|by Debbie Bailey|
|Jason Riley was a firefighter out of Engine 57 in Sea Bright, New Jersey. When the call for help came out of lower Manhattan, Jason was one of the first to arrive on the scene. The news had reported that two airplanes had crashed into the Twin Towers. Jason watched the footage on the station house television in total disbelief and shock. He was determined to help his fellow firefighters in this crisis. |
He turned to his partners and simply said, "I'm going."
The first time he saw Jessica, she was laying amidst the debris and rubble in what was officially now known as Ground Zero. She was battered and bleeding and had bad cuts and contusions all over her face and body. Like everyone else he came across, she was completely covered in dust and soot.
"It's amazing she made it out alive," another firefighter told him as they carefully got her out to safety. "She went back into Tower One to help get other people out. Somebody must have been watching over her."
Jason looked down at this brave, courageous woman. She appeared to be about 25 and seemed to be in good spirits despite her situation. She was trying desperately to be brave and that not only made his job easier but it also made him admire her. She was attractive despite her outward appearance. There was something to be said about a battered, bleeding woman who could still give him a smile.
He finally noticed the bone that was sticking out of her left arm.
She needs medical attention immediately, he thought to himself. That arm looks pretty bad.
It was a redundant thought. It was obvious that she needed to see a doctor but Jason suddenly felt protective of her. She had complete control of her facilities and wasn't in shock despite everything that had happened. But she was hurt pretty bad and Jason wanted her to get help as soon as possible. He helped to get her to an ambulance that would in turn take her to St. Vincents Hospital.
He went back to Ground Zero to help with the rescue efforts but his thoughts kept going back to the woman with the severe arm injury.
Later on, after hours and hours of volunteering his services and time, Jason couldn't take it anymore. He needed to find out how she had fared. He decided to take a much needed break and go to the hospital himself.
Much to his surprise and by some small miracle, he was able to locate her right away.
Her arm was in a heavy cast and she had bandages over some of the more severe cuts on her face. She was still in the emergency room lying on a bed with a grim look on her face. She had an IV hooked into her other arm. Jason was taken back for a moment. She had been cleaned of the blood and dust and now he could see her clearly for the first time.
He liked what he saw. He liked it very much. She had long, lovely chesnut colored hair and big, doe-like brown eyes.
He walked up to her with a smile on his face. "Hi. I don't know if you remember me."
She looked up at him. "Of course I remember you." Her voice was weak. "You saved my life. I'd shake hands with you but it's a little hard for me at the moment."
He was awed that she appeared to be in good spirits. "I understand," he told her. "How are you feeling?"
She blinked back sudden tears. "I'm okay. There are people much worse off than I am and at least I'm still alive. I need to find my father. I was visiting him at work when this happened. Do you think you could help me look for him?"
"Of course. I'd be more than happy to. Tell me his name, where he worked and give me a physical description and I'll do anything I can."
"Thank you." Tears slid down her cheeks. "I can't tell you how much I appreciate this."
"I'm just glad you're all right. I was worried about you."
"You're so brave to have saved me like that." She reached her good arm out to him to take his hand.
"You're the brave one." He squeezed her hand gently. "You ran back into the building to help get other people out. That was an amazing thing to do."
"Anyone would have done it."
"No." He shook his head. "I don't think so."
"My name is Jessica, by the way."
"It's nice to meet you, Jessica by the way." He grinned at her. "My name is Jason Riley."
"Jason Riley," she repeated softly. "Please find my father for me, Jason Riley. His name is Tom Morrison. He works for Morgan Stanley. He's about six feet tall, two hundred pounds. He has short dark hair and brown eyes. He's wearing a navy blue suit with a maroon tie."
"I'll do my best to find him, I promise." He squeezed her hand again. "You take care now."
"Please be careful," she begged him. "Please take care of yourself."
"I will," he said softly. "I promise." He was about to leave but he suddenly turned back to her. "How long will you be here?"
"I'm not too sure," she admitted. "Why?"
"I'll come back to visit you."
"You don't have to do that. I know you're busy and..."
"I want to," he told her. "I want to see you again. Besides, I'll have to let you know when I find your dad."
She noticed and appreciated the fact that he said "when" and not "if".
She suddenly began to cry. "Please find him for me. He's all I have left. My mother was killed in the '93 bombing and I don't think I could bear to lose him too. Please, Jason, promise me you'll find him."
"I promise. I'll do everything I can." He bent down to kiss her on the cheek. "I never make a promise I can't keep. Keep your chin up, Jessica. I'll come back again." Jason was horrified to know that her life had been altered by two disgusting acts of terrorism.
But when two days passed, Jessica knew that Jason couldn't possibly keep his promise. She knew that her father was among the many, many people who were missing. She was sure that he was dead. She lay in her hospital bed and cried for her loss as well as for all the other people who had lost too in this disaster. And she prayed to God for strength and courage and for Jason's safety.
Jason worked non-stop in Ground Zero around the clock determined to find Tom Morrison. He kept thinking about Jessica and it was the hope in those beautiful brown eyes of hers that kept him going. He took a break here and there for a sip of water or Gatorade but he worked with a dogged determination that was almost inhuman.
Finally, he could no longer take it. He fell from exhaustion and tears slid down his dust caked cheeks.
