What would you do if "Ground Zero" was also the place you call home? Harry, 9, and his brother Sam, 12, have a story about September 11th and their lives in the year that followed. Harry and Sam live just 5 blocks from where the World Trade Center once stood, in lower Manhattan. Their mom worked in a building known as 7 World Trade Center, and Harry's school is also just a few blocks away.
That First Day...
Harry: That morning, my mom went to work, and I went to school. One of my classmates' mom came in and told my teacher what happened, and my teacher told the class. Then the principal came over the loudspeaker saying that every classroom who had a window facing the World Trade Center should close their blinds, and that was our class. I felt really scared because I knew my mom worked really close.
Sam: Parents started showing up at my school to get their kids, even though some kids weren't told yet what had happened. It felt strange. We all knew something was wrong, but we couldn't figure out what it was. As soon as I heard, I broke into tears, because I knew my mom worked in 7 World Trade Center, and she worked in the World Trade Center in 1993 [when it was bombed], and I was scared out of my wits.
Harry: I was really happy when my mom came to school, along with a lot of other parents, to pick me up. We went back to my house, and that's where we heard the first tower collapse. I didn't know what it was, I just heard this giant boom. We ran into a bathroom without any windows, and I thought we were all going to die. I asked my mom if we were going to die,and she just said that everything was going to be OK. We left our apartment and went to a friend's house, and the second we pressed the buzzer, the second tower collapsed. Our friend didn't wait to hear who it was at the door, he just let us in! Then his apartment had to be evacuated, and we went uptown to my brother's school. As we were walking there, we saw someone who had a sign that said, "FREE HUGS!"
Sam: I got a message from my mom saying she was okay, and my friends' parents didn't leave the school until she got there, which really helped me get through that morning stage. It took my mom and brother about an hour and a half to get to me because of all the foot traffic in Manhattan.
Harry: After we were far away from our neighborhood and couldn't see what was happening, and we picked up my brother and I heard my dad's voice on the phone, that's when I knew that it was all going to OK.
Sam: We met up with some people we knew and just started walking uptown, and figured out where we were going to sleep that night. It felt very different on the street than it usually does. There were so many people running in every direction. Some were angry, some were giving out free hugs. Everyone had a different emotion on their face, and it basically showed everyone's diversity. That night, I got so angry, because the WTC was gone and my life was suddenly so different. I said to my mom, "I wish the towers would be rebuilt exactly the same way so my life could be the same way it was." And she said, "That's what a lot of people had been thinking, and it's probably not going to be exactly the same, but it will be rebuilt and it's going to get better."
Away From Home...
Harry: The first thing that really annoyed me was that every day, all the channels that don't usually show news, were all showing news. I just wanted to know when they wouldn't play news anymore. I just wanted the regular shows back.
Sam: It was two and a half days before they let us get down to our neighborhood. We had to wait in line for two hours for a police escort to take us to our apartment, and then we got just ten minutes to get our stuff! We already knew what we had to take. We grabbed our clothing, and my keyboard piano so I could practice, and school stuff, and left.
Harry: Our school was closed because it was so close to Ground Zero, so first we had to go to a different school for two weeks, and that felt really weird because we were sharing the building. We had such tiny rooms...my classroom was actually normally used as a storage closet! But then we moved to a different school building, and that's where we felt like we were able to be normal. We were there for five months.
Sam: While I was displaced, what helped me feel better was that my whole school was really supportive and for about three months, there was an extra person there if you needed to talk to somebody about what had happened. My school is centered around the idea that school should be your second home, and there will always be someone there to watch out for you.
Harry: Our school got lots of "care packages" sent in from people all over, like an American Flag. One package had 3,000 paper origami doves, and we hung about 1,000 up in one place. We got individual things like pencils and erasers, too. It felt really good to know that people cared. My class was really lucky because we got to speak [by phone and ham radio] with Commander Frank Culbertson, who was orbiting the earth [on the International Space Station]. I got to ask him a question, and I asked him if he could see September 11th from space. He said he could see a big cloud of smoke. What was really cool was that he actually came to our school later in the year!
Sam: When we finally went back home after two months, it was hard to sleep. We thought about getting blackout curtains because it was so bright, the lights were always on [at the recovery site]. We got used to the smell. I don't feel afraid to live in my neighborhood, but it's definitely changed. A lot of people have rethought things, they're more concerned about family things. I think that's a good thing.
Harry: Now that I'm back home, my neighborhood doesn't feel too different than it did before, and I'm still really glad I live there.
Harry: In the year after September 11th, we went on a lot of fun vacations. We went to Italy, Cape Cod, Florida, and we went skiing in Colorado. The first time I was on a plane, I felt scared and thought something was going to happen, but once I got into the airport and saw how much security there was, I felt much better. I also got to go to sleepaway camp for eight weeks in New Hampshire.
Sam: When we were in Italy, people would ask us about our experiences, but I don't think they understood what we actually went through. They knew what had happened, but they couldn't visualize how bad it was. At the Italian airport, though, we almost felt a respect from the people there, of what we went through, that it was something big.
Harry: My hope for the coming school year is for it to just be a normal year. The cool thing is that at the school that I go to, when you're in fifth grade you get to do a lot of things that the younger kids don't get to do, like going out for lunch!
Sam: My hope for this coming year is for people to have September 11th in the back of their minds instead of the tip of their tongue. My experiences have had a lot of impact on me, but there are a lot of things I've thought about since even before September 11th which haven't changed. The one thing that changed is now I really understand what terrorism is. What hasn't changed are the basic things, like family is important, my religion is important, it's important to keep a normal life. I also learned that even when things look their worst, there's a bright side to it. Even that day, when there was a dark idea in my mind that my mom had gotten hurt, there's always something that you can take out of it. There's something you can take out of anything, whether it brings your family together or tells people that you're strong. If there's a bad, there's always a good that goes with it.
Thanks, guys, for sharing your experiences!