I have a lot of fun plans today, but I want to take a moment to be serious, a moment to remember.
On July 16, 1996, 13 year-old me was at Walmart with my mom, picking up some last minute things. We were leaving in a few days to visit my cousins in Minot, North Dakota, where they were stationed with the Air Force. While we were there, my mom ran into one of her friends, who was there with her daughter. They started talking, and it turned out they were picking up a few last minute things for a trip as well.
The daughter was leaving the next day to travel to France with our high school’s French Club.
I remember they were arguing about something. Either she wanted to take something, or her mom thought she needed something she didn’t want to take. I don’t remember. I just remember them arguing.
In the end it didn’t matter. We were packing up the car super early on July 18th, when we learned that the plane carrying the daughter, along with 14 other students and 6 adult chaperones, had exploded off the coast of Long Island shortly after take off the previous evening (16 years ago today).
I lived in a small town. Everyone knew everyone else. This hit our community hard. I could barely believe what I heard on the radio that morning. It still, 16 years later, seems really surreal.
We still left for North Dakota; driving the whole way. I guess reality didn’t set in right away for me because I was so removed from the situation. I couldn’t imagine what everyone back home was going through.
In an instant our tiny town had become famous.
It was weird seeing photos of my hometown, of my classmates mourning their siblings, of my high school’s front entrance covered with flowers plastered on all the magazines and newspapers that far away. It was weird saying ‘I’m from Montoursville, Pennsylvania,’ and having people recognize the name.
It was just… surreal, especially for a 13 year old who, until that moment, had no prior experience with death and loss that she could remember. I know I keep using that word, surreal, but I can’t think of a better word.
I think I was too young at the time to fully understand, but looking back, I’m amazed at the support, concern, and sympathy offered from all over the world.
People wanted to help us heal. Which we did, as best as we could. There will always be a scar, though. We’ll always remember those that were lost that day. We’ll always keep them in our hearts.