Map and photo by Sonja Sharp
On the sweaty September morning I went to visit Doris Torres and Angel Juarbe, the weather was warm and the skies as eerily clear and blue as the day they were killed. Except it's Sunday, not Tuesday, and this is not Manhattan but the Bronx. At the corner of Doris Torres Way and Angel Luis Juarbe Jr. Avenue in the Melrose section of the South Bronx, mostly everyone appeared already drunk.
Like many of New York's sacred dead, Angel Luis Juarbe Jr. was a firefighter. Doris Torres was an office worker. Both died 13 years ago this week, in the aftermath of the terror attacks of September 11, 2001. Both names haunt New York City's urban landscape in quasi-official limbo, on the city's records but not its maps, sometimes on its street signs, clinging to the periphery of its collective memory. Not quite forgotten—to forget them would be blasphemous—but not really remembered either.
By all rights, the opposite should be true: Juarbe and Torres number among more than 400 of the nearly 3000 9/11 dead whose names are not only on carved on the popular Downtown Manhattan site where their lives were cut short, but cemented onto honorary stretches of concrete where those lives were once conducted, ghost streets like theirs scattered across the five boroughs. Most are forlorn byways on forgotten edges of the city where no tourist has ever intentionally stopped to pay respects.
Staten Island alone is home to almost 200 of them.
Salman Hamdani Way EMT, NYPD Cadet 9-11-01 is a random, lonely corner of a brick-and-leaf lined maze of residential streets in deepest Flushing. 9/11/01 Hero – Abe (Averemel) Zelmanowitz Way is the western edge of an overgrown traffic circle on Kings Highway, rededicated in 2007 with someone else's name on the plaque. A few people remember the story of how he sacrificed his life to stay by the side of his paraplegic colleague. His family must live right here, they muse.
"I remember reading about him," said former neighbor Elise Matis, who stopped in the turnabout to chat with a friend early Sunday. "It's tragic," she conceded, but that was then. "Everybody's involved in their own lives now."
A group of 14-year-olds folding their underwear together inside the Laundromat at 147th Street and Wales Avenue in the Bronx agree, it was sad. Very sad. Lots of people died or whatever. We were just born, they say, and wave their boxer briefs like handkerchiefs against the window on Doris Torres Way toward the murals of Firefighter Angel Luis Juarbe Jr.
"I think about it every day," said 25-year-old Zev between long, slow sips from a bottle of beer, one hand on the stroller where her three-year-old son napped while the clothes spun in the wash. "I remember I was in class [at a vocational school on Wall Street] and I saw people running away covered in ash. Human ash," she added, as an afterthought.
She'd never heard of Doris Torres, and only knew Angel Juarbe from his mural.
Rosie Perez, 43, knew Angel better, and wanted her picture taken with the neighborhood's fallen hero, of whom there are two adjacent murals. In one, a square-jawed firefighter backed by the Statue of Liberty and a translucent American flag overlook a fire engine careening down a suburban street toward the smoldering World Trade Center, a billboard for the musical Stomp further orienting us to the New York of the early aughts. In the other, a baby-faced young man smiles from beneath a black firefighter's helmet like the one he undoubtedly wore when he charged into the wreckage 13 years ago.
Rosie's sweat smelled like gin. She posed: chin down, hip out. I asked whether she also knew Doris Torres, who also died heroically in the aftermath of 9/11, on whose honorary street we were technically standing. She ran back to her floor to help her co-workers and later succumbed to severe burns. Rosie stared at me blankly. I pointed to the street sign.
"Angel and I even have the same birthday," she replied, pulling me back toward the mural. "We grew up together."
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