11 September 2012

We're All New Yorkers on September 11th

The fourth grade girl who wrote this note later became one of my favorite people in the world.  She was one of my young women in the youth program at church and is now studying at BYU.  She wrote out her memories of 9/11 for the BYU paper....

By Chelsea Sue

As with any significant or monumental event, most people can remember exactly where they were when it happened.  I remember where I was 10 years ago on Tuesday September 11th.  I could never forget.

I was in 4th grade, sitting in my elementary school classroom in Brooklyn, New York.  It was a bright, sunny day, barely into a week of school, summer vacation still on our minds.  My school was located a block away from my apartment building in Brooklyn Heights, which is the closest Brooklyn neighborhood to Manhattan.  The vast Manhattan skyline greeted me every morning as I awoke in bed of my 7th floor apartment and the Brooklyn Bridge was only just across the street.  My mother and I frequented Manhattan often, seeing as how it was only one train stop (roughly 3-5 minutes, depending on when the train arrived) away.  My neighborhood was so close to Manhattan, in fact, even our little elementary school had an amazing view of the city skyline.

(This is a photo Chelsea took from her bedroom window the summer of 2001.)
My classmates and I were beginning to settle in for a normal day of school when my teacher noticed a cloud of smoke from one of the World Trade Center buildings.  I clearly remember him calling 911 on his cell phone, alerting the police department that a major fire had started in the Twin Towers.  The class was intrigued, but not worried.  At the most we were shocked at the appearance of our teacher using his cell phone during school. As we chatted amongst ourselves as Mr. Tenhor (our teacher) continued to call 911, I distinctly, clearly, and loudly remember a sharp, piercing whistling sound.  A sound that I can accurately replay in my head.

Everyone turned around.  Shouts of, "Whoa!" and "Wow!" echoed from the mouths of us 8 year olds. A plane was deliberately heading toward the second tower at a speed so fast, it caused the almost-cartoonish whistling sound.  The majority of my classmates ran to the window to witness the event.  I sat in my chair, but turned my head around in time to see the unbelievable-- The plane crashing into the second building of the Twin Towers.  I remember it vividly and whenever I retell this story the image pops up in my head, without fail.  I still see the explosion of the tower.  I still see the bursting red flames and clouds of gray from the 4th-grade classroom window.

My mother taught middle-school in the city and so was literally trapped in the city.  As a result of my mother's work schedule, my 3rd and 4th grade teachers often watched me and took care of me after school.  My mother called them to ask if they could once again look after me, while she tried to find a way out of the city (it ended up that at least one of the students in her class lost a parent in the attack).

My entire elementary school was taken downstairs to the basement until the school day was done. Teachers were frantically trying to make sense of everything and to take care of their students.  My peers and I were trying to dissect what happened.  No one was allowed to leave until every child was accounted for and picked up by a parent or guardian.  Because I was left in the care of my teachers, I walked home with them.  We walked down the Brooklyn Heights Promenade where a cloud of smoke created a fog all around us.  Papers were floating in the East River.  My 4th grade teacher picked up a paper and gave it to me as a reminder of what happened.  We made our way to the apartment of my 3rd grade teacher.  She was coughing the entire way.  The smoke was so thick and strong, her asthma started acting up.

We sat down and turned on the news when we all finally saw the aftermath-- the World Trade Center collapsed.  School was cancelled the next day.  The next weeks were filled with somberness and confusion.  So were the following years.

In the weeks and months immediately following the attacks, "normal" life resumed in New York. People took the trains and went to work again.  Not even a terrorist attack could shut down the city that never sleeps, though it arguably slowed.  When traveling again to the city, I recall all of Lower Manhattan being plastered with missing persons ads and candlelight vigils. Entire bus stations and construction sites were covered with pictures of smiling faces, with subtitles that described a loved one's appearance and where in the Twin Towers they worked or were last found.  As the months went on, the smiling faces disappeared.  The majority of them having perished in the attack, some whose remains were never found.  Each picture was a haunting reminder of not only how many lives were lost, but of how many people loved them, and how each day their hope dwindled of ever finding them again.  Soon, there were no more smiling faces left.

I still have that paper in my apartment back home in Brooklyn.  It had a name on it, Laura, if I can remember correctly.  It was an ordinary business paper, with numbers and information on it.  Singed on the edges and still smelling of smoke, it serves as the item that flashes that entire day in my head.  I still remember going to the World Trade Center exactly a week before it all happened.  My mother and I went to celebrate the end of summer and start of the new school year.  It wasn't the first time I had gone.  So I still remember the Disney Store where I bought toys and candy.  I remember the layout entirely.  I spent so much time there.  There was the clothing story (a Century-21, I think) my mom always went to to buy her work clothes.  There was the sushi restaurant that we always ate at every time we went to the Twin Towers.  I remember seeing the bustling crowds shopping on the ground floor and making their way up to the top floors for work.  No one would know that only an exact week later it would all be gone.

I can never forget.  And I never will.  I was there.

I'm a third-generation New Yorker, with roots in the city that extend all the way past the 1940s.  All I can say is that I'm proud to have been born and raised in New York City.  A city so strong, that it can never forget.  A city so strong that it can never let what happened crush the spirit that makes it so great and so powerful.  I truly love New York.  We're all New Yorkers on September 11th.

-Chelsea Sue
I was in Manhattan that day, too.  My account is here.
And a post about my healing from 9/11 is here.

(photo by Travis Stratford - from the rooftop of his building.  I had been living with my brother in the same building so I was on that same rooftop later that day looking at this view, though it was glowing a little more at dusk - due to the fire and heat.)

(You can see here where they used to be.)

(Danny & I were at a party on the tallest building in Brooklyn the other night...and this is what we saw.)

(Here's what the Freedom Tower looks like now.  Photo taken by my friend, Suzi Yebio...from her apartment window.)

(Photo by friends, the Coxtons, from their rooftop.)

And all those who became New Yorkers on 9/11.

(And to my old Brooklyn friends - much love to all of you today.  
I'll forever feel like family with all of you.)

And...check out this bejeweled brownstone in Brooklyn.  A woman started making her brownstone all sparkly since 9/11 - to celebrate life and cheer up anyone who passes by.


  1. Amazing, Chels. Thanks for sharing.

  2. read every second of it.... thanks for sharing.

  3. Wow! What a beautiful and compelling first-hand account. Thanks for sharing.

  4. Thank you so much for this post. It is an amazing first hand look at what happened eleven years ago. This is so great! Thanks for sharing.


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