A decade of loss
As he stood in a briefing room with the other Marines, all of them crammed in close to the screen, he saw wide eyes, mouths hanging open, heard whispers of disbelief. He felt scared, shocked, then angry.
They didn't see the second tower fall. As soon as the first one collapsed, they all rushed to the phones and started calling reservists to make sure their paperwork was ready for the orders they assumed were coming.
"From there, everybody put on their game face," he says. Now he calls it unfortunate, but at the time he wanted vengeance.
Today, he's rebuilding what he saw knocked down. And from where he stands, there's work. Everything is picking up. The builders are starting to build.
And Bonilla realizes he's been luckier than many; New York City, too, has faced a tough economy. But whether it was serving in the Marines in Germany, or on the crew at 1 World Trade Center, he's had a job.
Bonilla works in the bowels of the building that he - like so many others - still calls the Freedom Tower. Each day, he installs drainage, waste and vent pipes that will one day do the daily work to allow this building to support the population of a small city.
Sometimes he wishes he could work on an upper floor, and whenever he's been able to, he's gone up. From up there, looking out at the sweeping view from inside the changing skyline, it seems like he's in a different city. A silent one. Peaceful.
"Once it gets built this can be another beacon," he says. "That's what it is to us."
Far above, amid the dust and the clang of raw concrete and tools, Alignn Edwards grins broadly under his blue construction helmet inside the building that will become 4 World Trade Center. Behind him, a breeze runs through the open netting, and here, above the cranes, there is still a fresh-air view out on the Hudson River and on the Statue of Liberty in the distance.
He, too, takes special pride in rebuilding this piece of land. Like Bonilla, he says that he feels safer now than he did a decade ago - the Sept. 11-inspired security measures at work sites have assured that.
He doesn't like to look behind him to that day, when he saw people falling from the sky. Even though he watched it on TV it seemed so real. "You got to pretend nothing ever happened," he says now.
Instead, he focuses on the city's strength.
"There's nowhere like New York," he says. "We drop, we fall, we come right back up. That's who we are."
Bonilla believes his kids - now 2 and 6 - will be proud of his part in it all. One day. Once they realize that the buildings around them - those massive structures - haven't just been there forever. They go up - and they fall.
When they do learn, 9/11 will be a "life lesson" to them, he says. His children won't grow up with a false sense of security, thinking that they're immune to the violence in the world.
The story of the attacks, and the story of the building their dad helped raise, will teach them another lesson, he says: "Don't stay down. Get back up when things get tough."
With so many bodies unrecovered, some still view this place as a cemetery of sorts. But to Bonilla, it looks different. Here to one side, the guys sit and rest during their lunch break, while the business-suited people bustle past.
There, one hard-hatted man, another worker, points out the different buildings to some out-of-towners who have come to this spot to mourn.
There's the Freedom Tower, he tells them, finger pointing high.
And here Bonilla stands, with his arms caked in dirt from the site, talking fast - the way he says he works.
"I think the grieving period has passed," he says. " We're looking toward the future."
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