a piece of paper . a blue and white truck
Before the twin towers fell, paper fell.
When American Airlines Flight 11 disappeared into the north tower, a dentist eight blocks away on Church Street heard a loud noise and saw a giant cloud of paper in the sky.
Paper fluttered past the windows of those who would escape. It rode air currents across the East River to Brooklyn. It bloomed in the branches of trees.
And after the towers gave way to fire, sending an avalanche of smoke and debris roaring down the narrow canyons of lower Manhattan, paper lay thick as the dust in the streets.
This is the story of one piece of that fallen paper and the lives it represents. The nation may still be trying to fathom the meaning of the terrorist attacks a year later. But for some that meaning has been inescapable from the outset.
The neighborhoods north of the ruined towers were a ghost town on the night of Sept. 11. The streets seemed profoundly dark and deserted save for the occasional cops or soldiers on the corners.
West Street, when you got to it, came as a revelation -- blazing with light, loud and vivid, the staging ground for a recovery in its bewildering first stage. Trucks carrying everything from medical supplies to emergency lighting to bottled water lined the road, forming a corridor leading to the wreckage.
One truck stood out. Streaked and coated with dust it sat in the street, a blue and white Port Authority Police GMC that obviously had been brought out from ground zero. The windows were broken, the light bar and headlights smashed. A Styrofoam cup rested in the cup holder.
The strangest thing was the paper. It had not snagged on the truck so much as bombarded it. Hundreds of pieces jammed the grill, the headlamp sockets, the seam between the light bar and the roof. It brought to mind an old legend about tornadoes how they can drive a blade of straw into a fence post.
When you pulled a piece of the paper from the grill and unfolded it, the dust of the World Trade Center coated your hands.
I brought five scraps of paper from the truck to St. Petersburg after I left New York on Sept. 14. I placed them in a dark red folder whose lining is still clouded by that dust.
Three were fragments about retirement plans and monetary judgments and secure infrastructures. One was a cost analysis of the sprinkler system at Four World Trade Center.
And the last was a page from an employee review signed and dated June 15, 2000. Torn, singed around the edges, the employees signature half gone.
It took me a long time to really study this document. Undoubtedly the person had moved on, I thought, or never worked at the World Trade Center, or wasnt in that day. Maybe I was thinking too abstractly. Maybe I just didnt want to know.
Last month I took another look and what I found was that a strip of the review had been torn and folded under all this time. Bringing it forward completed the signature.
With a certain dread I called up a list of the Sept. 11 dead. I scrolled down name upon name until I came to the one on the paper. Joseph Calandrillo. He had been there and he had died there. He was 49 years old, an accountant, killed by terrorists.
I went back to the employee review. Its blank business language said little about his life but indicated he was good at his job. His goal was to become proficient at newly assigned accounts. His accomplishments included reconciliations on co-broker business gone direct.
But there was also this: Perfect attendance. Joseph Calandrillo got to work on time.
He had worked for a company called Reinsurance Solutions International, part of a larger company called Marsh & McLennan, with 58,000 employees worldwide. Some 1,900 of them had worked in the twin towers, on floors 48-54 of the south tower and floors 93-100 of the north tower.
Every Marsh & McLennan employee in the south tower escaped, but on the high floors of the north tower the company lost 295 people as many as got to their offices that day, said a spokeswoman.
It is now known that Flight 11 hit the north face of the north tower between the 94th and 98th floors, shearing exterior columns, partly collapsing floors and driving wall sections into the building.
The spokeswoman declined to discuss Mr. Calandrillo, citing concerns for his familys privacy. Asked where his office had been, she said, It doesnt much matter, if you were on any of those floors. It was very much the point of impact.
I called Deborah Calandrillo at her home in eastern Pennsylvania and told her about the paper with her husbands signature. She cried, instantly and for a good long while. She said she had nothing with his name on it from the site.
He was in the north tower, we believe on the 94th floor, right where the plane came in, she said. Then her voice changed, as if she were running short of breath. I just hope he didnt fall out. He was just such a sweet man, so kind, so honorable. Just a beautiful person. All he did was go to work -- he didnt deserve to die that way. None of them did. They were just beautiful American people, people from other countries too. And all they did was go to work.
Then Mrs. Calandrillo told a story about going into Manhattan on March 11 to mark the passage of six months. Other relatives she had met were going to a service at the stock exchange but something drew her to ground zero instead.
As she stood on a private viewing stand, the workers stopped what they were doing and began bringing up stretchers covered with flags. Bodies had been found and she decided to pray for them. As it turned out, her husbands remains were found that day.
I was there when they found him and I didnt even know, she said. And I had dreamt of him the night before, and that was the first time he was smiling. And here again her voice became compressed and urgent. In my dreams, she said.
We agreed to meet in New York, and I put the fragile review in a clear plastic envelope and tied the envelope shut.
Deborah Calandrillo, a tall woman with short blond hair and large blue eyes, walked across an office loft in Soho and offered her hand.
Here she volunteers for a nonprofit organization called Septembers Mission, which works out of a small bright corner near the windows.
Founded by Monica Iken, a former elementary school teacher who lost her husband, Michael, in the south tower, Septembers Mission wants to see a memorial park established at ground zero.
Sitting at a conference table, Mrs. Calandrillo pressed her left hand to the paper and shook her head slowly.
It still has that sediment on it, she said. Its just unbelievable. Its like hes reaching out to me, sending me a sign.