"Hey." A fellow firefighter out of Brooklyn put his arms around him. "You okay, buddy? Come on, let's get you to a hospital."
"No!" Jason shook his head as he wept. "I have to find somebody. I just have to. I promised Jessica that I'd find her father and I can't break her heart. I just can't."
Jason collapsed into a faint and when he woke up, he was lying on a stretcher out on the street with an oxygen mask over his face.
He tried to sit up but a handsome, young doctor held him down.
"Careful, young man. You need to rest."
Jason knew that he wouldn't be of any help to Jessica if he got sick himself so he was determined to listen to the doctor. He wanted to get his strength back so that he could get down to Ground Zero again and continue his search for Tom Morrison.
It was four and one half days after the towers had crumbled and once again, Jason was back down there digging through the rubble. He was part of a bucket brigade and he was seeing things there that no human being should ever have to see. His thoughts kept returning to Jessica and he wanted so desperately to go back and visit her. Still, he didn't want to go back until he had word of her father's whereabouts.
And on that miserable rainy Friday morning after tragedy had struck the nation, Jason found Tom Morrison.
He was barely alive but breathing. Jason was so happy to see him that he broke down and wept. Jessica's father had his wallet in the inside pocket of his suit jacket and there were his drivers license, credit cards, social security card, all his id's and all in the name of Thomas Morrison.
He was immediately rushed to the hospital, only one of a very small group of lucky survivors. New York had lost many of her children in this tragedy and Jason knew that this horrible ordeal would stay with him for the rest of his life.
He stopped working again to go visit Jessica at the hospital and to let her know that her father was alive.
"Jessica! Jessica! We found your dad!" he told her as he came into her room at the hospital. She'd finally been admitted into a semi private room at St. Vincents.
"Oh Jason." She wept as he held her close to him. "Thank you. Thank you so much! All I kept doing was praying for your safety and that you would find my father for me. How can I ever thank you for what you've done?"
"You just did," he told her as he gently touched her lovely face. "You just did."
"How is he? Is he hurt bad?"
Jason nodded. "He sustained a lot of injuries but the doctor said he'll pull through. He may never be able to walk again though."
Tears slid down her face and she shook her head. "As long as he's alive. I'll take care of him. I don't care. As long as he's alive. Is he here now?"
"He's downstairs getting treated. He was one of the very few people that we found alive in the wreckage so far."
"Oh God." She shook her head sadly. "So many people...all those poor families. It's so sad. I've been following it on the television. Why did this happen? Why?"
"I don't know," he said softly. "I don't know."
She looked into his green eyes, noticing the several day's worth of stubble on his handsome face. "I hope you didn't lose anyone that you know."
He nodded. "A few of my buddies are gone. We came up from Sea Bright to help out and now they're gone."
"I'm so sorry," she said as she held him close to her with her one good arm. "I'm so sorry."
"I know you are." Tears spilled down his cheeks. "I appreciate it but they're heroes for what they did and I'll never forget that."
"You're a hero too, Jason and I'll never forget what you did for me. You're my hero."
"I told you that I never make a promise I can't keep."
She touched his handsome face, noticing the cuts and scrapes that blemished his skin. "You're hurt too."
"It's nothing. I'm fine," he assured her. "At least I'm still standing here."
"Thank God for that. You look so tired. Can I do anything for you? I know it's hard considering my present condition but I could give you a one handed back massage."
He smiled. "Save your energy and concentrate on getting better so that I can take you out to dinner when this is all over."
She gave him a surprised look. "Dinner? Are you asking me out on a date?"
"Yes, I am. You don't have a boyfriend, do you?"
She shook her head. "No, I don't." She reached over to her nightstand and opened the top drawer. She took out her purse which had been wrapped around her body when the tragedy occurred.
"What are you doing? Do you need something?"
"My house key. I want you to go to my house and take a nice, long hot shower. Then I want you to cook yourself a nice, hot meal. There's plenty of food there. Then I want you to take a nice, long nap in my bed. Just take it easy and rest for awhile."
He was moved by her generousity. "That's so kind of you but I can't accept."
"Of course you can. I want you to. I insist. And take some of your friends with you too. Please, Jason. You look exhausted and you need to take care of yourself. Will you do this for me?"
He couldn't resist her no matter how hard he tried. There was just something about this wonderful, kind woman that got to him like nobody else ever did before.
"Promise?" she asked.
He grinned at her. "I promise. Thank you. I mean that from the bottom of my heart. You're so kind and thoughtful. I can't believe with all this tragedy going on that you can smile at me like that. Thinking about you has gotten me through this. You've given me so much strength and courage. It's amazing that some guy hasn't swept you off of your feet yet."
"You did the day you rescued me."
He kissed her then. It was a light, gentle kiss on the lips but there was so much hope and promise in that kiss.
"There's so much that still has to be done," he told her. "People's lives have been changed forever by this but I know that we can get through it. When it's all over, I want to be with you, Jessica. I want to help you take care of your father and I want to take care of you most of all."
"I want to take care of you too, Jason."
And with that promise, came a beacon of hope and light as powerful as the torch from Lady Liberty. She has stood in New York Harbor for years signaling hope and freedom and as Jessica and Jason knew, there was hope and freedom in all of this senseless loss. A city, an entire nation, had come together, strangers now friends, brothers and sisters as one.
They held each other long into the night, basking in that hopeful ray of light, united as one now too.