|Today is not the anniversary. It is just one of the 364 other days of the
year on which this city remembers. The memory is in the shaded area on the revised maps of New York; in
the name of the E train's last stop in Manhattan; in the skyline. It is in the shorthand language that we
share: north tower; Windows on the World; Aon Corp. This language of ours is so immediately understood
that numbers speak volumes: 8:46; 110; 343. Next month the city will mark the second anniversary with a
ceremony at the site. There will be the requisite silent pauses and the reading aloud of 2,792 names by
children, as if in sad echo of all those parents calling for their kids to come home now, time for dinner.
In truth, every day in New York is the anniversary. The people of the city say so, in the subtlest ways.
You hear them as you travel the city streets. You visit the Our Lady of Mount Carmel shrine on Staten
Island, where tucked into the intricate stonework is a Mass card for a woman named Peggy; "She was
in the restaurant on top," is all that the caretaker needs to say. You talk to some Mexican immigrants in
the Bronx about their dreams, and out of the blue, one of the men mentions the thing that happened
down there. "We'll never get it back again," he says. Even a casual conversation with a man on the
East Side, about a subject as whimsical as his talent for whistling, leads to the revelation that his wife
escaped from the 65th floor of the south tower just moments before it collapsed. Because you speak
this new language, you nod. And the conversation returns to whistling.
You visit Engine Company 226, a one-rig firehouse in Boerum Hill, Brooklyn, that took a big hit that day.
It lost three of its firefighters and a lieutenant from another company who worked his last shift with them.
Also among the 343 firefighters killedthere is that numberwere two others who had once
spent time at Engine 226. After the shock eased a little, the men of Engine 226 decided to honor their
dead. Using their carpentry skills, they reconfigured their small space to make room for four lockers
encased in glass: one each for Lt. Robert Wallace and Firefighters David DeRubbio, Brian McAleese,
and Stanley Smagala. "We're going to put their helmets and their turnout coats in there, with their
names on the lockers," explains Capt. Bill Carew, a childhood friend of yours. "And we're going to
have shelves for pictures and flowers and Christmas cards that their families can take out and change."
"It's always there," your friend adds. The "it" is understood.
Five days ago, the medical examiner's office announced the positive identification of three more victims:
Bryan Bennett, 25, who had just signed up for piano lessons at the New School; Michelle Titolo, 34, who
as a child used to dance with her older sister to disco music; and Jeremiah Ahern, 74, who years ago had
met the woman he would marry at a dance. Using more of those numbers that are integral to the city's
new language, the medical examiner also announced that it had lowered the total of those whose remains
have not been identified to 1,271. That is 46 percent of all killed, nearly 23 months after the catastrophe.
The announcement reminds you that the medical examiner's office, on the East Side, may be the one place
where that day remains most vivid. Near its back entrance there still looms the massive white tent that shields
from everyday view the refrigerated trailers filled with thousands of human remains, and the portable building
in which remains are being dried and preserved. This temporary place, called Memorial Park, has changed a
lot since its hasty establishment in those first chaotic days. The trailers still hum, and the air still smells faintly
of death. But the city has transformed part of the tent into a place for private reflection, with candles, pews,
and a softly burbling fountain. Soot from the Franklin D. Roosevelt Drive constantly seeps in, settling over
photographs and stuffed animals. Shiya Ribowsky, a deputy director at the medical examiner's office, takes
tissues meant for tears and wipes the dust from an oversized book in which family members have recorded
messages to those they have lost. You flip through the entries. Aug. 10: "We miss you desperately." Aug. 9:
"Dear son, God bless you." Aug. 6: "You will always be in the hearts of your friends." July 31: "Our lives are
forever changed." In this city, every day is the anniversary.