The Hardest Hike
The Hardest Hike
11, 2002 I packed my backpack in Rockaway, drove in a heavy eerie fog over the bridge to Floyd Bennett Field in Brooklyn. I was to embark on a historical journey to Ground Zero. It would be 13 miles through Brooklyn, where I was born and raised and is a part of my heart.
It was also that way for my brother-in-law Kevin Conroy who perished in the North Tower of his office at Marsh. From an old Valentine cut-out, a beautiful red metallic one, I glued his picture, then with silver and blue stars created a crack throughout, to represent the hearts of the Conroy/Newman/Taylor families plus many others. Lastly I added some green stars for his Irishness.
I tied this awkward cutout to myself, then 6 miles later tied it to my backpack. It was visible to many as I marched behind NYPD & FDNY bagpipers in the first row of hikers directly behind these heroes,
The drums beat, the pipers wailed "Wake Up Brooklyn!" all the way down Flatbush Avenue. 4 a.m., each hour I checked my watch, as our goal was to reach the bridge by 6:30 a.m. Brooklyn was truly awake, as pajama clad people of all ages, races, religions, lined the avenue with candles, flags waving and enthusing Brooklyn statements. It made you keep going, pushing forward even when your legs got the noodle feeling; the N.Y. spirit moved you onward.
In great N.Y. fashion, even dogs were decorated in red, white and blue to comfort their solo masters along the route. 5 a.m. We ended up at Grand Army Plaza, where many more hikers joined the group.
All the night shifts from the NYPD, FDNY saluted their brothers along the way. Hospitals, diners, markets, people all came out to watch and remember. I marched my brother-in-law Kevin through the streets he loved and now we are ready to take the Brooklyn Bridge. The sun, now slowly rising, 9-11-02 the bridge packed with cheers and tears of all New Yorkers. Our adrenaline pumping as the 6-12, who were still standing soaked in sweat from the night's humidity, we feel a light breeze, swig water, and are ready.
All the pipers now assembling in line, begin to lead us marching like an army to reclaim our beautiful city, illuminated in the dawn. I felt like I was marching in pure defiance, as fighting Irishmen led us over the green hills of the Brooklyn Bridge. Along the way, I thought how much Kevin would have loved to be walking, and yet he was on my silly cut out of red metallic that now twinkled in the early morning sunlight.
At last it is 7:30 a.m., we are in Manhattan passing patriotic people of the business world. They are silent, watching, remembering. Everyone on the balconies, out the windows flooding the sidewalks as we march. At the moment of silence we are still assembled in front of the Manhattan courthouse. I look up to see the scales of justice, as I pray for all who have suffered from the injustice of this horrible act toward our country. We must somehow balance these scales, but God can you figure this out for the good guys?
The pipers are now led to a different direction and we the hikers all defuse in other directions. I try to find the guys I marched with. We all hug and say, "Hey, we did it!! Nice to meet you! See you next year," some said to me. Now totally feeling, I must get to a bathroom and figure out this route down to place my flowers and heart in the bottom of Ground Zero.
Thousands of people are everywhere. The noise, confusion, roaring bullhorns, cops, firemen, EMS, English Bobbies, Canadian Mounties, Australian Outback, uniforms of every place weaving in and out the crowds. Everyone rushing to find their spot for the Z-Z reading of the most dreadful roll call in U.S. history.
The Red Cross volunteers did a super job of supplying tissues, juice, water, cookies and most of all comfort. Red Cross was full of kindness in this total pit of grief. Down that long ramp leading to the circle, I was finally at the end of my journey, exhaustion taking over, I drank this lemon-lime Gatorade, and then jumped up and over into the circle. The wind swirled in every direction and kicked up gritty sand into your ears, nose, mouth and directly into your tears. Spirits of the wind spoke this very day to tell us. Yes, we see you and we feel your tears fall on this scarred ground.
People of every generation are mourning, placing their pictures and flowers into the grilled top of the circle. Toddlers collect rose petals and stones in their small hands to offer parents comfort. To the small this is a very strange sandbox. Older children cling and sob endlessly. I sit on the ground looking up and around me to the enormous hell-hole known as Ground Zero.
Slowly, I tie my heart shaped poster to the grill, as it now hangs to the wall. At this moment, I break down. I'm talking to the picture and sobbing to his listening spirit. The wind blows harder. I sit back down to pray. I fill my bottle with everything around me, dust, pebbles, rose buds to take it out, to our home where it can be safe.
I say goodbye now, and promise him we will always remember him. At the top of the ramp I turn to see if my heart is visible and sure enough it twinkles back at me. It's now 11:30 a.m. I must get home to Rockaway to pick up my children by 3 p.m.
There is a picture September 12, 2002 cover of the N.Y. Post as the President & Mrs. Bush are going down the ramp together, there is a small red dot, it's right there on the inner part of the circle!
The heart of Brooklyn twinkles in the late afternoon sun.