September 05, 2006


Five years ago I participated in my first 10k race on Labor Day. It was also my first major practice with Tom, the running buddy assigned to me by The Achilles Track Team, whom I was to spot for. Tom was blind, and like me loved running, even though we weren't very fast. He had trained me on how to run tethered to him and also taught me how to listen to his breathing as a way to know how he was doing in a run without asking and wasting precious energy and time. Tom explained it was the best way to identify the first signs of trouble. That Labor Day, all my friends were there to cheer me on. It had been a high point for all of us, because we were all finally ready to compete in the NYC Marathon that fall.

I used that listening technique many times when running with my best friends. It really gave me insight into how they were feeling during a run. For years we had worked out together, but our running together gave us a closeness and a feel for each other that was uncanny. For the first time few words needed to be exchanged between us.

The morning after Labor Day we were all supposed to meet early at the gym to do a quick 5 mile run along the Batter Park City Waterfront that goes past the World Trade Center, but my plans changed.

When Mike called me later that morning he was on the 72nd floor of the North Tower. I had been on the phone with him for about 15 min. let him know what was going on with the South Tower when Larry called and asked me to conference him in on the call. We'd done that a thousand times on Fridays or Saturday afternoons when no one could agree on what we were doing that evening. This time it was for a different reason.

The FDNY radios were not functioning properly and it was total chaos inside the towers, so this time I was conferencing them in so they could communicate with each other. I listened silently and stood by as I'd done countless times during impromptu rescues. That day my role was once again as witness and bystander, but I was to be a messenger also. I interrupted only once to let them know the Pentagon had been hit and we all grew silent as their suspicions were now confirmed - we were under attack. Knowing they had walked into a "tinder box" they gave me messages and information for their families in the event they didn't make it out alive.

While Mike and Larry spoke, I heard their labored breathing from the strain of heavy equipment and acrid smoke getting through their masks. They continued going up the narrow smoke filled staircases in full gear, in spite of the rising temperatures and enveloping darkness. Hearing the loud creaks from the straining weight of the floors above, I began to panic. I broke in, calling out Mike's name. We'd known each other for so long that he knew what I was about to say, to ask of him.

"Don't say it, Michele. I know what you're going to ask, and you know we can't turn back now. So I clutched my cell phone, closed my eyes, and hung my head in prayer. A few times I bit down hard on my lips knowing that anything I said or any sound I made would only distract them and force them to talk and waste precious oxygen.

So instead, I listened... silently and intently, as Larry & MIke communicated with each other in quick short words. I listened as they gave commands to civilians on what to do. I listened as they reassured people that were frightened and choking on acrid smoke, that they would be fine as long they continued going down. I listened as they continued to climb through the thick dense darkness that enveloped them, and grew hotter and more difficult with each step they took. And in my silence, with my closed eyes, I had been with them as I had many times before, and was privy once again to the sounds of their breaths.

As the creaking sounds grew louder, everyone came to a standstill and their voices became quieter. I held my breath, as I listened to Mike and Larry's labored breathing. Everyone had stopped to listen to the sounds above them. Mike and Larry remained quiet even as the rumble of thunder from the upper floors began giving way. There was no panic, no screams, no frantic yells for help; there was only Mike's voice whispering a "Dear God" before the sounds of loud crashing ended in an abysmal silence that reverberates in my soul to this day.

It's taken a long time for me to break that silence. It's still not easy to write about it. And I still can't about it. But for some time now, this blog has helped me utter the first innermost sounds since that day. I remain hopeful that someday I'll be able to find my full voice again. Till that happens, these small whispers of pain will have to be the small breaths that open a closed soul to let the airy light in.

Posted by Michele at September 5, 2006 12:29 PM | TrackBack

{{{HUGS}}} to you. Even your whispers are powerful. As I sit here crying and barely able to swallow because my throat is so tight... I wasn't there, I didn't know any of them, yet it hurts me to the very core of my being. I can not imagine your pain. That you are able to voice even some of this is just amazing.

Posted by: Teresa at September 5, 2006 02:29 PM

thank you

Posted by: RSM at September 5, 2006 06:24 PM

No words to offer, except to thank you for sharing. The tears flow for those I would not know but for your writing.

Posted by: jck at September 5, 2006 07:31 PM

It's good that you wrote this. You're on your way out of the darkness.

Posted by: Jim - PRS at September 5, 2006 08:46 PM

I'm so sorry for you and your friends. My heart goes out to you. I can't imagine being on that phone. Darn.

Posted by: toni at September 5, 2006 08:59 PM

You know I have you in my thoughts and prayers daily. But this time of year, especially, I know it's sooo hard. And I wish I could do more than tell you I care. More than tell you I'm so sorry. But know - I mean it from the bottom of my heart.

Posted by: Tammi at September 5, 2006 10:51 PM

You've shared your pain, but you've also shared their (and your's) courage and compassion.

Posted by: Ted at September 6, 2006 10:54 AM


Posted by: Quality Weenie at September 6, 2006 11:30 AM

Love and thoughts to you.

