when the walls fell
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Tori Pace

It was supposed to be a normal Tuesday. I had a list of errands to run, things to do: wash my clothes, pack for school, pick up my paycheck, go to the bank, have lunch with my friends. I had a lot I needed to get done that day because I was flying up to Chicago the next morning with my parents to start my first year of college. Needless to say, our plans changed.

Maybe I was dragging suitcases out of my room or hauling laundry down the stairs—I don't remember—but at some point my mother's shocked voice beckoned me to the television to watch the tragedy unfold. We just stood there, I don't know for how long, in silent disbelief. My father paced agitated through the house—into the living room, out of the living room, into the kitchen, out to the garage. My mother and I stood there slack-jawed, lips slightly parted as the scene on television changed from only one smoking tower to two, then back to one again, and finally, to none. And then we watched again as they played back the horrific events of that morning: the second plane hitting the second tower, the first tower crumbling into clouds of dust and debris, and the second tower following its brother to the ground. We watched over and over as they replayed the footage, unable to turn away as the buildings were resurrected on film only to see them fall once more against our most desperate hopes.

I still ran my errands, though. I stopped at the kennel where I had worked that summer to grab my last check and say a quick goodbye, and was caught listening to Inez's bitter diatribe against Arabian countries, invoking wrathful vengeance, calling for war and nuclear weapons to "bomb the hell out of them." Things were more somber in the groom shop: Tanya was bent over the TV, clippers still in hand and a half-shaved poodle tethered to the grooming table. She said a few quiet words, hugged me goodbye, and solemnly returned to shaving the dog. I had lunch with my friends, and we tried not to mention it. On the way home I stopped by the bank to deposit my check, but when I got there, the parking lot was eerily abandoned and there was a hastily-scribbled note on the door saying, "Due to recent events, closed until 12:00 tomorrow." I drove home, wondering what happened to the world I knew.

Our flight was obviously not taking off the next morning, so my dad rebooked. Wednesday afternoon. No; sorry, Wednesday evening. No—it'll be Thursday morning. OK, Thursday afternoon at the latest. It was mid-morning Wednesday, after many frustrating conversations with the airline agents that my dad came to the realization that the Wilmington airport, with its two arrival/departure gates and six flights a day, probably would not be back to normal until at least Friday, most likely Saturday. Less than five minutes after this realization, he impulsively decided that we needed to drive to Chicago. NOW. So two hours later we were on the road, hastily packed, beginning an eighteen hour trip. And for those eighteen miserable hours I was trapped in the car with my angry mother and defensive father on the most hellish road trip imaginable. Really. I have never been happier to reach my destination than I was that day.

We eventually made it to Chicago, and on Sunday I said goodbye to my parents. Later that week I went running north along the lakeshore towards the city. As I neared the top of a hill by 47th Street, the city skyline suddenly became visible, and stretched itself out before me. I slowed to take it all in, and noticed a man standing quietly beside the path just staring at the city—the skyscrapers, the apartment complexes, the Sears Tower—outlined against a flat grey sky. I wanted to stop and ask him if he was memorizing the skyline, taking in as much as he could for as long as he could, in fear that it would not remain the same much longer. But I didn't. I left him in silence there and continued on, wondering how long those great beasts of concrete and metal and glass would remain standing, and wondering how safe we really were in this place.
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