During sleety winters at Yale, I liked to imagine that back in California, the skies were perpetually blue. The day the towers fell, the skies were almost black. I was in seventh grade. When I arrived at school on Sept. 11, I was herded inside Kennedy Middle School’s gymnasium and told to sit down on an old, sweaty wrestling mat. No physical education today, I thought — a reprieve from the weather. Then our teacher — whip-skinny, with rough facial hair and permanent forehead crease lines — hauled out a dusty TV from a supply closet and turned it on to images of smoke, buildings and fire. When the bell rang after 40 minutes, I went to my next class, where the same drill — an anxious teacher, a dusty TV, 40 minutes of silence — happened again.
In California, even on a cloudy day, New York is a million miles away. My family had no ties there. Most of my classmates didn’t either, and after second period, our pre-teen hormones sped back up, as we resumed our usual banter, poked each other in our seats, wished we were doing something else. As the days passed, even adult conversations became less hushed, and more normal. I never thought about 9/11 again, except through the headlines of the San Jose Mercury News.
This summer, I took the Staten Island Ferry for the first time, and while I waited, I decided to visit Ground Zero. After 20 minutes of aimless wandering, I asked a man on the street where it was. He laughed and pointed at the fence 20 feet away. I circled the perimeter, but couldn’t see much — maybe that was the point. When I walked away, I looked up at the sky, and noticed it was a lighter shade of gray.
Peter Lu is a 2011 graduate of Berkeley College.