A Will To Change (Hope)

By: Beth Rinyu

I was twenty-one years old and thought I knew everything there was to know about life…until September 11, 2001. It was my second day on the job as a New York City firefighter, a day that would forever change me on the inside. It was the first time that I actually thought my old man had been right. I should have gone to law school like my brother, instead of chasing fires and women.

As the years passed, I tried to focus on the lives that were saved on that day, and not the countless ones that were lost. So many sad and tragic stories came from that horrible event, but the one that remained with me all these years later was that of a man and his teenage daughter that Danny, another firefighter and my mentor, and I met in the stairwell on the eighteenth floor of the South Tower. He was guiding his daughter, who was trying her best to walk down the crowded stairwell with the cast that was on her leg. I noticed immediately that he was having a hard time breathing. The thickening smoke and smell of fumes was becoming unbearable.

“Are you okay?” Danny asked him.

“I can’t breathe,” he answered, gasping for air. His daughter clung tightly to his arm, not wanting to leave his side. She was trembling, sobbing uncontrollably. Danny removed his oxygen tank to try and help the man breathe.

“Please, take my daughter and get her to safety,” the man begged.

“Will, get her out of here!” Danny shouted. “I’m going to give him some more oxygen to help him out with his breathing.”

“No, Daddy, I'm not leaving you!” she cried, grasping onto him even tighter.

His deep brown eyes stared into mine, pleading with his whole heart. At that moment, I realized that I was looking into the eyes of a man who may have been making his last request, not knowing if he was going to make it out of there alive. I pried her arms from his arm while she fought me with everything she had.

“No!” she shouted with tears rolling down her face. “I'm not leaving my father!”

“Listen to me, Bree. Please, just go with this fireman and I’ll meet you outside.” His words were barely audible through his labored breathing.

She hugged him tightly. “I love you, Daddy. I love you more than anything.”

“I love you, too, little bumble bee.”

She kissed him softly on his cheek, then loosened her grip from his arm. When she went to stand up, her one good leg gave out. I wrapped her arm around my neck, allowing her to bear her weight on me to help her get down the stairs. I turned around one last time, looking into her father's tear-filled eyes.

Thank you, he mouthed.

I guided her down the crowded stairwell, trying to calm her down by having a conversation with her, as if everything were normal. She was seventeen, broke her leg two weeks ago when she fell from her bike, and the only reason she was here this morning was because she had left her homework in her dad’s office the night before. She told me all about her dog and how she just wanted to get home and give him a hug. I found that keeping her talking and diverting her attention from the total chaos around her was comforting her a bit and, in a strange way, it was helping me to cope with the situation a little bit better, too. I could tell she was in pain with her leg, so somewhere around the tenth floor, I picked her up and carried her.

Thirty minutes later, we finally made it outside, granting her father's wish. I put her down and wrapped her arm around my neck once again, leading her across the chaotic street and as far away from the building as possible. We walked a few blocks through the droves of people until I finally felt like she was out of harm’s way. “Listen to me!” I shouted as she stared blankly into space. I could tell she was in shock and I felt bad leaving her, but I knew that there were so many others still inside that needed help. “Listen to me!” I repeated. She finally looked at me with tear-filled eyes. “I need you to try and get as far -.”

A loud roar and shrill screams broke my thoughts as I looked up, not believing what I was witnessing. The entire tower came crumbling down in a matter of seconds. “No!” the girl screamed as she watched in horror. I pulled her into me and buried her face into my chest. I wanted to shield her from the dust that was beginning to swallow us up and also prevent her from watching what was taking place, knowing that her dad was still inside.

Her father and Danny never came out of the building that day, and if it wasn’t for a stranger named Bree, I knew that I wouldn’t have, either. The look in her dad’s eyes would be something that would remain in my head and my heart for the rest of my life. Because of that day, I realized that life can change in an instant so you may as well enjoy it while you’re here. Those were words that I chose to live by every day since.

I lifted my head from the pillow, feeling like I had been run over by a freight train. Clearly, this was my body's way of telling me that I was getting too old to be partying this way, but I was going to ignore it for as long as I could. I knew better than anyone that you only live once so you may as well make it memorable. Once my eyes focused, I realized I was in Delia's bed, the woman I had sworn myself away from. But, after my eighth shot of Jack and one too many beers, I guess I had thrown all sense of reasoning out the window. I would have much rather been waking up next to that cute little waitress who had been flirting with me all night.

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