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The New York Times Upfront
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Emily Sussell and her mother Emily Sussell and her mother run for safety on September 11, 2001. (Robert Mecea/Newsday)

'Horrifying, Just Horrifying'

Emily Sussell was in sixth grade just blocks from the World Trade Center on 9/11. Now 21, she reflects on what that day means to her.

Emily Sussell was in sixth grade just blocks from the World Trade Center on 9/11. Now 21, she reflects on what that day means to her.

I was at school four blocks from the World Trade Center. We felt the building shake and heard a shattering boom. I thought it was a big car accident. . . . Someone led me outside, and that’s when I saw it: a fire in the sky—an enormous hole with flames and black smoke at the top of the North Tower of the Trade Center. The hole was shaped like a plane—you could kind of see the outline of the wings.

I could feel the heat of the fire on my face, even four city blocks away. And I’ll never forget the sight of bodies falling through the air—people who jumped from the flames. Horrifying, just horrifying....

We ran from the cloud of smoke and debris. It must have been the first tower falling. I remember feeling like I was in an action movie, not real life....

I thought it was an accident—that the plane had just been flying too low. I had no concept of what the word “terrorism” even was....

I think I was affected by it all in ways I wasn’t able to understand at the time. The following year, I became depressed, and looking back, I think there has to be some connection, a kind of post-traumatic stress, though I didn’t make the connection then.

I remember hearing people say that day, “This may mean war.” I thought of the Civil War and World War II, because those were the wars I’d learned about. I tried to piece those images together with modern life and understand what being at war would mean.

How it’s turned out is even stranger: We’ve been at war ever since, but it doesn’t feel that way. As far as I’m concerned, there was only one day in the past 10 years that really felt like we were in a war, and that was Sept. 11, 2001....

Last spring, I had mixed feelings when I heard that Osama bin Laden had been killed. People around me started to celebrate, and I was kind of caught off guard and confused. I think it’s wrong to celebrate anyone’s death, no matter how many deaths that person may have caused....

I wonder how 9/11 is going to be portrayed in the future. I hope it’s not going to be glorified like Pearl Harbor has been in the movies. I hope people remember that it was a real experience, and that it’s a sensitive topic. —Emily Sussell

This article originally appeared in the September 5, 2011, issue of The New York Times Upfront.

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