The memory is clear as good, fine crystal. The actual vision, not so much. Gallup, New Mexico is a world away from New York City, Washington D.C., and Pennsylvania. It’s 2001. I’ve left a career in telecom and cellular phones that had taken me from Knoxville, Tennessee to Chicago, Illinois, to San Diego, California, to be a middle school English teacher in the middle of “Indian Country.” I was in my late twenties, newly married, and relocated to a town that boasted a whole 20,000 people, one Walmart, a Cracker Barrel and numerous mom and pop places with red and green chiles.
My classroom sat at the farthest trailer away from the school’s front office. It was a one room trailer, notched on a hillside, across the street from the primary school building. My students, all young Navajo and Latinx squeezed into the small trailer to begin remediation for English and Reading.
I had successfully navigated through two periods, when the third, loudly pouring into the room, a stream of adolescent chaos, eagerly chatted as those their ages do. But this day, the tenor was shrill, off centered, and lacking their usual guffaws and teasing.
“Mrs. Kurtz. Did you hear,” one of my students asked as he took his seat.
“Hear what?” I looked up from taking attendance.
That’s when my husband called my classroom. “Nick, turn on the television.”
My husband was from Jamaica Queens, New York. His parents still lived there.
As soon as I turned on the television, the students pointed and then fell alarmingly quiet. We all watched in stunned silence as an airplane plowed into one of the towers centered in New York. Black, angry smoke billowed up into the crisp blue sky.
My hand still clutched the phone receiver. That’s when I finally heard, my husband shout, “Nick! Nick! Did you see it?”
“Where’s dad?” I managed around the sudden bout of cottonmouth. My father-in-law worked in the city. All I could think about it his whereabouts and the larger screaming question of what is happening?
Students began to whisper in nervous buzzing to each other. I shushed them as the reporter spoke, narrating the carnage unfolding before our eyes. I couldn’t believe it. Someone had dared to attack us, the United States, on our own soil. Who would be to eager to die?
I had vague memories of the TWA highjackings of the 1980s and the failed attempt to bomb the World Trade Center in the 1990s. Then my thoughts turned to the Oklahoma City bombing and I wondered if it had been an internal terrorist attack against the diversity of New York and the World Trade Center specifically. So many thoughts, too many questions and the one glaring one: where is my father in law?
“I don’t know. I can’t reach him. Every time I call, I get a busy signal,” my husband said.
This is 2001. No one is texting and cellular phones still had free nights and weekend packages. We tried throughout the day, but we didn’t reach them. We spent the next day or two, it’s a bit of a blur, in a sense of numbness.
I spoke to the students that day and answered their questions as soon as I well as I could and as appropriate for 12 and 13 year olds.
It was the day it happened:: September 11, 2001.
I still remember the fear that lingered like a shadow, following me everywhere, all the time, and always within reach. Unlike many New Yorkers, my in-laws were safe, nestled in Jamaica. Too far away to do much more than watch, I consumed a lot of the 24 news cycle and the erasure of our personal rights. I also couldn’t believe the rise of xenophobia and racist attitudes toward people of Middle Eastern descent.
It baffled me.
I should’ve known better because I am a Black American.
While the country pushed its “We are all Americans” propaganda, out of the other side of its mouth, it was saying, “Not you, towelheads.” This falls lock in step with America, going all the way back to its birth, The Declaration of Independence and the United States Constitution that advocates for freedom from King George and Britain, but not for African slaves. It continued on through the Jim Crow era of separate but equal, on through today. September 11th was no different.
The duality exists today, September 11, 2020, some 19 years later. It is the crux of the protests throughout the country. We are more segregated now then ever, and at the precipice of our own destruction, the demolishing of our Republic, our democracy.
We have done what the terrorists, 19 years ago, tried to do with their suicide flights. Fires in the west, 100k dead due to COVID, and 2 million+ infected, the worse economy in the U.S. history, and our status on the world stage had dropped to a global embarrassment. The west is on the brink of collapse.
As you remember the horrific loss and trauma of The September 11th attacks today, please also remember that sense of protection you wanted for the country. Help stem the tide by helping others prepare to vote, contact your senator and demand he/she restore the Voter Registration Act, and join BlackLivesMatter and other organizations against the ills facing Black and Brown communities and the poor among us. Donate to the American Civil Liberties Union and the Southern Poverty Center or local branches that advocate for democracy and social justice.
Your actions, much like those in the days and weeks following the terrorists’ attacks may push back the tides against hate and violence threatening our democracy.
Nicole Givens Kurtz is an author, educator, and publisher. Over 40 of her short stories have been published and several novels. She’s the publisher of Mocha Memoirs Press, a small publishing company devoted to amplifying marginalized voices in speculative fiction.
You can find Nicole at
Other Worlds Pulp-https://www.nicolegivenskurtz.net
Mocha Memoirs Press-http://www.mochamemoirspress.com