HisBy: Brenda Rothert
September 28, 2001
Seventeen days ago, my life caught fire.
Two planes. Two towers. Nothing will ever be the same.
The fire at Ground Zero is still burning, and somewhere inside the smoky piles of rubble is my father. Do I want them to find him? For the first week, I did. I stayed home from school every day and stared at the TV, praying I’d see them pull my dad from what’s left.
I told myself over and over that he couldn’t be gone. David Wentworth was too strong to be taken down like that. He’d show them all. My dad would come crawling out of the pile of debris, still wearing his dark suit. He’d probably pull other people out, too. My dad is like that. He does things people say are impossible.
But the second week, my mom said I had to go back to school. When I told her I wouldn’t go because I was waiting for my dad to be rescued, her shoulders fell.
“He’s gone, Andrew.”
“You don’t know that. Dad’s a fighter.”
She shook her head. “I know it’s hard for a thirteen-year-old to wrap his head around. I know. You want him to be here, and I do, too. But he’s gone. It’s just you and me now.”
I glared at her, my throat burning. How could she give up on him like that? I’d never give up on my dad. I went back to my spot in his favorite leather chair in our living room and turned up the news on TV.
But after two weeks, my school counselor came to our house to see me. He frowned and told me no one could survive for two weeks in there. Then he gave me a pamphlet titled, “It’s Okay to Cry.” I crumpled up his advice on grieving and threw it in the trash.
I wasn’t going to cry. My dad wouldn’t want that. He’d always told me a man’s true measure was his strength.
“Chin up, Andrew. You’re a Wentworth. We’re made of steel.”
Today we’re having a memorial service for him. My chin will stay up, and my back will stay straight. When I look at the family pictures of my parents and me on a long table at the funeral home and my eyes start to feel watery, I pinch my leg through the pocket of my suit pants. The burning sting in my thigh makes me angry instead of sad.
Better. Dad used to yell at people from his company sometimes, so I know he wouldn’t mind me being angry. At night, when I’m staring up at the stars me and Dad stuck on my ceiling when I was little, my stomach twists and hurts with the anger I feel for the men who killed my dad.
They murdered thousands of people. I’m not the only kid without a dad now. Everyone is scared. Nothing will ever be the same.
My mom covers her mouth with her hand, crying as one of her friends squeezes her arm and talks to her. They did that, too. They made my mom cry. My dad wouldn’t stand for that.
Since he’s gone, I have to be the strong one now. I have to take care of my mom like he would. I have to think about what dad would want for us. I have to hold on tight to my need for those men to pay for what they did to my dad.
The firefighters will eventually extinguish the smoldering fire at Ground Zero, but the fire burning inside of me will never go out.
There’s nothing good in Mauricio’s Dumpster tonight. Hard pieces of uneaten pizza crust and cold spaghetti covered in olive oil are the only edible things I’ve found so far. And it won’t get better if I dig further. So why am I still ripping open bags of trash on this cold fall evening?
Because my little sister is hungry. I can still see the hope that was shining in her huge blue eyes when I left for a food run earlier. If we’ve learned only one thing in our four years on the streets of New York City, it’s that hunger and cold are realities, but facing them at the same time is a bitch.
I climb up a pile of trash heaped at the end of the rusted Dumpster, bracing my foot on a stack of empty pizza boxes. My hair whips across my face when the chilly breeze catches it.
Fall is my least favorite season now. I loved it when I was a kid and it meant hot, spicy cider, piles of crunchy leaves to plow through, and football games to cheer at.
But now, fall means the dreaded, bitter winter is on its way. I’ll spend my days taking Bethy from one heated public place to another in an effort to stay warm. At night, we’ll sleep underground. The cold down there isn’t life threatening, but some of the people are.