South Caldwell students come close to 9/11 memories with 'With Their Eyes'

Nov. 12, 2013 @ 08:16 AM

For kids in high school today, Sept. 11, 2001, is a hazy memory.

They were alive, but they were 5 years old or younger. The day the towers crumbled lives in their minds as a day their mothers rushed to pick them up from kindergarten, one that has since been memorialized in classrooms and on television.

But starting Thursday, students at South Caldwell High School will climb into the minds of people who witnessed 9/11 with all the sharpness of adulthood – and all the impact of proximity.

“With Their Eyes” was written by students at Stuyvesant High School and is based on interviews with faculty, staff and students who were four blocks from the World Trade Center at the time of the attack.

In the show, characters talk one by one, in monologue, about the day the planes crashed.

Some of it is universal, things most everyone remembers: the initial confusion, the fears of attacks in other U.S. cities, the surge of national pride.

Some of it is not. The people whose words formed these monologues heard the bang and felt the floors tremble. Phone communications were jammed at their school. They evacuated the building and passed pedestrians who were fleeing Manhattan, covered in thick, white dust – the early detritus of the towers.   

South Caldwell junior Casey Parsons was in kindergarten on Sept. 11, 2001. He remembers his mother coming to pick him up and sign him out of school.

Rachael Robinson, a junior at the Caldwell Career Center Middle College, only really remembers things her mother and teachers have passed on.

South freshman Bethany Owens was 2 years old when the towers crumbled.

“It’s very difficult to try to understand what it was like,” junior Amy Patterson said. “You start to feel like it means more to you than it did originally.”

It can almost feel scary to get that close to the subject matter – and to real witnesses’ real words – some students said.

“It gives you a reality check and just reminds you how heavy that is,” freshman Cameron Owens said. “You’re trying to portray this character and do their words justice.”

Cast members said they hope they will pass that dose of heavy reality to a generation even younger than they are, the first removed by a lifetime from the events of Sept. 11.  

“I was 5 when it happened,” Parsons said. “But there’s people today that don’t remember, because they weren’t alive. I hope that the little kids that come see this get the impact of it.”