Tuesday, March 19, 2002

After 6 months, last hope disappears

Lost friend's remains found in Ground Zero ruins

Six months later, a little hope remained, buried deep inside.

While paging through the New York Post Friday, a tiny story at the bottom of page seven made me flinch and stare.

The headline read, "More WTC dead ID'd."

My eyes scanned the list. And once again, a lost friend remained missing.

Since Sept. 11, I've purchased the Post every day and read every inch of every page to make sure not to miss the newest names unearthed from that dwindling pile of terrible rubble.

Fourteen days after the attacks, I wrote a column paying respect to a college friend and fraternity brother who seemed to bypass death and automatically ascend into memory.

David Scott Suarez worked unaware, on the 99th floor of the South Tower, as terrorists changed the world.

On that day, he joined the list of the "missing."

Family, friends and co-workers held a memorial service without a casket - a funeral without a body.

Six months and four days later, the optimistic parts of my brain and heart dreamed he picked up and left instead of showing up for work.

I imagined that Dave vanished, disgusted and fed up with the attacks. I pictured him on a beach, wearing shades and sipping a drink.

But as a partial realist, I knew that he would never do that - he would never run away.

Then last week, the medical examiner confirmed the following dead: Joseph Angelini Jr., 38, Kevin W. Donnelly, 42, Michael Haub, 34, and Michael Henry Wayne, 38.

But not Dave.

Angelini, a firefighter with FDNY's Ladder No. 4, died with his father that maddening Tuesday morning.

Workers found the body of Angelini Sr., 63, a fellow firefighter with Rescue 1, a week after the attacks. The Angelini family will now hold its second funeral.

But once again, I told myself, "It's still not real."

It all seemed to be winding down - the pain, the stress, the anger toward invisible enemies - for a second, they all retreated back. They hid behind that imaginary paradise.

The stories about discovered remains grow shorter every day.

The papers list fewer names, and reveal fewer families forced to take cruel doses of reality - loved ones found - deaths "confirmed."

For some reason, I missed Saturday's New York Post.

I didn't think it mattered. I never thought they'd find Dave.

He was so high in the building.

It became easier to believe he just disappeared. Those buildings were so tall, the distance to heaven seemed shorter than the length to the ground.

Monday night, working late, I checked my e-mail.

Another friend, Dave's roommate, wanted to let everybody know.

"Late Friday night, Dave was found at the WTC site and he has since been identified by Mr. Suarez," Mike Eskra wrote. "There is no word on when he will be released and come home, but Mr. and Mrs. Suarez anticipate a small burial service when that time does come. I will keep you informed."

Mike's usually serious - intelligent and restrained.

But I imagine his fingers trembled as they typed every letter of that message.

I know my knuckles turned white.

I stared at the monitor harder than I stared at the recovery site while visiting the World Trade Center platform last month. The horror still seemed like a movie then.

Dave's name, a small reminder immortalized in writing, remained on the list of the "missing" - the "missing," not the "dead."

Maybe he ran away - there was still a chance.

Standing there, freezing, the wind ripping through the altered New York landscape, it didn't seem like he was buried less than 100 yards away.

I could have never imagined that.

Now his family knows for sure. We all know for sure.

But is it easier? Will this help heal the wounds?

I think I'll refuse to abandon the fantasy.

And Dave will forever lounge on that sandy beach, where he deserves to relax, soaking up rays and smiling at girls.

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