By Mary Kate Baumann
She walked into the classroom wiping away small teardrops from her overdone cheeks. It’s always a surreal moment when you realize your teacher is a real person. Second to seeing them in a supermarket and out of the classroom, seeing them cry is pretty groundshaking. I never thought people in our class could be so mean as to drive her to tears. As much of an easy target as she was—pretty old, severely overweight, and hard of hearing—she never let on that all the taunting from the prepubescent eighth grade boys in my class affected her.
We weren’t told anything at first and were all trying to figure out what, or who, brought Ms. Bastone to tears. We thought her mother, father or even her sibling had passed away. And when she told us a plane had hit one of the twin towers, we thought the poor son of a bitch flying the prop plane must have been related to her.
By lunch, parents were pulling my classmates, my friends, out of school. Rumors were flying around the lunchroom about multiple planes and people dying. We were dismissed early and I ran home to find my mother sitting in front of our television crying. Like a scene from a horror movie, like a broken record, over and over again, footage of the two buildings collapsing into a billow of smoke, fire, and dust—the same smoke that would make its way across my own sky no more than 30 miles away.
Even though I knew my mom or dad had no answers for me, the one question I kept asking was why. Why did they do this, WHO did this, and why? Why did they kill so many people for no apparent reason – including my cousin and family friends? And WHY has the fear never left?
Ten years later, I’m a different person. I’m a college graduate, I’m an editor, I’m 23 and no longer the lanky, awkward 13-year old with braces. I got home tonight from a long day of work and sat with my mom watching one of our favorite television shows only to be interrupted by breaking news: New York is again in terrorists’ crosshairs with a ‘significant,’ but unconfirmed threat.
In a post 9/11 world, when my train in the morning runs over something on the track and makes a loud popping noise, my first thought turns to ways to exit the train, and where the nearest emergency exit out of those dark tunnels are (56th street by the way). When my building shook during the earthquake two weeks ago, I started sweating and panicking, thinking that the 15 floors above my 25th floor were coming down, and crumbling on top of me. When they told us that everything was fine and that we didn’t have to evacuate, my first thoughts as I evacuated anyway were “that’s what they told everyone in the south tower.”
10 years have passed and hearts have healed. I still can’t watch the footage from that day without tearing up – it was far too close to home. There are some things that remind me of what happened, like taking the 6 downtown to Wall Street or Fulton towards the World Financial Center. But then there will be days where I don’t think about it at all. So yes, while I’ve grown into myself, and have taken off the braces, have grown a few inches, and have accomplished a great and many things, the pang of fear still lingers, and frankly, I don’t think it will ever leave.
Mary Kate Baumann, Class of 2010, Editor-in-Chief Emeritus