Normally when someone says ‘What were you doing fifteen years ago today?’ the answer would be ‘I have absolutely no idea.’
Not today though.
Today I know that fifteen years ago, I was at school. It was a perfectly normal day until our afternoon geography lesson turned into an unexpected news-watching session. The first plane had struck the World Trade Centre in New York. Our teacher knew someone who worked there. She had her phone out waiting for news.
Most of us didn’t even know what the WTC was – we knew the buildings from the famous skyline, but not what they were for or what the people inside there did. Half of us thought they were houses.
So that lesson, with a small TV on mute in the background we learned about the WTC and how many different people there were inside, doing their jobs.
The lesson ended after the second plane had hit.
We set off home.
I met my mum as usual half way and when I saw her face, I assumed she had seen the news too.
She hadn’t. My brother had been hit by a car whilst doing his rounds as a bin man. She had spent the day worrying about him and breaking the news to me. He was okay – his dodgy knee was going to be dodgier but mostly he had bounced. It was a shock but he was going to be fine once they’d got all the glass and gravel out of him and patched him up.
He got up and walked away from it, despite the ridiculously low chances of that happening at the speed he was hit (about 40mph from what I remember).
I forgot about the plane for the walk home – the WTC was a lot further away than my brother.
When we got home I did my usual and flicked on the TV to watch CBBC, only to discover that it had been replaced with the news. Basically every channel was the news.
Mum made some comment that she didn’t think a plane crashing into a building was suitable for a kids programme.
I told her that it wasn’t a spoof. It was real – this wasn’t CGI or special effects, it was actual footage from America.
Then everything went into a weird sort of slow motion in my head.
The chaos, confusion, fear. People running out, people running in. Paper floating out of windows like confetti. Smoke, flames, bits of aeroplane where they had no right to be.
People jumping. Falling. Holding hands.
People deciding that leaping from an impossibly high window was a better choice than waiting to be crushed or burned to death in their offices.
Then the towers fell. Like something on a demolition programme where they bring down power station cooling towers. Only there was no safety cordon. It wasn’t a pair of disused cooling towers.
It wasn’t empty.
Knowing as I watched the smoke and dust and debris cloud around and the tower crumble to the floor that there were people inside. Lots of people. Ordinary people who had gone to work on an ordinary day. Firemen and other people who had run in to help get people out.
So. Many. People.
Watching all that is not something you forget. Not even after fifteen years. Not ever.