Never forget

James Bickford

A reflection on September 11, 2001

Fourteen years ago, the world changed.

Many of my earliest concrete memories are from a certain Tuesday morning in September. I was around six years old, in the first grade. As cliché as it sounds, it was just an ordinary day. I ate a bowl of my favorite cereal, called “Just Right.” They don’t make it anymore, but it was like Raisin Bran crossed with Frosted Flakes. I had recently lost a tooth and a raisin got stuck in the gap in my teeth. I went to school like I did every day. I always left a while before I needed to—Manhattan traffic can be tough to get through.

I was at school for only a little while before I hear a strange “pop.” I wondered what it was, but I paid no serious attention to it. After all, I had the much more pressing concern of not having done my homework. Looking back, I don’t know if I heard the first plane or the second one, but that noise has never left me.

The most trivial details of that day stay with me today, forming some of my clearest memories. 9/11 became a mythological beast throughout my childhood. Homeland security came to feel as though it had always been there. I have scattered memories from before the attacks, but they seem far away, like a different world.

Lafayette’s current student body is the last group to be old enough to remember 9/11. We were five, six, seven or older, just old enough to form these memories. For those who were younger, and even for some of us, it is just an event in the history books, as distant as JFK and Pearl Harbor.

Maybe things are different for me, having been in New York at the time. I remember turning on the TV and seeing someone jump from one of the burning towers. They didn’t show the landing, but I knew he had died. I was old enough to know that much. A lot of people were trapped above the point where the planes entered the towers. If you were in a floor above the plane, you did not survive. Your best hope was for an easy out.

Not long before the attacks I had gone to the very top of one of the towers with my father. They had an observation deck, and looking out at the island below me was one of the most amazing experiences of my young life. I really feel sorry for the people who never got the chance to see it. That night I had a nightmare about falling from that height. It terrified me that, for some people, that nightmare was their salvation from the flames.

It is important to remember that day, for those of us who still do. It is important to tell what we remember, no matter how little. We are the last who can remember this event, one of the most important in American history. On the 14th anniversary of the attack, we still don’t feel safe. We still are working through the fears and horrors of that morning. The ghosts of 9/11 haunt every aspect of our lives, from our travel to our fiction to the way we talk to other people. It is too important to forget, so we should tell the stories and share the feelings of that fateful day.

The most important memory of that day that I have was of my mother taking me home from school on a tandem bicycle. Cars weren’t really an option, and I lived on the other side of Central Park. Everyone was warned to stay inside, but my mother wanted to make sure I was home safe. I think it is the greatest act of love I have ever seen. I don’t believe I ever thanked her for going all that way to make sure I was alright. 9/11 holds many bad memories for me, but the clearest image burning in my mind is a scared mother taking her son home by whatever means she could. September 11 created an aura of fear, but the love evoked in such trying times is what we point to when we need to hold our head up high, bite our lip and pick up the pieces. More than anything else, we must never forget this.