After his son’s death in 1992, Phil Guza changed, Peter says. He reconnected with his own brother, after years of distance, and forged a close relationship. His relationship with his two surviving sons, always close, became even more important. Looking back after Phil was gone, family members saw the decade as a gift. The loss of his brother strengthened their family, says Peter; it helped them see their own resilience, and in a strange way, prepared them for the loss ahead.
From the beginning, Peter felt little anger. He understood that he had lost his father much too soon, but instead of being bitter, he felt grateful for the time they had together. His parents had divorced when he was only 3, but his father had moved to stay close to his boys, quietly accepting the long commute to Manhattan from the Jersey shore. His father had no interest in sports, but every winter he took Peter snowboarding, on trips to Utah, Colorado, and Alaska, because it was what his youngest child loved most.
“He would sign me up for lessons, he would go tour the historical sites, and we would meet for lunch,’’ Peter recalls.
The summer after his senior year, Peter accepted an internship at Aon Corp. He worked at the company’s new offices, blocks away from ground zero. Once in a while, a former colleague of his father’s would slip and call Peter “Phil.’’ They always felt terrible about it, but to Peter, “it was a comfort, and a little bit of a compliment, when someone mistook me for him.’’
When he graduated from Lehigh in 2004, with bachelor’s and master’s degrees in engineering, Peter knew he didn’t want to live in New York City. Too many people; not enough mountains, he says. Because of the 9/11 settlement money he had received, he had the freedom to “roll the dice,’’ as he puts it, and move where he wanted before looking for a job. His brother Tom was in Boston, and he moved here, too, buying a multifamily home in Arlington. Together, the brothers also bought 90 acres of land in New Hampshire, with visions of a rural retreat where their families would meet every summer.
That same fall, Peter met his future wife, Shalan, a Cambridge native and ardent Red Sox fan, who introduced him to the joys of baseball as the Red Sox made their storied run to the World Series. They married in 2007, and their son, Owen, was born last year. His birth has made Peter, now 30 and working at a Burlington biotech firm, feel both closer to and more distant from his father: in some ways he understands his father’s life better now, but his new responsibilities have also underscored time’s passage.
“My life has changed so dramatically,’’ he says. “Sometimes I feel like I just saw him, and sometimes it feels like so long, because I was so much younger then.’’
He smiles when he talks about his father: Phil’s “dungarees’’ and ever-present suspenders; his love of bowling; his pride in Peter going to Lehigh, his alma mater.
Last year, soon after Owen was born, Peter finally got around to doing something he has thought about for years, establishing a nonprofit organization, the Phil Guza Memorial Scholarship, to give college money to aspiring math and science majors. The hardest thing to accept, he says, is that his father’s remains were never found. On a trip home to New Jersey this summer, he took his son to the Monmouth County memorial where Phil Guza’s name and hometown are inscribed. A sculpture at the site shows an eagle flying away from Manhattan, gripping a twisted piece of steel in its claws. The bent metal was recovered from ground zero.
“It was a strange feeling, having Owen there,’’ says Peter. “I guess he got to see, or sort of meet, his grandpa.’’
His brother Tom left Boston a few years back, for Arizona; the land they bought together in New Hampshire is for sale.
In past years, Tom has always golfed on Sept. 11, avoiding TV and chatter about the anniversary, while Peter has usually attended a remembrance ceremony.
This year, though, the brothers and their families will meet in New York City to attend the program there. Tom has a 1-year-old son, too, and they know that as time passes, it will be harder and harder for both of them to make the trip.
. . .
They work all the time, seven days a week, as they knew they would when they bought a cafe on Newbury Street. It was not long after 9/11 then, and Ysuff and Haleema Salie wanted to be busy, to lose themselves in the steady rhythm of business, pushing past the quiet hours where ghosts can lie in wait.
When they face decisions—how to market the business, what kind of place it should be—they often ask themselves, what would Rahma say? Their daughter was only 28 when she died, but she had been their most trusted adviser, an ambitious, energetic Wellesley graduate and businesswoman. Her passion, despite the demands of her own fast-advancing career, was to help her friends and family succeed. Continued...