We would be invited by the FDNY to a meeting in the city on Tuesday September 18,2001. The weird thing is there are some things about that meeting that are forever etched in my mind but there are other details I can’t remember at all. For example, I can vividly remember walking out of the Fire Zone, seeing a full size bus, boarding the bus and being driven basically around the block. On the other end of the spectrum, I have no memory of where my youngest daughter was while I attended the meeting.
Squad 41 had wanted to send a van to pick us up but we decided that my bff ‘s hubby, T would drive my sister, my older daughter and I into the city. We were suppose to meet at one of the designated locations and then would be transported to the meeting. I guess the idea was to keep the press away and protect our privacy. As we approached the George Washington Bridge, I remember there were men in full military garb holding the biggest guns I had ever seen. I remember thinking “this is the United States of America; we don’t have military on our bridges.” The traffic was moving very slow. I think there was a giant flag hanging on the bridge but that could be a memory from another time. And as I glanced at the skyline, I couldn’t figure out where the Twin Towers had stood. We discussed their placement on the island and couldn’t figure it out. My sister commented “I thought there would be a cut out where they had been.” It was so very strange to see the new skyline.
We reported to the designated meeting place, we had chosen “The Fire Zone” at Rockefeller Center. Everyone was so very kind – did we want something to eat or drink, could they do anything for us. A full size bus would arrive complete with police escort and men “talking into their sleeves.” It was like we were in some B rated movie. We boarded the bus and were transported to a hotel only a few blocks away. We disembarked, rode the escalator up to the next floor and were ushered into the grand ballroom which was outfitted with round tables and chairs. We chose a table to sit at and introduced ourselves to the other people at the table. There was a woman, her young adult son and daughter. Her husband was very high-ranking in the FDNY. There was another young woman whose fiancé was a firefighter. We compared notes on what we each knew about our loved ones and what we thought the meeting was going to reveal. I remember Governor Pataki was walking around and greeting people. He was very tall and seemed sincere as he spoke to many people. Governor Pataki would mention that his dad had been a long time volunteer firefighter. I remember my sister and I discussed how casually dressed some people were in comparison to other people. There were people in shorts, t-shirts and flip-flops and other people in business attire. I had carefully chosen what I was wearing. Knowing that I was attending a meeting with the governor, mayor and chief of the FDNY, I wanted to represent my husband in a way that was honoring to my position as a firefighter’s wife.
The whole meeting was surreal. The purpose of the meeting was to inform us that the mission was going from rescue to recovery followed by a question and answer time. There was discussion about DNA samples and opportunity to give a DNA before you left. In the years since that meeting, some FDNY widows have come to call it “the leave your DNA at the door” meeting. Sorry if that sounded really bad but sometimes you have to acknowledge the absurdity of the entire situation. My sister would investigate if there was another option of giving DNA that would be more private. She found out that we could take my daughter to a lab near where we lived which definitely seemed like a better idea.
This would be the first time I would see the other wives from Squad 41. I had spoken to some of the other wives on the phone but hadn’t seen them until this meeting. These were women who I knew because our husbands worked together. I would have seen them maybe twice a year. But here we were “thrown together” by the most unbelievable set of circumstances. So we didn’t really know each other expect for the annual Christmas party and summer picnic. One of the other wives would comment “I will be praying for you.” And that moment I did something I had never done before in my entire life, I said “why don’t we pray right now.” She went to get her family and I went to get my bff’s hubby and announced to him “you need to pray.” This part I remember so vividly even though it seemed like an out-of-body experience – standing in a crowd, noisy NYC hotel ballroom, holding hands with my family and my Squad 41 family, T starting to pray and all the other sounds of the ballroom melting away and it was just T’s voice beseeching God for His peace and favor and thanking God for His gifts of life and love. It is one of the most profound moments of my life.
On September 18, 2001, I didn’t really totally comprehend what “going from rescue to recovery” meant. But I did know that I needed to take the next step. We as a family needed to move from believing there would be a rescue to setting our lives for recovery. And within a few days, I would have what at the time I thought was the hardest conversation of my life. That however is a story for another day.