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It was one morning in May, 2010 when I get a panic phone call from my mother. My mother is an undeclared Ice Queen and always reserved. For her to call me crying and upset brought the chill cold fingers of fear around my heart. Did dad die?

I couldn’t think of it but I couldn’t understand what mom was hollering about either. I gathered myself and calmly told her that I would be right over. I only lived a mile down the road. When I arrived at their house I could hear my mother hollering and my father, who had lost his ability to speak but he could grunt in some twisted yelling/panic conversation. I ran into the master bedroom where all the commotion was and my mother is crying, her face contorted in a painful kind of helplessness.

“What’s wrong? What’s going on?” “I can’t get your father out of the bathroom! I told him to use the pan but he REFUSED and now I can’t get him out of there.” “Okay. Did he fall in the shower – is he on the floor?” “NO,” she wailed, “he’s on the toilet and he won’t let me help him up! I can’t help him! I don’t want him to fall. And HE’S FIGHTING ME!” I walked into the bathroom and see dad sitting there. His eyes were spitting mad because his body was giving up on him. “Mom and I are going to help you up and back to bed, okay?”

We tried pulling him up but he fought back. It clicked – his legs aren’t going to support himself. With my mother screaming at him and my father howling with unimaginable indignation I let go of his arm and yelled at them both to shut up. I kicked mom out of the bathroom and turned my attention to dad.

He always had a strong front for my mom – but whenever we talked he would confide in me.
Once mom left the room I saw the defeat in his eyes. But I was NOT going to give up.

Straight off I said, “Dad – I can’t carry you and I’m not going to try but I am going to put you on my back.” I turned around and presented my back and squatted so he could get leverage on my shoulders.
Holding his arms I stood back up and he was able to get on his feet. He got nervous because he started pulling at me, choking me like a panicked drowning man.

Very calmly I said, “Dad. DAD! If you pull me we will both fall down. Don’t fight – just lean on my back. If you work with me we’ll get you to bed. You have to trust me. I will never drop you but you have to help me. Do you understand what I’m saying?”

His grasp loosened and I was able to leverage his armpits over my shoulders while he rested on me. “Now one step at a time, okay?”

22 steps later, with my mother clucking, wiping him up, and pulling up his sweatpants the entire way, we finally got him settled in. He was exhausted. With a kiss on his forehead I said, “See? I told you I wouldn’t drop you.”

I couldn’t stay longer than that. The adrenaline had left my body and I didn’t want to let him see how upset and shaken I was. The man who used to toss me into the air and catch me; who taught me how to ride a bike and drive a car; who insisted I learn how to change a tire and replace a toilet was too weak to walk or wipe himself. I cried for the longest mile drive I have ever taken. When I got home I hid under my bed covers and bawled like a baby. It was the last time my dad got out of that bed – thus began the business of dying.

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It was the morning of September 11, 2001 – a morning like most others.  At the time, I was divorced with three small children and living with my parents.  That morning, I put my oldest on the school bus and began to prepare breakfast for the two little ones.

Normally, I do not watch television.  I happened to be flipping the channels when I saw the newscasters giving their daily offering when in the background I heard a loud BOOM and saw smoke coming from one of the Twin Towers.

I saw the confusion as the reporters turned in their seats from atop the…  I think it was the Chrysler Building.  There was speculation – was it a small plane that hit the building?  In the back of my head I knew it was much bigger.  Small cessnas did not make such a BOOM.  Reports began flying in – but no one knew what was really going on.  Distant sirens could be heard from the street through the television.

Suddenly, from the right of the TV screen I saw another plane.  It was strangely low in the sky.  And on live television I saw it fly into the other building.  I don’t remember breathing but I remember being very confused.  WHAT THE HELL IS GOING ON HERE?

Close ups of the devastation started coming over the tube as cameras were zooming in.  From afar I saw the Twin Towers on fire.  Strangely, I felt a sense of pride that they withstood such a beating!

Word came across:  they were passenger planes.  I was transfixed on the TV.  I could feel my heart beating like a dull thud in my chest.  Tragic.  Terrible.  Beyond Words.  My sole focus remained on The Towers.  They were still standing.  We’re going to be okay.

But then it started to crumble…  Tower Two was tumbling down!  In my head, all I could do was scream silently.  Screaming out loud would have scared my babies.  One tower was left.  Goddammit.  We still had one…until that too began to crumble.

I fell to the floor.  No.  NO.  NOOO!!!

It was all I could repeat.

I reached for the phone and called my father’s office.  He commuted to New York City every morning, taking NJ Transit to the PATH trains; his last stop – the basement of the World Trade Center.  From there he usually walked about six blocks to his office building.  Oh fuck!  Where’s dad?  Where’s my dad?!

Phone lines were busy.  No one was getting through – not even to make a local call.  I tried desperately to call into the city – reach my father.

Newscasts showed falling debris prior to the building collapses – but it wasn’t debris.  No…  They were PEOPLE.  People who would rather jump to their death than burn in the fire.

The television was in an incessant loop:  the impact, the smoke and fire, the rumble of the earth; the clouds of smoke and ash; debris and people falling.  Buildings gone.  People covered in ash clawing their way out of the city…and I still had not heard from my father.  I was glued to the television.  Was he one of the pasty people, shell-shocked and trying to make sense of the inconceivable?

Back at home, people drove to school to pick up their children – a need to be closer to them because there was going to be bad news – not on a national level – but a real, personal level.  A whole lot of loved ones were not coming home again.

My town is 40 miles north of New York City.  Our community is laced with NYC Firefighters, EMTs and Police, doctors, nurses, military, white and blue collar workers – we have them all.

With children close to our breast, we all waited for news; waited for the phone lines to clear up and make a connection.  Still there was nothing.

It was after 5 PM.  My father had borrowed a stranger’s cellphone to tell us he was okay.  I say “stranger” loosely because everyone in the city that day became brothers and sisters.

I was so relieved to hear from dad that I threatened to kill him.  Ha!  Why do we do that? 

He was one of thousands that walked to the ferry boats transporting them to the Jersey side.  Transportation out of the city was still being figured out – but he was safe and he would be home soon.  Soon was about midnight.

I was lucky.  My father came home that day – but I will never forget, for weeks to come, the hundreds of obituaries that filled our newspaper – all local men and women – all innocent people who went to work like any other day.

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In our small town of people, we lost five firefighters.  The picture is the Washingtonville Five Memorial.  In addition to the granite memorial of the 5 firefighters, there are memorial bricks laid in the shape of a Maltese cross (the fireman’s cross), and a “Walkway of Heroes” with messages from loved ones and an aggrieved community.

The five firefighters are:  Battalion Chief Dennis Devlin; Lt. Glenn Perry; firefighters: Robert Hamilton, Gerard Nevins, and Mark Whitford.

We Will NEVER Forget

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A Memory of a Conversation with my 10-year-old Son

There is nothing like a simple, loving memory which warms my heart and makes me miss my babies.

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