Monday, May 21 , 2018, 5:07 am | Fair 52º

 
 
 
 

Frances Lauten: Looking Back on 9/11 Through a Child’s Eyes

Ten years after the terrorist attacks, a teenager from New York City writes about the searing history she witnessed that day

The day was clear and crisp — a normal September morning in New York City.

One child, a 5-year-old blond girl with pigtails, walks with her brother and mother to school. It is her first week in kindergarten. As her brother chases her around the Great Lawn, in the center of New York’s Central Park, neither of them glance at the skyline. They have no reason to.

A frantic teacher wheels a television into the large classroom. The little girl looks up, confused, as do her classmates. Television is not tolerated at a Waldorf school. Teachers don’t usually cry either.

The girl is pretending to be excited. School is let out early ... but she likes school. Her brother is quiet; he doesn’t tease her. She is grateful, but she wonders why everyone looks so scared.

They are across the Great Lawn now, but the skyline is very different. It will never be the same again. Her mother points across the expanse of grass and trees to the buildings far beyond where smoke is billowing. Instead of steel and concrete, the towers are smoke and fire, and the girl is crying.

The girl is sleeping now. She still doesn’t really understand what has happened. All she knows is that something terrible has happened and people are dead. This is the first day she has heard the word terrorism ... it is not the last.

It’s not until the next day that she realizes just how many children like her do not have mommies or daddies — or even homes anymore.

Smoke billows from the North Tower of the World Trade Center shortly before the building collapsed after the 9/11 terrorist attacks in New York City. The image of the thick gray smoke and ash is a lasting memory for a Goleta teenager who lived in New York at the time.
Smoke billows from the North Tower of the World Trade Center shortly before the building collapsed after the 9/11 terrorist attacks in New York City. The image of the thick gray smoke and ash is a lasting memory for a Goleta teenager who lived in New York at the time. (Environmental Protection Agency photo)

It’s not until the next week that she sees the hearts and teddy bears on the streets by fire stations left by sad people for brave firefighters and police officers and volunteers who attempt to clean up wrecked lives.

It is a few years before she understands she had witnessed history happening. And she wishes she had not.

Ten years pass before she can write about what she witnessed a decade ago. All the ruined and wasted lives that crumbled with the buildings she had barely thought about before.

That girl is me. The memories are mine, but the history is yours — yours to honor and remember. I lived in New York City for 12 years, so I had the opportunity to see the attack and the aftermath. Smoke covered the city, and one of my lasting memories as a 5-year-old girl is that it didn’t completely clear for days.

This year, on the 9/11 anniversary, like they do every year, huge lights will replace the pillars of smoke that was the cry of the World Trade Center.

The rubble has been cleared, and the buildings are being rebuilt. But on this night, the lights will illuminate grief and tragedy.

But they will also show for all the Americans — who lost parents, children, homes, husbands, wives, sisters, brothers, family and friends — that their loved ones are remembered and honored.

And always will be.

— Frances Lauten is a student at Dos Pueblos High School and a staff writer for The Charger Account. Connect with The Charger Account on Facebook. Follow The Charger Account on Twitter: @ChargerAccount. This article is republished with permission.

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