Eleven-year-old Sophia was in art class at Convent of the Sacred Heart when news of a terrorist attack arrived. That day’s lesson was on creating an enlarged version of a photograph by drawing a grid and replicating images within each box. She had chosen a picturesque photo of an entrance to Central Park.
A little after nine o’clock, the headmaster ran in and whispered to the teacher, whose face turned to panic. The girls were told to stop working and walk single file to the 2nd floor chapel. Once inside, the girls in grades 4-12 were informed of the attack on the World Trade Center.
“My dad was a commodities trader at the time, so there was a possibility that he may have been down there. Everyone around me freaked out and started crying and asking about how we would get in touch with our parents. Many of the girls had fathers who worked in the building. Anyone who needed to make contact was immediately taken to a private room with a phone,” Sophia says.
Sophia’s father, deciding to work from home that day, was safe in their Upper West Side home. The students were separated into grades and taken into rooms to watch movies until their parents were able to pick them up. Sophia was halfway through “Sister Act” when her dad arrived.
Walking out onto Madison Avenue, Sophia witnessed a line outside Lenox Hill of eager blood donors. Many had come to help even before returning ambulances had made it uptown.
“The city was still except for the sounds of ambulances in the distance. I walked by some parents discussing the eeriness of the symbolic date. I remember how freaked out I got when I put two and two together and recognized today’s date as the emergency number I had been taught to dial.”
Once home, Sophia ran to the window and stared out at the giant black cloud in the sky. “I felt like I stood there forever. It was incredibly surreal and didn’t make sense until my dad sat down with me on the sofa, held my hand, and turned on the TV,” she says.
When she saw videos of men and women jumping from the towers, Sophia started crying. Her father quickly sent her to her room, where she sat and listened through the door to her parents’ frantic phone calls.
That afternoon, Sophia’s mother took her to see one of her best friends who had made it home safely from the World Trade Centers.
“ We were sitting in her kitchen when my mom’s best friend came out from her shower and threw her debris-covered clothing in a bag. I reached out to touch it out of impulse, but my mother suddenly jerked me away. Stupidly, I asked her why she didn’t want to keep it as a souvenir. It was a stupid question, but I was so curious,” said Sophia.
“This contains the ashes of people. Nobody wants that memory,” she replied.
The rest of that night, Sophia sat in her room, watching recorded television, and looking out to see black smoke dominate the Southern skyline.
Ten years later, Sophia remembers that day’s impact, saying, “ It really hardened me as a kid. For a long time afterwards, I didn’t really feel the same. It forced me to grow up and recognize the presence of evil in the world. If growing up in New York had allowed me the chance to be carefree, my world view was, on that day, grayed out.”