As chaos reigned in New York on September 11, 2001, I was still asleep.
In Maui, Hawaii.
My best friend from high school and I were on vacation, escaping the stress of work and school. On September 10, we attended the Old Lahaina Luau, engaging in small talk with tablemates while chowing down on Kalua Pua'a, or roasted pork. A photo from that night shows my friend and I donning leis and clutching mai tais, while two grinning male employees flashing the "hang loose" sign flank us. Looking at that frozen moment in time, I see the innocence, the naivete, the ignorance of what would transpire in just a matter of hours.
When Flight 11 crashed into the World Trade Center's North Tower at 8:46 AM, it was 2:46 AM in Maui. Thus my friend and I slept unaware until around eight in the morning, when I happened to awaken. Noticing a sheet of paper nestled under our hotel room door, I stumbled over, thinking it was our bill. But more questions arose as I read the letter, stating that the Hyatt had set up computers in the lobby for our convenience, that they had slashed prices 50% on any extra days we would need to stay over, and that their "thoughts are with everyone during this difficult time." Was trouble brewing at the Maui airport? Since the note failed to mention precisely what had happened, I remained puzzled. Then my friend's cell phone rang, startling her out of a deep slumber. Thinking there had been a death in the family or another emergency, she warily answered. "Turn on the TV right now," her mom instructed. She flipped it on, and we quickly learned just what had transpired while we were sleeping.
Dumbfounded, we stared at the horrific images on the screen. Watching the planes spectacularly crash into the World Trade Center towers, eventually bringing down the vast structures, was simply surreal. It seemed like something out of the Die Hard films, but of course these scenes were sickeningly real. Fear crept through me as I realized that, unlike what I had been taught in countless history classes, America was hardly invincible. Teachers mentioned terrorism in my 1980s courses, but that was something that occurred in far-away countries. No one would dare attack us on our soil, they told us. Now these statements appeared naive at best, hopelessly uniformed at worst. Those days of innocence had ended on a single morning. I phoned my parents back in Chicago, and we commiserated over the tragic events. They assured me that my friend and I were quite safe in Maui, and to just remain calm until we found out the status of our flights.