Ashes Fell Like Snow

I was at work on September 11, 2001, when the call came. I had an appointment in Jersey City that morning, but I hadn’t left for it yet. Our installation manager took the call, and half a minute into it, he turned towards me and said, “A plane just crashed into the Trade Center.” I was stunned, and just stared at him while he walked over to the table radio in the office space we shared. He turned it on, and we were listening to events unfold when the news came that another plane hit the other tower. I remember both of us just standing there, and I looked at him and said, “Two?! That can’t have been an accident.”

Of course, it was not. Everyone in the office stopped what they were doing at that point, and we all stared at the radio. I don’t remember cancelling my appointment, but I must have, because I never went that day. A vendor representative called a bit later, saying he wasn’t going to make it to the appointment he had with us, because he was trapped on the Turnpike spur leading to NYC, and the traffic simply wasn’t moving. Too many people were trying to get out, all at once. We had an installation crew at a job site, and they called in, asking what they should do – the client’s husband worked in the Trade Center, and she hadn’t heard from him. She was beside herself. The installation manager told them to pack up and come back. As far as I know, we never finished that job; the husband died that day. We listened to the news for what seemed like hours, but probably wasn’t. We closed early. It was obvious no one was going to get any work done.

It was a crystal clear day, and warm. Pretty near perfect weather for September in New Jersey. All the way home, I kept looking in my rear view mirror, and I could see the single plume of smoke rising in the northeast. When I got out of my car, I looked northward again, to see if it was still visible from my parking lot. I live near the Raritan Bay in NJ, and though I’m not more than a mile or two from the bay itself, all the width of the bay and a good 2/3rds of Staten Island are between my home and the Trade Center. I could still see the smoke, though it seemed more like a cloud from that distance. But I noticed something else as well: it looked like it was snowing. It was eighty degrees out, so I knew it couldn’t be snow, but I could also smell the burning. Twenty-two miles, as the crow flies, and I could smell the towers burning, and could see the ashes falling in my parking lot. The wind wasn’t even blowing in my direction.

One ash floated softly in front of my face. It was roughly rectangular, and riddled with holes, like a bit of lace. It was a tiny thing, and I wept as I realized it was all that was left of someone’s life. It was all that was left of someone else’s livelihood. It was all that was left of a lot of our illusions of safety and strength … just ashes, falling like snow.

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