It is the only place in the world where 27-year-old Robyn Brenza, who was in the World Trade Center lobby when the first plane hit, wants to be now. She left Baltimore yesterday morning, bound for her parents' house in Pittsburgh, a place where the pink-and-blue flowered wallpaper in her old bedroom hasn't changed in 20 years. "It is the only place I truly feel safe."
Although the Zaruba family will gather today in Curtis Bay for its annual reunion knowing the oldest daughter, Susan, and her husband Rick are safe, the family will not be at peace until the two come home.
They will worry about the couple stranded in Ireland the way they worried about Susan's brother, Ed, who was stranded in Jacksonville, Fla., until Wednesday. And the way they continued to worry about Susan's brother-in-law, Jay Hauhn, who was finally on his way home yesterday from Boca Raton.
As families scattered by Tuesday's tragic events begin to reunite, they do so with heavy hearts, thankful to be coming together, but mindful that thousands of other families have been torn apart.
"Yeah, I'm stuck and away from my family," Jay Hauhn said yesterday from his hotel. "But in the scheme of things, I'm small potatoes. I know I will eventually get home."
For Ronald Bacon, the journey home was completed just yesterday, when, at last, he arrived back in his Pennsylvania hometown to help his brother Nate bury their father. Though the death was unrelated to the terrorist attacks, the Bacon brothers joined the nation in its grieving. And in their sorrow, they longed to be in familiar territory.
In just a few days, the word has come to mean so much more than just a place. For the fortunate, home became Penn Station in the afternoon, the satellite parking lot at BWI, any place where people reunited.
Home for 43-year-old Rob Gensler was the opposite end of a 45 1/2 -hour drive across the country with strangers. But that long trek across his homeland proved, despite the week's catastrophe, that the American spirit is intact.
Apublic relations associate at T. Rowe Price, Robyn Brenza was in the World Trade Cener lobby preparing for a meeting when the building shuddered from the first impact. As people spilled out from the second-floor restaurants, she and a colleague stood against the walls until debris stopped falling, then fled across the street. They were heading toward the safety of Midtown when the towers fell.
And when she finally reached a pay phone, it was her parents in Pittsburgh whom she called and said: "All I want to do is be at home."
Though Baltimore was the home she returned to by train, their house in the woods is the place that will comfort her most. On Thursday, as she contemplated her journey home, she could already see it. "I see my mom at the kitchen window. I smell something baking. I see my dad in the garden."
She could see them running out to meet her. She could hear them call her "our Robyn" as they did when she was little, as they did earlier this week, on a long-distance line from Manhattan: "Thank God our Robyn is OK."
Robyn promised her mother she would stay for Sunday dinner.
Her experience has taught her "that getting home is never a hassle, and long-distance bills are not expensive, and time with family is never a waste of time because you don't know how long that time will last."
At home in Brooklyn Park, 39-year-old Jane Zaruba Hauhn waits to see her husband, her sister, her brother-in-law, her 21-year-old son, who is laying fiber optics from a ship in the Atlantic Ocean, and her relatives at today's Zaruba reunion.
How does that feel?
For many, Tuesday's events renewed their appreciation for the ties that bind.
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