I was sitting in a small auditorium at the Colegio Americano in Mexico City waiting for the meeting to start. The room was full of women and the occasion was the annual meeting of Mexico’s Secretariat of Education with the school’s parents. I knew I wouldn’t understand most of it; my Spanish listening skills were still feeble although I’d temporarily mastered numbers. But the school administration had sent home shrill notes insisting that parents attend, claiming a correlation between continued accreditation/funding with the number of parents that showed up.

We were new at the school that year. I didn’t see anyone I knew from my vantage point near the rear exit. The murmurs around me were all in Spanish.

As I leafed through my Filofax, a soft exclamation in English sounded from the front row. A blonde women turned to someone behind her as she waved a cell phone. “A plane hit the Twin Towers in New York,” she whispered loud enough for me to hear.

A small plane. A Cessna, I thought. A private pilot must have had a heart attack and veered off course. The plane would have splintered into pieces against the skyscraper. How sad.

With great ceremony, some school officials and a large man in a glen plaid suit mounted the stage and crossed to the podium. There were introductory remarks. The glen plaid suit started speaking on behalf of the Secretariat.

The warm air in the auditorium thickened with a mixture of boredom and expensive perfume. The speaker’s face was moist above the microphone. I had no idea what he was saying.

Whispers again rippled out from the front row in a language I could understand. A second plane had struck the Twin Towers.

No one left. The sweaty Secretariat man droned on for another 30 minutes until finally the school officials thanked him and dismissed the meeting. Maybe he took questions. I don’t remember.

I drove home and turned on the television. It was 11:30 am. At 11:32 I realized the world had fundamentally changed.

And that’s my 9/11 story.

Click here for the 9/11 digital archive. The Archive contains more than 150,000 digital items, a tally that includes more than 40,000 emails and other electronic communications, more than 40,000 first-hand stories, and more than 15,000 digital images.

Click here for the 9/11 memorial website.

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