Bradley Walz, 13, has two photographs on his bedside table, across the room from his baseball collection. In one his father, Jeffrey, who was a New York City fireman, is holding him as a newborn, kissing his forehead. In the other, taken three years later, he is perched on his dad’s shoulders during a 2001 trip to Disneyland. Bradley says he remembers that trip, though the more time goes by, the less Bradley can remember his dad, who would have been 47 years old this year. “I remember, sometimes, I would jump on his belly. It was like a trampoline.”
Bradley wanted to become a fireman likes his dad and granddad, but today he dreams of becoming a Navy SEAL, like the ones who got bin Laden. “They’re pretty badass,” he says. He was up late watching the Mets-Phillies game, when he learned about bin Laden’s killing—because suddenly everyone in the crowd started cheering. The next day, he and his friends spent the day imagining all the ways they would have tortured bin Laden before killing him. Now, bin Laden is where he belongs, says Bradley: “In hell.”
On 9/11, Bradley was in day care, and his parents in the city. His mother, Rani, worked at a law firm as an accountant. When she got to her office, she found that her husband had left a message on her voicemail just before his fire company left for the World Trade Center. “He said, ‘I don’t know if you heard what happened, but I’m not going to be able to talk to you for a long time. I love you both very much.’ He knew the magnitude, because he never said ‘I love you’ when he left a message. Ever.”
“When the second tower went down, I couldn’t breathe. I gasped for air. His breath went; my breath went.” The firehouse lost 10 of its 14 members who responded that day. Only Jeffrey’s helmet was recovered.
At the funeral service, they buried a box containing ties given him on Father’s Day and some of Bradley’s drawings. “I thought at the time it would be nice for Bradley to have a place to go.” He wore his dad’s watch at his bar mitzvah, and collected sports gear to donate to kids at a burn unit.
Today they live in Ardsley, having moved from Tuckahoe. Bradley and Rani believe that Jeffrey may be watching over them. They talk to him regularly, on a website called Legacy.com, where people can leave messages for 9/11 victims. Bradley used to dictate his thoughts to his mom, who’d type them in, but now he’s old enough to type them himself, messages like: “Dear Daddy, I miss you so much. Life is not the same without you. I am sorry that you can’t come back. If I was the richest man on earth, if I could have you back I would trade all that money for you. I need you so much! Love, Bradley.”
As the 10th anniversary approaches, they’ll go to The Rising and release balloons, which will float heavenward, up to where Jeffrey is watching over them.