Where Were You on September 11, 2001?

Editor’s Note: This article previously appeared in a different format as part of The Atlantic’s Notes section, retired in 2021.

I was nowhere near New York or D.C. on September 11, 2001. I was a senior in high school in suburban St. Louis, and when I woke up that morning I knew the date was significant—not because of what would happen on the East Coast within the next few hours, but because I’d started dating my high-school sweetheart exactly a year before, and “9-11” was a handy way to remember the anniversary.

That day changed the course of life—and in 2,977 cases, ended it—for many people, whether they were high-school students in St. Louis, or window-cleaners in Manhattan, or generals in the Pentagon, or farmers in Afghanistan. For some of us with the luxury of a far remove, the significance wasn’t immediately clear. I remember fiddling with the radio in my Volvo on the way to school, hearing something about “top floors are on fire,” and switching to the oldies station. By the time I got to my first class, U.S. history, the television was on in the classroom and Ms. Fairbank was gesticulating with the remote. I assumed, watching smoke pour out of the buildings, that everyone must have gotten out; it just didn’t seem possible so many people could die, all at once, in America. I didn’t really get that something truly enormous and horrible had happened until my mother called me, on the classroom phone as I sat in physics right before lunch, to say everything was going to be all right and she and dad loved me, and it would be wise to get gas on the way home.

Everyone I’ve talked to about it over the past 15 years seems to remember where they were that day. There were those who lost loved ones, and those for whom the attacks determined the future in other ways: They joined the military, got into politics, or ditched stable jobs to go document the “war on terror.” And these were just the Americans; Afghans I met in Kabul 10 years after the attacks had seen their lives completely transformed, for good and ill. There were little girls marching to school on dusty mornings as they hadn’t been allowed to under the Taliban. There were new job opportunities and a flood of foreign aid. There were also suicide bombings, humiliating night raids into Afghan homes by American special-operations forces, spiraling corruption, and thousands of civilians killed, predominantly by the Taliban but also by coalition forces and those loyal to the government.

How did September 11 change your life, or your country, wherever in the world you are? What are your memories of that day and the aftermath? How are you marking the anniversary, and how has your perspective on the events of that day changed over the past 15 years?

Write to us at hello@theatlantic.com to share your own experience. I’ll curate the responses in a series of posts to mark the 15th anniversary of the attacks.