class!
The next hurdle was figuring out what to do next. I had been scared to a point of staying in, and doing nothing. I had a great counselor at the time provided by the school. I asked him about the situation. He said that a war would probably start to fight the terrorists. Alarmed, I asked him what to expect from that. The counselor remembered living through some previous wars, and said that every night on television they would talk about the number of wounded, and casualties from the war.
Another issue caused by the ordeal was constant news coverage. When I was able to come home, the attacks were the main focus on the television news shows, and I couldn’t stand to listen to it. I would have to go to another room. My dad had an interest in the events since it was “history in the making.” He always had an interest in history, and though he was a manager at a box plant, he actually went to college to be a history teacher. Another example I remember of news interference was during my parents’ 25th wedding anniversary celebration, which was in October of 2001.
Now my parents wanted to take a big trip for their milestone anniversary. They wanted to go to Hawaii, and had determined it would be better to go in the summer when Mom had off work. Good thing they did, as they wouldn’t have been going anywhere if they had waited until the actual anniversary date of October 9th. With help from my maternal grandma, my brother and I planned a twenty-fifth anniversary party for my parents including immediate family and a few close friends. An uncle of mine also had an interest in the news, and kept the television on in the one room of the house at the party. I stayed out of that room.
A number of things came out of the events. Firstly, this was the first time that I became afraid of the news. Before this I had some idea of certain events such as the O.J. Simpson trial and Monica Lewinsky, but this one I eventually knew what happened as I saw the events unfold before my eyes.
Baseball games changed. My family had been going to the stadium to watch an Oriole’s game a season. They traditionally played music during the seventh inning stretch. For a period of time after 9/11, they played the patriotic song, “God, Bless America.” Speaking of music, Lee Greenwood’s “God Bless the USA” from the eighties became popular again. Alan Jackson wrote a special song in response to the attacks, “Where Were You (When the World Stopped Turning).” This song being specifically written because of the attacks plagued me for years when it was played on the radio. Toby Keith also wrote a song, “Courtesy of the Red, White and Blue (The Angry American).” I felt this song was empowering as it contained a strong line. The line was funny, but more importantly empowered America via its implied strength given to our country. The Alan Jackson song I felt simply made a person reflect on the day, something that I didn’t particularly want to do!
For many years to come I was afraid of riding on airplanes, and of going to New York City. I eventually did return to my normal activities at school like going to the mall or to restaurants. With Christmas coming, finally working on getting my Driver’s License, and eventually spending time thinking about packing to get ready to go home, the thoughts of the day faded, but the news could always remind me of the events, and get me upset again. 2002 was farther removed from the event, and felt better, but occasionally I felt the nervous tingles when the news people thought that the timing was right for another possible attack, which fortunately never came. A color system also came into place for a while that told how safe it was (orange was the most dangerous, and blue was the safest). Eventually words like terrorist, and other related words just became part of the vocabulary used, and though I was still afraid had less impact. I still dread September 11th every year, and dislike the number 911, which was another way that the media referred to the day. Currently I still haven’t been to Ground Zero, or the Flight Ninety-Three site in Shanksville, and still don’t plan to. It was hard for me to write this blog, though I felt it was an appropriate piece to write this time of year. I hope you enjoyed reading about my remembrance of a terrible day in American history.
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