MATTHEWS: On the 20th anniversary of 9/11, a reminder that the pain never really goes away

In this Sept. 11, 2020, file photo tribute in Light, two vertical columns of light representing the fallen towers of the World Trade Center shine against the lower Manhattan skyline on the 19th anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks, seen from Jersey City, N.J. (AP Photo/Stefan Jeremiah, File)

They say that time heals all wounds. While I’ve found that to be a true statement, the scars remain. The pain, too, never really goes away.

On the issue of 9/11, that is definitely true for millions of Americans, undoubtedly for the survivors of the terrorist attacks and the family members of the victims who lost their lives on a warm summer morning 20 years ago — a horrific day that will be etched into people’s minds for decades to come.

I was in New York City on 9/11. It was my first ever trip up north, and this born and bred southern girl experienced quite the culture shock.

On the Tuesday the attacks happened, I was supposed to fly home that afternoon as was my close friend with whom I had been vacationing the week prior. While my destination was Charlotte, hers was Florida. We’d both enjoyed our time in the city, but we were ready to get home.

We were in Times Square, taking photos of each other at the Rockefeller Center when the first plane hit the World Trade Center at 8:46 a.m. Not aware of what had happened, we laughed and joked as we tried to appear in a camera shot during a live Today show segment and then headed to get breakfast at a place called Roxy’s Delicatessen.

Along the way, I remember seeing a digital news ticker on a building (maybe it was the Fox News building?) about a plane hitting the WTC. At the time, reports were vague and it was initially believed it was some sort of small commuter plane that maybe had veered off course.

I remember that as we ate our breakfast, a man ran into the restaurant at one point exclaiming “they got the Pentagon!” or something along those lines. My friend and I, along with other patrons, looked at the guy like he was crazy, and we went back to eating. I was also annoyed at the time because I had a voice mail on my Nokia phone that I couldn’t retrieve.

I went outside hoping to be able to get a better signal to retrieve the message, thinking it was another friend who might be needing to change lunch plans. As I tried in vain, numerous fire trucks flew by, their sirens blaring, and frustratedly I said to myself, “Can I not go anywhere in this damn place without it being so loud?”

As it turned out, the man shouting about the Pentagon was not crazy. And the voice mail was from my mom, who while at work had heard the reports about the towers being hit and was frantic to make sure we were okay.

I didn’t know at the time that those emergency vehicles I saw were headed to the WTC. I couldn’t get the quietness I desired because those vehicles were headed off to try to save people. I couldn’t hit the buttons on my phone to check my voice mail because the WTC had been hit and as a result just about all forms of phone communication had gone down.

Shortly after, the WTC went down, too, with thousands of lives lost.

I was riddled with guilt for months — I still feel it sometimes — for the petty things I let myself get irritated over that day, considering what all had happened.

Fortunately, we were able to check back into our hotel, and later that week we ended up driving home, where I literally kissed the ground at my mom and dad’s house.

The memories are still fresh for me, along with the pain of what happened that day. As long as the good Lord blesses me with having a memory, I will remember that day, and the terrifying unfiltered images that were flashed on TV.

Never forget.

Media analyst Stacey Matthews has also written under the pseudonym Sister Toldjah and is a regular contributor to RedState and Legal Insurrection.