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My mother had prepared me my favorite lunch – peanut-butter and jelly sandwich without the crust and an ice-cold Yoo-Hoo to wash it down with. As I began to dig into my food, a knock on the door echoed throughout the room. A woman from the school office tells me my father is here to pick me up. As I am quickly shuffled down the hallway, I occasionally sip from the straw protruding from the perspiring yellow carton of Yoo-Hoo. When I arrive at the front office, I see my father standing at the door with a puzzled look on his face. He proceeds to frantically scribble his signature on the school sign-out sheet while the receptionists huddle around a television in the back office. My father slams down the pen, grabs my hand, and rushes me out the door. Normally under these circumstances, I would have been ecstatic to be pulled out of school early but my gut told me something was wrong.

Earlier that morning on my way to school, I glanced back at the distant horizon as we neared the hilltop overlook with my favorite view. Like every other morning, I admired the magnificent twin towers piercing through the distant New York skyline.  As a young child, the majestic spires never ceased to amaze me. They stood as monuments to the limitless possibilities of American freedom. As we approached the same hilltop on our way home, my father put the car in park and let out a huge sigh. He directed my attention to the horizon.

The towers that I had marveled over for so long were now replaced by a large white plume of smoke. He turned to me and looked into my eyes. “Kyle, the twin towers are gone.” He said. “That cloud is smoke. They were knocked down by bad guys who crashed airplanes into them.” My father always knew how to explain things to me in a way I understood. However, it was probably unimaginably difficult for him to explain the tragic events that occurred on that clear September morning.

We pulled into the driveway and immediately went inside to the television in our living room. My father stood silent with his hand over his mouth in disbelief as countless replays of the horrific attack flickered on the TV screen. I watched the planes glide through the giant steel structures like hot knives through butter. I saw human beings plummet hundreds of floors to their death to escape the fiery doom that inevitably awaited them in their offices above. But what I remember most is the sight of the massive buildings collapsing into a cloud of smoke and debris that swallowed the streets nearby. My neighbor was also in our living room with her young son. After several minutes in front of the television, she and my father decided that we had seen enough. They sent the young boy and I outside to play away from the sinister events unfolding on every channel. When we arrived outside, I heard a strange noise.  The screams of terrified New Yorkers and sirens were blaring from every TV set on the block. Walking down the once quiet suburban streets now felt as if we were strolling through downtown Manhattan amidst the smoke and chaos.

On that clear September morning, I watched my nation change forever. The image of that white cloud of smoke looming on the horizon is burned into my memory. Thousands of innocent lives were not the only things that went up in smoke that day. What also collapsed with those towers was the central illusion that everything was going to be alright in America. We remained ignorant until it was too late. Nobody wanted to acknowledge that people hated America enough to commit an atrocity of this magnitude. The painful truth of the inept leadership in charge of our country was now glaringly apparent. Rather than hunting down those responsible for the horrific events of 9/11, our government sent troops to unrelated countries to rekindle conflicts of past administrations. With all of these stark realizations I was forced to make, things like Yoo-Hoo or sandwiches without the crust seemed irrelevant. In one morning, I went from a first-grader ignorant to the inexplicable evils in the world to a youth forced to face the grim realities of a world changed forever.

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