This was role reversal. Christine, my baby sister, coming to help me. As her big sister by almost 13 years, I had changed her diaper, taken her to Disney World, driven her to school, been her ballet teacher. When she was in high school, I was her employer. She graduated from high school just weeks after my first child was born. Through college she had continued to teach for me. Law school ended our employee/employer connection.
At times our relationship had been more mother/daughter than sisters but here she was standing in my kitchen early on Wednesday September 12 with her suitcase in hand stating,
“I have come to do all those things you can’t do and to stay for as long as you need me.”
I knew without a doubt there were things she could do that I couldn’t – navigate the legal system, ask the right questions, identify a body.
As I hoisted myself up to sit on the kitchen counter, I asked, “But how? Don’t you have any cases?” After a brief stint as a corporate lawyer, Christine had become an assistant district attorney in Schenectady, New York.
She sat down at the table. “It’s weird. I don’t have any cases. Everyone pled guilty.” Confused and not sure if she was lying, I was grateful.
My daughters and Christine had a great relationship, so my sister’s presence was not only a blessing to me, but it gave me confidence that my girls were in good hands. To see Meghan and Christine greet each other with their elaborate combination dance/handshake created a sense of normal on a day very little was known. The telling of the very little we knew “he is unaccounted” was told and retold as family, friends and acquaintances called, showed up on my doorstep or emailed.
Throughout the day the television was turned on to glean information. Real information a much-needed commodity. The television was not a reliable source as it seemed to me that stories were broadcast without verification. I don’t fault the media for that because the need for information was frantic. It was a rollercoaster that wasn’t beneficial, so the television was off more than it was on. School canceled for that day but reopened on Thursday. We hung close to home waiting for news, waiting for the other shoe to drop, waiting to know what to do next if it did. Every time the phone rang, I held my breath as I lifted the receiver, Would it be Bruce’s voice on the other end?
By mid-morning I called Squad 41 to see if there was any word. A young firefighter answered the phone. I smiled as he commented that he was all alone and didn’t know anything. I could imagine his fellow firefighters telling him to stay there (at firehouse) and answer the phone but offering no other guidance to a newbie who had no clue. I requested we set up a schedule that they (Squad 41) would call us (wives of the unaccounted) twice a day whether there was anything to report or not. He thought that a good idea and promised to pass it along. Firefighters showed up on my doorstep. The brotherhood whether FDNY or GWL or any other Fire Department were fulfilling their promise to care for the families. Many, covered in ash, looking exhausted, offered bagels, cold cuts, assistance in whatever form I requested and the assurance of “voids.”
Excerpt from No Surprises: navigating tragedy with faith, family and the FDNY