There was one less player on the city courts after that day. A familiar face missing from the scrimmages and regular neighborhood games. The 2002 season brought the Knicks one less voice to root them on. The night of the Knicks opening game, Evan van Dommelen-Gonzalez cried.
Her husband was Mauricio Gonzalez. The Internet and various news agencies say that he was a 27-year-old carpenter who was putting up bookshelves in one of the two towers at the World Trade Center when the first plane plunged into Tower 1 at 8:46 a.m. He left behind a wife, a daughter named Nina, a sister, and many friends. A plaque memorializing him hangs in the Bronx.
There’s only so much you can tell about a person from a news article. You can read about who and what they loved, but not how they loved, or how much they loved. Judging from the comments about Mauricio scattered across the Web, the virtual tributes from friends and family, Mauricio cared for very many, deeply. He was a devoted husband. A doting father. A rather iconic big brother. He and his sister, Dora Elizabeth Murillo, often talked about the future and it was a sober foreshadowing that Mauricio told her that should he die first, he wanted her to plant a tree beside his grave and tend to it throughout the years. With a heavy heart she realized a couple of years ago on a 9-11 message board, that she could never see her brother’s wish to fruition as his body never recovered. She wasn’t just robbed of tending to a tree, but of closure.
He was, by all accounts, a family man.
He was also a basketball fan, if a fan is one whose feet regularly pound the city courts, whose love for his hometown team, The Knicks, was practically religious. He grew up in the tough neighborhood of Washington Heights, where he began playing. His skills on the court earned him the sobriquet “Moe Jiggy” from friends on the courts at Washington Heights, Greenwich Village, and Harlem. He included his wife in his passion and the pair followed each season’s progress. His wife remarked that he had looked forward to Michael Jordan’s return to the court. Jordan returned, but Mauricio did not.
He was like so many men and women that day. He went to work that morning to earn a living, to provide for his family. He had hoped that one day, his tiny daughter, 15-month-old Nina, would follow in the likes of Lisa Leslie and become a professional basketball player.
Before a couple of months ago, I’d never heard of Mauricio. Bit by bit, I’ve come to know him and his family through memorial message boards and a blurb or couple paragraphs from a news article. I read that his wife has since moved near family on the West coast. I tried to contact the family, but the trails were cold. I stopped short of looking up phone records because I didn't want to intrude on their grief. I only wonder if his loved ones were ever able to learn to live without him in their lives. I wonder if their feelings were similar to those of a woman mourning the loss of her husband, killed when Tower Two buckled and crumbled to the ground: “For me, life has stopped. Time has not.”
This tribute, one of thousands in a large blog project, is also cross-posted at my website. I wanted to post it anywhere where I thought someone might read it, so as many as possible could at least put one face on one of the 2,996 victims. You can also read this week’s column on 9-11, from the perspective of a Midwest living room, up on STLtoday on the morning of the 11th.