I heard about the first crash from my boss. She saw it. I gathered in front of the window to see the damage, and said a prayer for those who might have lost their lives. Next thing, I looked up, and I saw the second plane. I saw the fireball. I heard the sirens. And that’s when it hit me:
My husband is a New York City Fireman.
No, it’s okay, he’s on vacation. But he is in the city this morning for a meeting….How on earth do I get in touch with him? Miracle. The phone rings. He is calling me from a payphone 20 blocks away. He tells me, “I’m on my way to the firehouse. I have to help. Go home, get out of the office while you can. I’ll see you later.” I scream, “Don’t go. You’re on vacation. You could be killed.” He says to me, “You know I have to. I can’t leave my brothers alone out there, they will need all the help they can get.” I start to cry, and he says, “Say it.” “Say What?” I ask. “I can’t go until you say it, like you always do.” And I squeak out the words that I say to him every time I leave him, “Be good, Behave, Be careful…I love you always”.
And we were disconnected.
I joined some people from work and walked uptown. One girl had her headphones and Walkman on. She was reporting the news. “Pentagon hit…on fire…terrorism” I look back, just in time to see the tower fall. The girl with headphones says, “They say that 300 firefighters were in there when it crashed down.” I throw up on 2nd avenue. What if he is in there? What then? And then I know. He’s not. A part of me would have died at that minute. I would have felt it.
I know he is alive.
I get home. The phone rings a million times. It’s never him. 24 hours go by. He calls. He is alive. Not so for 300 brothers. Not so for his partner and best friend. But he is alive. He is a hero, just like all the rest. He worked for 9 days straight. When I got to the train station to pick him up, I saw him get off the train. Still in his bunker pants and his FDNY T-shirt. He is covered in dust. He smells of digging and death. But he is home. I run down the platform. I knock over a young girl. She doesn’t care. As I turn to help her up, she smiles and says, “No, you go to him.” She knows what he is. She doesn’t know him or me, but she understands what I have been through. And he is home. And he will sleep, and go back. Until they tell him he can not. He is looking for his fallen brothers. He is on his hands and knees digging. His hands are ripped to shreds. His face is scratched. As are his arms. He doesn’t care. He can not stop.
He, like so many others, are part of the family. My father in law is a retired firefighter. They follow each other down the line. They are all heroes. And what they have lost will never be replaced. But he will not stop. He will not fear. He will continue to run into burning buildings to save others. For the rest of his days. He doesn’t do it for the glory, and certainly not for the money. Rather, it is something inside of them, that calls them to this. They risk their lives every day, for people they have never met. And they will continue to do so, in memory of their fallen brothers.
RLMF, Long Island, NY