From Jersey and Back by Melissa Rosenblatt

September is always an exciting month. The weather is no longer unbearably hot but it isn't cool enough to wear a jacket. The leaves start to turn colors but they don't fall to the ground yet. Kids can't go swimming anymore but there isn't snow on the ground to play in either. Labor Day is almost always the last barbeque of the year and what really sets September apart from the rest of the months is that it marks the first day of school for every student. Whether you're in kindergarten, junior high or college, it goes without saying that school always starts in September.

When it comes to the first day of school, every student has a different way to cope. When I was younger, I would become so bored with my summers that I couldn't wait for school to start. By the end of August, my mother and I would go shopping and get school clothes and supplies. Picking out folders, lunchboxes and pencils was the highlight of my life. Later on in junior high school, I despised September. My summer lifestyle of hanging out until late at night and not having to work or go to school the next day was a hard habit to break. In high school however, school was a huge social gathering to me and the first day of school was like a huge party! Every morning I got up early to do my hair and I don't think I ever repeated an outfit. September was by far my favorite month for all four years of high school.

This year, September 11th began my first day of college. For the first time in my life, I wasn't sure how I felt about it. I mean, I knew I was excited to meet new people and I was still in shock that I was even accepted to New York University in the first place but deep down inside, I was kinda nervous. Of course I went out and bought myself some new outfits to try and impress the hot college guys and yes, I did buy myself a new Ralph Lauren book-bag but it didn't calm my nerves like it usually does. Hundreds of thoughts were running through my mind, "NYU has such a great reputation; will I be able to keep up with the academics? Should I quit work and take more credits? Will there be anyone else commuting or does everyone else live there? Maybe I should live on campus."

With so much on my mind you can see why sleeping was difficult. You can also see why I was so relieved when my brother Steven said he would take the bus ride from New Jersey to Manhattan with me. Steven worked for Deutch Bank on Liberty Street which had a connecting air walkway to Building 2 of the World Trade Center so he had to commute to the city anyway. It took me forever to get ready that day. Steven was banging on the bathroom door for most of the morning. I must have changed my outfit 10 times before choosing the perfect one. Finally, I was ready to start my first day of school.

Fighting for the bathroom with Steven delayed my departure from New Jersey and he and I were running about a 1/2 hour late. Needless to say, he wasn't too thrilled with me. Somehow on the crowded bus, we managed to get a seat next to each other and rode the bus in silence for the rest of the trip.

As we were approaching the Lincoln Tunnel, the bus in front of us broke down, ceasing traffic completely. Now, if you've ever been in morning rush hour traffic near the tunnel, you know how frustrating and congested it is on a normal day. Now, imagine that congestion plus a bus breaking down, stopping traffic even more. People were livid. Other drivers on the road, the people in my bus, men and women who would now be late to work. After a few nasty glances from Steven and about 20 minutes of not moving, he said to me, "Maybe if you weren't so friggin busy getting ready, we could have caught an earlier bus and already been in the city!" Having nothing to say and nothing to do, I gazed out the window and looked at the beautiful New York skyline.

The sun was blinding as it reflected off all of the buildings. I noticed Steven checking out the scene too and I was hoping something might distract him from being mad at me. I closed my eyes and took a deep breath. What was the first thing that crossed my mind? I was going to be late to my first day of school.

What happened next would end up being the scariest thing that's ever happened to me. All of a sudden, everyone on the bus stood up and faced the World Trade Center. I think I heard someone say a plane crashed into one of the buildings but the glare from the sun was so bright, I couldn't really see. Almost immediately, the bus was directed over the radio to turn around and head back to Jersey. I remember the people on my bus being infuriated that they wouldn't get to Manhattan. Some of them wanted to get off right there on exit 16E and walk through the tunnel! After a bunch of weird maneuvers, the bus turned around and we were heading South on the New Jersey Turnpike. The glare from the sun was now being blocked by black smoke and we could see the part of the building the plane crashed into. The whole bus was looking toward Manhattan when the second plane hit. A few minutes later, one of the other passengers got a phone call and told the bus that it was a terrorist attack. Of course, my mother was on the phone calling my brother's cell phone to see where we were. She said the news announced it was a terrorist attack and that they also bombed the Pentagon and we better get our asses home now! By this time, Manhattan was out of our site and the bus was speeding through Jersey as quickly as possible. I was home and safe with my family within the hour...
...Goosebumps. I was used to getting them when I was cold or when Paul kisses me on the back of my neck. Why was I suddenly getting goosebumps now? I was standing in Jersey City waiting for my best friend to take a ferry over from Manhattan. There were hundreds of us on the pier watching the thick, black smoke rise up from where the World Trade Center once stood. We were all anxious. Anxious to see our family and friends walk off that ferry in one piece, anxious to have them safe with us in Jersey. It was hot out on September 11th, yet none of us seemed to notice or mind the heat. All I could think about was how every year Iíd meet my Aunt Jane and Uncle Herb at Windows on the World and have incredibly tender filet minion and how any minute Jen would walk off that boat and we would drive home to suburban Marlboro and watch this all on the news instead of being part of it and for the first time in my life, my inhaler wasnít working and I couldnít stop wheezing. And the goosebumps were everywhere; on my arms and legs and they seemed to sting my skin, no matter how many time I soothed my hands over them. It wasnít until the boat arrived and we all had our loved ones with us and Jen and I were in my car on the Turnpike south that my goosebumps all dissapeared.
I heard on the news that thousands of people had died that day but somehow, nothing happened to anyone I knew. It turned out, my pregnant cousin had gotten up early to go shopping in Jersey that morning. She lives in Staten Island but comes to Jersey to shop since there is no tax on clothes. Since all the bridges and tunnels were closed, she was stuck at my house for the next two days. My best friend Jen had to walk uptown from Pace University where she dorms, to Chelsea Piers and take a ferry to Jersey where I was waiting to pick her up. Steven called all of his co-workers to see if they were alright. Luckily, everyone was fine. My boyfriend at the time lived three blocks from the WTC on Greenwich Street and Duane Street. Fortunately, he had gone out to Long Island the night before. He couldn't return to his apartment but he was safe.

That night, everyone's eyes were glued on the TV. Steven's building was still standing but had been evacuated and suffered severe damage. People had jumped out of the WTC, made last phone calls, and hundreds of lives were lost. The entire nation was devastated. Steven apologized for giving me an attitude about making him late. If he would have been on time or early for work, who knows what would have happened. Though normally I would have rubbed this in his face, I was so thankful he was ok, I just hugged him.

That night I went upstairs and put my Ralph Lauren book-bag in my closet. I never made it to school that day yet it was the most eventful, memorable first day of school I've ever had. Though I've had mixed emotions of the first day of school in the past, I was never sad until this year. On September 11th, I realized there is so much more to life that picking out clothes to wear to school. The truth is, when that first plane hit and the bus was turning around, I was actually pissed as hell! I thought some pilot lost consciousness or something and passed out. "Why do we have to turn around for that? I want to go to school! Come on, man this is college! I can't tell the professor I couldn't get to class because the bus had to turn around. Shit!" Thinking back I tell myself, "Melissa, you're an absolute moron!" I'm not very religious but thank God that bus turned around. Thank God I was so lucky that my entire family and everyone I knew were OK. Thank God I didn't get an earlier bus. Thank God Steven was with me. And although I was totally looking forward to it, thank God I didn't make it to my first day of school on September 11th.