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ashes ashes we all fall down
september 11, 2001
AP Photo: New York City skyline after the World Trade Center towers collapsed, September 11, 2001
"As I sit here with family and friends, awaiting calls that may never come, I am drawn to my keyboard - I am not quite sure why. Perhaps it's an attempt to somehow release the tremendous sadness that's locked inside me. Maybe I have hopes that sharing my grief will stop these images ... stop the shaking."

~ Todd Harrison, TheStreet.com, 8:33 p.m., 9/11/01

8:45 a.m. I am at my job here in central Pennsylvania. It is a quiet morning. I'm trimming a photograph in Photoshop.

238.18 miles east of here, people on the upper floors of the north tower of the World Trade Center see a jet coming straight at them.

The hijacked passenger jet out of Boston, loaded with fuel for a transcontinental flight, crashes into the building. The upper quarter of the tower bursts into flames. Everything and everyone on those immediate floors is incinerated. The steel infrastructure begins to melt. The gigantic antenna atop the tower's roof begins to sink vertically.

8:55 a.m. A colleague shows up at my desk and says, "Somebody just flew a plane into the World Trade Center."

"On purpose?" I ask. I am confused. Maybe a little private plane has had an accident.

"Yes, on purpose." My colleague hurries away, punching numbers into a cell phone.

I switch on the little apple green radio next to my computer.

9:03 a.m. A second hijacked airliner appears, heading straight for the World Trade Center's south tower. It gracefully spins 90 degrees, slices into the building, disappears. The opposite side of the tower blooms into flames.

Both buildings are burning, their infrastructures melting downward like candlewax. Black smoke and debris fill the sky and shower on the city.

I am having difficulty comprehending what I am hearing on the radio. Frustrated with its crackling and sputtering, I slam new batteries into its back.

9:20 a.m. New York City airports shut down. New York City bridges and tunnels close. The FAA calls a halt to all commercial flight. The president's voice is on the radio. There has been an apparent terrorist attack.

I pick up the phone and punch in my husband's work number, rattle off a shaky summary into the voice mail.

I pick up the phone, punch in the number of my brother, listen to his pithy farmer instructions. "I'm not here. Leave a message." I hang up. By the time he got the message, he'd know all about it anyway.

I punch in the number of my 79-year-old mother in upstate Pennsylvania. ATT long distance goes beep beep beep. I try again. Beep beep beep. I try a third time. "We're sorry...." A fourth try.

"Helloooooo?" My mother sounds so old these days.

"Do you have the television on?"

"Why, no."

"Well you'd better turn it on."

"Oh my Lord."

9:43 a.m. 216.23 miles from here, someone in the Pentagon says, "Oh my God; we're next."

A second or so later, American Airlines Flight 77 crashes into the Pentagon.

10:05 a.m. The south tower of the World Trade Center collapses, imploding straight downward and sending up a massive gray cloud into the beautiful late-summer sky.

The burning section of the Pentagon collapses.

10:10 a.m. 135.81 miles from here in Somerset County, a hijacked airliner crashes into a field.

The radio station wavers in and out and is gone. At cnn.org and npr.org, photographs of the blasted towers and the Pentagon begin to appear.

10:28 a.m. The World Trade Center's north tower collapses with fantastical neatness from the top down.

I receive an e-mail message from a friend in Europe. She hopes that we are okay.

Several of us leave our office building to gather around the display TVs at the electronics store across the street. We watch in disbelief as footage of the jet hitting the south tower plays again and again.

Noon Tolls roll in:

North Tower Strike: 81 passengers, 11 crew members on American Flight 11 from Boston

South Tower Strike: 56 passengers, 9 crew members on United Airlines Flight 175 from Boston

Pentagon Strike: 58 passengers, 6 crew members on Flight 77 from Washington

Crash South of Pittsburgh: 45 passengers and crew on United Airlines Flight 93 from Newark

Victims in New York and Washington buildings will be in the thousands.

1:45 p.m. The city of Washington has declared a state of emergency. Five warships and two aircraft carriers are designated to leave the U.S. Naval Station in Norfolk, Virginia, to protect the East Coast of the United States.

4:10 p.m. Building 7 of the World Trade Center complex is reported on fire.

I shut down my computer and drive home. It is strange; no one tailgates my truck. Near the house, I pass a couple of Amish buggies, the horses clopping along. The Amish live without televisions, without radios. I wonder, has anybody told our Amish neighbors what has happened?

5:20 p.m. The 47-story Building 7 of the World Trade Center complex collapses. Nearby other buildings burn and begin to topple.

I hug each of our nine cats. I take a walk outside.

It is a beautiful, peaceful evening, the trees full of the sounds of late-summer birds, the sky a perfect cerulean ceiling.

Not a single cloud. Not a single jet trail.

Photo: associated press photo, new york city, september 11, 2001
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