September 11 Survivors Remember

In the past few months, Silvion has logged some serious quality time with his family. Chores around the house, countless trips to Home Depot. For ten years, he lived at the speed of Wall Street. These days, he doesn't bother getting up until nine. Sometime in the spring, Silvion plans to return to work at Mizuho Capital Markets and get back in the derivatives game. In a very real sense, Silvion has been Americanized, secularized, confirmed in the high church of pluralism and the mutual fund - the very things, of course, that make the terrorists burn. And yet one of the odd twists to the whole event, for him, is that because he is of Indian descent, dark-skinned and raven-haired, he sometimes gets the look, the double take of suspicion. Who are you, where are you from, what's hidden in your shoes? "It's justifiable," he reasons. "Until this threat is completely gone. I have to expect it."

As he talks, he sits beneath his before-and-after diptych of the trade towers and assures me, with a kind of provisional confidence, that he's okay. He has one modest request, though. If he has a choice, he prefers not to work in a high-rise. "I'm good on the ground floor," he says.

***

Will Jimeno has no idea where the rumor started, the beautiful, fantastic rumor. In the hours after they were discovered in the rubble, he and Sergeant McLoughlin became the subject of an incredible story repeated so often that the national media reported it as confirmed fact: A Port Authority cop, in some accounts several, was said to have "ridden the wave" of debris down from the eightieth floor and survived with barely a scratch. It was the kind of legend that springs up in the chaos of a catastrophe - a wildly untrue story that reflects true hope. All around the world, people were praying that more victims would be pulled alive from the ruins. If a man could ride down that mighty wave and live, then there was still a chance.

When he got to Bellevue Hospital, Will was assaulted by a green army of surgeons. He didn't understand why, with a tragedy of such mammoth proportions, he should get such solicitous treatment. He didn't understand that, at that point, there were no other survivors. He was the survivor - he and his sergeant and a handful of others. The green army rolled him into the operating room and set to work. He had a condition known as compartment syndrome. The wracking pressure in his leg had built up so powerfully that when the doctors cut it open that night, blood and backed-up fluids sprayed the walls like a Jackson Pollock canvas.

In twelve days, Will had eight operations to excise the dead tissue and relieve pressure. The doctors worried about blood clots and kidney failure and gangrene. When they suctioned out his upper airway, the vacuum ticked and chattered with the sound of grit. At one point, Will saw a rock sliding up through the tube.

All those weeks in the hospital, Will though about his comrades day and night. He still does - especially Pezzulo and Rodrigues. He can't get them out of his head. He's commiserated with their wives, described their bravery. Sergeant McLoughlin, who was pulled out of the rubble eight hours after Will, was released from the hospital in January, after kidney dialysis and some two dozen operations, He's improving gradually. "One day at a time," Will says. "Like me, he's trying to get by."

Will has decided to remain with the PAPD, maybe working at the pistol range. "I have moments where I'm not happy, where there's mental anguish," he says. "But right now I'm at peace with this. I didn't live through all this just to quit."

Before 9/11, Will and Allison knew there were having a baby girl, but they had bickered over the name. Will wanted Alyssa. His wife wanted Olivia. When they found him in the rubble that night, he asked someone to call Allison and tell her to name the baby Olivia. "If I didn't make it," he says, "I didn't want her to feel guilty about going with the name she wanted."

Now Will is holding his newborn, a beautiful three-month-old with a full head of hair. She was born November 26, which is also Will's birthday. He was there at the hospital at Allison's side, crying in his wheelchair. Now he lifters her up and holds her high over his head and smiles up into her eyes. She smiles back.

Her name is Olivia.

***

The first time he went out after September 11, it was as though he'd never been on the water before. He's been a sailor ever since he was a boy in Cork, and in recent years he's kept a 26-foot fiberglass boat in a slip in the Bronx. Now, though, was unsteady, indecisive, skittish. He was reluctant to heel her over in strong winds. He was nervous about every little piece of the rigging. Whenever the boat made a shudder, his heart raced. At what seemed like his lowest moment ever, he found himself looking across Long Island Sound, struggling to comprehend the gap in the skyline.

But Ronnie kept at it. Every weekend, he was out there on the Sound. As the fall progressed the winds grew stronger and he began taking more risks. One day he was out in twenty-five-knot winds and he realized something extraordinary was happening. He was smiling.

Even the hole in the skyline ceased to prey on him as it had before. He scarcely even noticed it.

Sitting in the library of his house in Glen Ridge, I ask Ronnie if he thinks he'll ever find meaning in September 11th - the day his daughter turned eleven, the day his sister and niece smashed into a building at the very moment he was reciting the Lord's Prayer into the ear of a horribly burned stranger. "Meaning?" he says, turning the word over in his mind. "It was so horrible, so horrid, so horrendous, there's got to be goodness afterward. To me, the Trade Towers represented positive and negative. Before and after. Good and evil. Two ones."

Outside, in the broad daylight, I can see the vintage gas lamps burning up and down the street.

"For me," Ronnie says, "the meaning is the rest of my life."