Posted by: oddybobo at September 6, 2006 12:52 PM

Oh my... Thank you for sharing this. I cannot even begin to imagine the depth of your courage and that of your friends.

And I do so hope that your healing continues...

Posted by: Richmond at September 6, 2006 01:36 PM

I am speechless...

Posted by: Bou at September 6, 2006 03:49 PM

... what Jimbo said....

Posted by: Eric at September 6, 2006 04:38 PM

Every year about this time I get this uneasy feeling deep in my soul.. And then I read these stories and I can only imagine what you and so many others are going through.To know the people that were there that day, The Friends and Family members of so many lost lives would have to be so hard. I didn't know one soul there , but I feel like I knew them all.. I feel the pain of losing them too, though mine may not be as intense as yours, the pain is real.
May God Bless You and Comfort You.. And All the others that lost someone that aweful day !!!

Posted by: Jeanne at September 7, 2006 07:52 AM

My thoughts and prayers are with you and their families.

Posted by: Tink at September 8, 2006 11:03 AM

That has to be one of the most powerful thins I've read. I don't know what to say...

Posted by: Jody at September 10, 2006 07:11 AM

I remember.
In awe.
Who said -
"You hurry outside, let us handle this."
To the Mikes and Larry's of this world let me pledge -

Posted by: Andrea at September 10, 2006 12:10 PM

Thank you for sharing your experience. I cannot imagine...but I will not forget.

Posted by: Mrs_Who at September 10, 2006 01:22 PM

*hugs* thank you for sharing what is so difficult to say.

Posted by: Sticks at September 10, 2006 03:38 PM

Thank You for sharing so personal an experience. Please, everyone, Do Not Ever Forget.

Posted by: excitedVulcan at September 10, 2006 10:11 PM

I don't have the words to express how reading this made me feel.

Posted by: wRitErsbLock at September 11, 2006 07:31 AM

Oh my God. I am so sorry.

Never forget.

Posted by: Maggie45 at September 11, 2006 08:17 AM

Thank you for sharing. God bless you and all the Mikes and Larrys who perished that day. Bless their families and friends. WE WILL NEVER FORGET.

Posted by: Mary at September 11, 2006 12:25 PM

This is perhaps one of the most courageous and humble posts I've read today. And there are too many to count. Even beyond the 2,996 project tributes. Mike and Larry are forever beyond our reach. All that remains is their memory. To a certain extent they have given us a second chance at living because they gave us theirs.

So what should we do with that second chance? Looking at ourselves in the mirror is a good start. Mike and Larry have left us with an unspeakable legacy as evidenced by the pain we have seen courageously portrayed here. Ours is not to ask what would we have done that day. Ours is to ask what we can do within ourselves to make the lives of those around us a little easier. Perhaps thinking in terms of what kind of legacy we would like to leave behind if we had to leave suddenly as they did. Let that answer guide your next step.

Michele, I think that would be a wonderful way for us all to help you honor your precious friends Mike and Larry. A life well lived can help to ease the pain of your loss. We cannot walk in your shoes but we can look at ourselves in the mirror and ask the question.

God Bless you and Keep You.

Posted by: FlooseMan Dave at September 11, 2006 01:49 PM

Truly profound. Your friends laid down their lives for others.God bless their souls,God comfort their families.

Posted by: Barbara at September 11, 2006 03:32 PM

unreal. i am so sorry for the loss of your friends. thank you and bless you.

Posted by: shoe at September 11, 2006 08:49 PM

Manual Trackback

Posted by: tree hugging sister at September 11, 2006 09:30 PM

"No Greater Love.... "

To our Heroes of 9/11, we will never forget.

You are in our prayers, our thoughts and I will teach the future generations of your sacrifice.
Thank you.

Posted by: Kaycey at September 12, 2006 12:18 AM

Thank you. Thank you for sharing such a personal story. I have been moved to tears. I will never forget.

Posted by: Cathy at September 12, 2006 01:13 AM

God Bless you, the memory of your loved ones and colleagues will never fade -- never fade.

Posted by: MentalFloss at September 12, 2006 04:02 AM

Thanks for sharing Michele. I can't imagine what you went through on that call, but you were helping your beloved friends when they needed it most; like them, you answered the call. We would all be blessed to have a friend like you.

Posted by: Mr. Bingley at September 12, 2006 06:01 AM

WOW!. Thank you for posting this. It truly is the most meaningful post I have read from 9/11. As a volunteer firefighter I say Thank You for facilitating the communication between these two men I am sure it was a great comfort to them.

We will never forget those who gave all on this fateful day 5 years ago.


Posted by: Chuck at September 12, 2006 10:52 AM

Michele, this is one of the most beautiful things I have ever read (and I read a lot). Could I possibly have your permission to re-post it with full attribution and a link to Letters From NYC?

Thank you very much for having the courage to open your heart this way. I am so very sorry for your loss.

Posted by: Yvette at September 12, 2006 01:24 PM

This leaves breathless & in tears.

Posted by: Jean at September 13, 2006 01:13 AM

These men did great work! God bless them!

Posted by: Ellen at September 13, 2006 01:16 AM