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All They Had.
(Photo by Chang Lee, The New York Times)
1. The First Plane.
I got up and turned on the TV, and there was just this big black hole in the World Trade Center. And there was just smoke billowing out of it. I called my sister Cathy I said, "You might wanna wake up, turn in your TV and take a look at what they're showing." The commentator's saying that it's an American Airlines plane. And I casually asked Cathy, I said, "Do you know where Betty is?" And she says, "Betty's supposed to be flying out of Boston." And I said, "Do you think Betty is on that plane?" We just didn't know. So I left a phone call on her cellphone, just asking her when she's landed or anywhere you're on the ground, to just give us a call and tell us you're okay. And there was no call from Betty. I called American Airlines, and it was only then that it was confirmed that Betty was on the flight.
I just want to add, through your passing, Betty, our family's gotten very very close. Dad, who's quite stoic, doesn't really say a whole lot, man of the family, one day told us that he cries himself to sleep. Even to this day, he just keeps staying up watching TV, hoping somehow that you'll reappear. And we're all still waiting for that phone call from you to tell us that you're okay. We just miss you a whole lot.
— Harry Ong Jr. The 9/11 Memorial Museum’s oral history.
2. The Second Plane.
The cloudless sky filled with coiling black smoke and a blizzard of paper—memos, photographs, stock transactions, insurance policies—which fluttered for miles on a gentle southeasterly breeze, across the East River into Brooklyn. Debris spewed onto the streets of lower Manhattan, which were already covered with bodies. Some of them had been exploded out of the building when the planes hit. A man walked out of the towers carrying someone else’s leg. Jumpers landed on several firemen, killing them instantly.
The air pulsed with sirens as firehouses and police stations all over the city emptied, sending the rescuers, many of them to their deaths. (FBI agent) Steve Bongardt was running toward the towers, against a stream of people racing in the opposite direction. He heard the boom of the second collision. “There’s a second plane,” someone cried.
— Lawrence Wright, The Looming Tower.
3. The Third Plane.
Answering machine: "Message one."
Brian Sweeney: "Jules, this is Brian—listen, I’m on an airplane that’s been hijacked. If things don’t go well, and it’s not looking good, I just want you to know I absolutely love you, I want you to do good, go have good times, same to my parents and everybody, and I just totally love you, and I’ll see you when you get there. Bye, babe. I hope I call you.”
— 9/11 Memorial Museum, Gift of Julie Sweeney Roth
4. Firefighter Adrienne Walsh:
And I remember when you got to City Hall, the—it's almost as if you entered—it's almost as if it was a curtain, and you walked into a curtain. The sky disappeared. There was air and bright light on this side, and there was just gray dust that you could barely see on this side. It was just like walking through a theatrical curtain. There's this six inches of dust on the ground. We parked right across from the plaza. And I remember getting out, I had no mask, because our rig was already down there, our guys were already down there. So I went to the back of the rig to try to see if there was another mask, another air-pak for me. And I remember going around to the rig, around the backside of the rig, and as I got to the backside of the rig, I looked up, and I don't know why I looked up, because I didn't hear anything.
But I saw what I can only describe as almost like a tornado hurtling at me. Just this cloud of dust that had to be over 100 feet in the air, and it was literally circling, and it was just bearing down. I mean, I'd never seen anything like that and anything move as fast as that, and I turned around and I yelled, "Run, run Cap, run!" 'Cause the captain was behind me. And he looked up—we all took off down the block, and I thought—I honestly thought in the midst of all that, "If this is going to come down and it's going to fall all at once as a building—if I beat the cloud, I'll beat the building." And I said to myself as I turned and started to run, "I'm not gonna beat this cloud. It's just moving too fast."
I remember making it through the cloud, and I remember walking, trying to walk through this—the amount of debris—it's unfathomable. And I remember drawing a line in the middle of my brain and putting those that I thought were dead on one side and those that I thought had a chance on the other. (Source: The 9/11 Memorial Museum’s oral history.)
A San Francisco husband slept through his wife's call from the World Trade Center. The tower was burning around her, and she was speaking on her mobile phone. She left her last message to him on the answering machine. A TV station played it to us, while it showed the husband standing there listening. Somehow, he was able to bear hearing it again. We heard her tell him through her sobbing that there was no escape for her. The building was on fire and there was no way down the stairs. She was calling to say goodbye. There was really only one thing for her to say, those three words that all the terrible art, the worst pop songs and movies, the most seductive lies, can somehow never cheapen. I love you.
She said it over and again before the line went dead. And that is what they were all saying down their phones, from the hijacked planes and the burning towers. There is only love, and then oblivion. Love was all they had to set against the hatred of their murderers.
— Ian McEwan (9/15/2001)
— Mark Knopfler/Emmylou Harris. Mr. Knopfler wrote the song after reading Ian McEwan’s column, excerpted above. (via youtube.com)