Just after 10:00 a.m., I came out of my Music Theory placement exam at the University of Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music. That exam was so important to me. If I did well I could gain some free credits, and avoid the annoying remedial courses that other music majors were forced to endure. Music Theory is basically math for musicians; it’s way harder than trigonometry.

I came out of the exam feeling mentally exhausted, pridefully thinking how challenging it is to be a music student. From the exam room, I went to the main office to clear up some administrative issues I was having. All the office staff were gathered behind the counter watching TV. I couldn’t see the screen, but it sounded like news. Holy shit, they’re lazy here, I thought. Watching the news when they should be working?

I made a stinky face as I asked in an annoyed voice if someone could please help me. A girl turned to me with vacant eyes and said, “The World Trade Center is down.”

“You mean, like, the stock market crashed?” I said stupidly. She couldn’t have meant that the building fell down; big buildings don’t just “fall down.”

“No. The building collapsed. It’s gone. There’s nothing. It’s gone.”

I couldn’t see the TV, but imagined in my mind a giant building like that… falling. With all those people inside. But surely they got out in time. There would have been some kind of warning that the building had been unstable, right? Was it an earthquake? I imagined the building tumbling sideways.

Suddenly the room erupted in screams and gasps. Girls whimpered softly.

I didn’t know then, but that was when the other tower fell.

I still couldn’t see the TV. But now my heart was beating heavily in my ears. The room was ominously quiet and filled with a thick, palpable dread. I heard the TV say the word “terrorist.” My throat closed up, aching with that yucky feeling you get when your body wants to burst into tears but you don’t want anyone to see you cry, so you clench your jaw and everything gets too tight. I backed out, and kept hearing the word “terrorist” as I left the room.

I didn’t find out what had really happened, about the planes, until later in the day, after lunch. I didn’t have a TV, so I had to wait for my Spanish roommate to get home and unlock his room, the only room with a TV in the hundred-year-old Colonial house I occupied. I was renting a room in the basement for $225 per month. Out of eight people who lived in that house, I was one of only two Americans. The other American was a devout Christian boy who avoided the rest of us like the plague because he thought we were evil heathens.

I felt like an alien, sitting there watching that little TV with my six foreign roommates, watching my fellow Americans jump out of those high windows on replay. Watching the buildings cave into themselves again and again. Seeing the planes rip through the buildings. My German roommate, who really was a nice person in general, said something to the affect of “That’s what America gets for acting like they run the world. It was bound to happen eventually.”

The Spanish guy elbowed her and I told her to shut the fuck up.

I thought of post-Nazi Germany, how many good and innocent non-jew Germans were blamed and persecuted for the sins of the Nazis. How even today people sometimes still look down their noses at Germans for being the kind of people to ‘let’ the Holocaust happen. I wondered how my friend could be so callous.

I didn’t have a cell-phone to call my family. The ground lines were jammed. I didn’t have a computer for email. I didn’t want to go outside into the sunshine where everything looked normal. I didn’t even have any friends; I had only arrived to Cincinnati weeks before. I was stuck in that house, a foreigner in my own country, watching my innocent countrymen die so senselessly.

I tried to imagine what those people went through… were still going through. I wanted to suffer with them. I sobbed until I was sick and ugly, and dedicated every tear to them, as I know millions of Americans and others all over the world did as well. Thinking of the ones on the planes, in the building, the rescuers, the terrified citizens running through the streets, the loved ones at the other end of cell phone calls who spoke with the knowledge that they had only moments to say their last words to the people they loved most.

Imagine that. Imagine if you and your spouse had gotten into a huge fight the night before, and you were still angry with each other… and now you have to say goodbye forever, but you only have a few seconds, because your spouse is going to do the right thing and let those without phones use his phone to call their loved ones before they run out of time. Or imagine not even having the chance to say goodbye.

We hear it all the time: Never Forget. And I know we won’t; we are good at remembering. So today, as we remember all of these people, these innocents, these heroes… hug your loved ones. Make sure they know how much you love them. Tell them all the things that you would want them to know… just in case. I know I will.

Where were you? Post your story in the comments or on the Abandoning Pretense Facebook page, and I’ll re-post anonymously. So that we can remember.



  1. Was walking through the halls of my college and saw people gathered round a tv watching a building with smoke coming out of it. Didn’t think much about it and kept walking. Then I found out all classes had been cancelled. When I got to my car it was all over the radio of what was happening. That America had been attacked by terrorist. Still feel kind of guilty for dismissing it when I first saw the news and didn’t know what had happened yet. I remember prob not even a year later a plane flying over our house and I swear it was gonna crash into our house…it was so loud! I ran to the window to look out and the noise started to fade away. My heart was pounding and I was thinking how crazy I was acting. I didn’t know anyone personally affected by the attacks, but i still feel personally affected. I don’t plan on turning on the tv today bc I don’t want to be a blubbering mess. I cant even read fb post without crying. Prayers to all the heroes and victims and families affected by the 9/11 tragedy.

    • I’m still going to watch TV, even though it will make me a blubbering mess. I just imagine – if it had been ME who lost a loved one that day, I don’t think I would want people to turn away from the pain. I would want people to face the horror, and remember with me. Remember the loss, but also remember the solidarity we felt as a country, how we lifted each other up in the face of that senseless crime. <3

  2. I love your writing and loved this tribute – moving and heart wrenching all these years later. I was late getting to work that morning and hadn’t had the radio on in the car so I knew nothing. The parking lot attendant made a comment about the world falling apart and I had no idea what he was talking about until I got up to my office and everyone was gathered around the television. What a memory – hard to breathe through it even now. Lovely post.

    • Thanks. I was crying as I wrote it. Such a horrible day. So proud of my fellow Americans and how we came through for each other.


  3. I was in college, and Tuesday was the ONLY morning I didn’t have a class before 10. I was bartending to put myself through school, and that little bit of extra sleep was vital to keeping me functional; so I was BEYOND pissed when my roommate came crashing into the room and turned on the TV.

    Our TV was tiny, and you couldn’t really see what was happening, so we went down the hall to the room of a suite mate with a bigger screen. A few minutes later, I saw a streak in the lower right corner of the screen, headed for the WTC-2. Before I could fully form the sentence (remember, I’m working on about 3 hours’ sleep at this point!), the newscasters start going ballistic that a second plane has hit the South Tower.

    At this point, I panicked. My godmother and her gallery manager had breakfast in one of the restaurants in WTC-2 every Tuesday at 0900. I knew she would be there, because she was so adamant about being prompt for meetings; we teased her that you could set a watch by her arrival. The student body at Tulane at the time was largely populated by kids from the tri-state area, so the land lines were blowing up, and the cell towers were completely overwhelmed. I managed to get an e-mail through to my dad, who was working in Boston at the time, confirming that he was ok, and that he hadn’t heard from Renee (my godmother).

    The next week on campus was surreal. Classes were cancelled, and everywhere you looked, groups were huddled together, crying and consoling one another. I haven’t been back to NYC since that day; for me, something was irretrievably lost that day, and the city no longer holds the special magic it once did.