She believes in these signs. She sifts the memory of dreams, last conversations and coincidences for the presence of her lost husband.
Im sitting here talking to you, she said, inside my head its constantly, Joes dead. Wheres Joe? Joe died. Its like a tape recorder in my head. I wake up in the morning and before I even open my eyes I say his name.
She sleeps on his side of the bed, her head on his pillow. His sneakers are on the floor of the den where he left them. She keeps his clothes in the closet, his 91 Oldsmobile in the driveway. It keeps breaking down and she keeps having it fixed.
They met in Brooklyn in the 70s. He was a minor league pitcher in the Red Sox system who had just about come to the end of that dream. But he also had a business and accounting degree from St. Francis College in Brooklyn Heights. She had just graduated with a teaching degree from City University.
He told her he was in love with her the night they met, and they began dating. She was tall and he was taller and they made each other laugh. They married in 1979 at the Basilica of Our Lady of Perpetual Health in Brooklyn, across the street from the apartment where Deborah had grown up.
After 15 years, they moved out from Brooklyn to a development in the Pennsylvania countryside with pools and tennis courts. It was quite a change. Juniper grew wild around their house and deer would feed outside the windows. Deb, your little friends are here, Joe would say.
The tradeoff was a long commute, but they arranged their work so they only had to be in the city three or four days a week. They rode the bus or took the train or drove.
Deborah said Joe was transferred from the middle floors of the south tower to the 94th floor of the north around the holidays of the year 2000. He was hesitant at first about working so high in the air but he accepted the move. He would put his radio in the window where it got wonderful reception.
On the morning of Sept. 11 Joe and Deborah rode the bus, arriving around 8:15 at the Port Authority Terminal at 42nd Street. She would walk to her job with a law firm near Rockefeller Center and he would take the subway down to Wall Street.
He gave her a quick kiss.
Is that the best you can do? she said.
He gave her a more meaningful kiss, and then went down to the subway. Normally he would turn and wave but that morning there were too many people crowding the stairs. It was as if he vanished.
Deborah was in the cafeteria at her office in Midtown when a co-worker came in and said a plane had just flown into the World Trade Center.
Deborah began to cry. My husband works there, she said.
Her cell phone could not get through so she ran to another phone in a reception area. She called Joes number over and over reaching only a busy signal. Then someone paged her and she took the call.
Is he there? said Joes sister.
Yes, hes there, said Deborah. She could now see from her building the smoke in the sky downtown and she couldnt stop crying.
That night Deborah and Joes sister walked from hospital to hospital trying to find him. The next night they put up missing posters with Joes name and a photograph of him smiling in a sleeveless Islanders sweat shirt. They talked about how surprised he would be, when he turned up, to see his picture all over the place.
The path of Joe Calandrillos employee review from the World Trade Center to the grill of a banged-up Port Authority truck on West Street is a chain of probabilities.
Probably it was in his desk in the north tower. Probably it joined the tidal wave of steel and paper and cement driven by the towers collapse at 10:28 a.m. Probably the wave washed over the truck, smashing windows and filling the seams with paper, somewhere on the north side of the towers.
The driver of the truck is not known for sure.
Four hundred Port Authority police responded to the World Trade Center. Among the first were Officers Gregg Froehner and Alfonse Niedermeyer III and Sgt. John Flynn, commander of the Emergency Services Unit based in Jersey City.
Each arrived in a blue and white GMC Suburban in the interval between the impacts of the first and second planes. Each parked and went off to help people out of the towers. And each of their trucks suffered considerable damage when the towers came down.
Sgt. Flynn said vehicle recounts and circumstance suggest the truck on West Street had most likely been driven by himself or by Officer Niedermeyer. He said that Gregg Froehners truck was found on a parking ramp and moved to Barclay and West Broadway, where it was later flattened by the collapse of Seven World Trade Center.
Officers Froehner and Niedermeyer are believed to have died in the towers. Their bodies have not been recovered. They were among 37 Port Authority police killed.
When Joseph Calandrillos remains were found on March 11, they were not all found. According to Deborah, his head, a hand, part of a leg and one rib are at Memorial Park, a facility set up by the medical examiner at 30th Street and First Avenue to hold remains until DNA testing can be completed.
Its almost one year and I still sort of gasp, she said. Beyond the fact that hes dead, but how he died, and how hes still unburied. I, I have pieces of him, remains. I mean, who dies like this? To be dead a year later and still not to be buried, no resting place. And even though I have his remains its not all of him. Thats why ground zero, those 16 acres, mean so much to me. Because thats where he is.
After our interview, Deborah Calandrillo took the subway down to ground zero. Along the way she talked about how her beliefs had been shaken. How could God let this happen? But over the months she has come back to her Catholic faith. God didnt do this, man did.
The tattered paper with her husbands name on it is in her shoulder bag. She will put it in her dining room, which has become a memorial, with quilts and angels and drawings and flags sent from people around the country.
From the subway she makes her way to a wire fence along Liberty Street. Ground zero today is a hole in the ground six stories deep, a construction site where the subways are being rebuilt. A cranes boom reaches into the air and dump trucks roll over the gravel. Deborah grasps the wire fence with her right hand and gazes into the site. On her wrist is a silver bracelet inscribed Joseph Calandrillo WTC. She holds onto the fence and she prays for her husband and all the dead.
By Tom Drury of the Times