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Queens families learn to live with losses

Cathy Munoz is planning to move, leaving the city she has called home for her entire life.

But the Flushing educator is bothered by one fear: touching the clothing of her late husband, Frank.

“When I think about moving, I think, ‘Oh, God, I’m going to pack your things, how do I pack your things?’” Munoz said.

Munoz is one of hundreds of Queens residents whose lives were drastically changed by the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11. From parents who lost their son just before he began to college to a firefighter who cannot return to the department after narrowly escaping from the collapsing towers, many Queens residents are struggling to move on with their lives a year after the country’s worst one-day loss of civilian life since its founding.

In their Howard Beach home, the Pearlmans have lived the last year without their son, Richard Pearlman.

Richard Pearlman, an 18-year-old dispatcher with the Forest Hills Volunteer Ambulance Corps, was working in a law office in Rosedale last September.

He was delivering paperwork to 1 Police Plaza as part of his job when one of the hijacked planes slammed into the World Trade Center. Dorie Pearlman called her son’s office, where she learned he had called in to explain to his boss that he was going to the World Trade Center.

“Always wanting to be helpful, he went to help,” said his mother, Dorie Pearlman.

The Pearlmans stayed up late into the night, waiting for word from their son.

Weeks later, the family spotted their son in a photograph in Newsweek magazine

Richard Pearlman’s body was not found until late March, at the beginning of Passover. According to his mother, he was the youngest person killed in the rescue effort at the World Trade Center.

Richard Pearlman was supposed to enter an EMT college program in October.

“It was his dream. He wanted to show Mommy he could do it,” Dorie Pearlman said.

Over the last year, the Pearlmans have tried to put their lives back together. They have applied for funding for Sept. 11 victims, and have seen some of the money come through. Dorie Pearlman has worked on and off, while her husband, Barry, has worked throughout most of the year. Their 22-year-old daughter, Lisa, is finished up her summer as a camp counselor and was looking for work.

“She has good days and bad days,” Dorie Pearlman said of her daughter.

Dorie Pearlman said the family tried to avoid thinking back to Sept. 11.

“He sometimes can’t face it,” she said of her husband.

On the other side of the borough, Armando Reno, 56, has spent the last year recovering from his wounds.

A firefighter with Engine Co. 65 in Midtown Manhattan, Reno, a Whitestone resident, rushed to the World Trade Center on the morning of Sept. 11, arriving on the scene only six minutes after the first plane hit the North Tower.

While putting out a fire in two cars surrounding the building, Reno was knocked unconscious. His fellow firefighters lifted him from the scene, and he awoke in Bellevue Hospital that evening. He was not told the full extent of the destruction until the next morning.

Reno broke his left shoulder and his right foot. Although his foot has mended, his shoulder injury has prevented him from returning to his duties as a firefighter.

“It feels like I’ve got a water balloon in my back,” Reno said.

After working on administrative duties for the Fire Department, Reno has decided to retire. With his pension, he plans to buy himself a Corvette and take a trip to Disneyland. Otherwise, Reno said he had no plans.

“My wife’s got a lot of work for me around the house to do,” he joked.

In January, Reno’s eldest son was sworn-in to become a New York City firefighter. His younger son, a 25-year-old Marine, is also considering joined the department.

“I’m going to try to save my badge number for him,” Reno said.

Despite the horror of Sept. 11, Reno had said from the start that he wanted to return to the department but has been prevented from doing so because of his injuries.

Nevertheless, Reno said he tried to avoid thinking about Sept. 11.

“Every once in awhile, I think about it. A flashback comes back. I don’t dwell on it. Other it will eat me up,” he said.

“The same thing happens when you have a fire,” Reno added. “You don’t want to dwell on it.”

Cathy Munoz, 32, had just begun her job as a parent developer at PS 14 in Corona when her husband Frank disappeared..

Frank Munoz, then 29, worked as technical support for Marsh USA on the 97th Floor of Tower One on Sept. 11. The two had met seven years beforehand and got along so well that they never had an argument lasting more than five minutes, Munoz said.

After her husband was lost, Cathy Munoz left her job. Although she had intended to move to Miami, where she has friends and relatives, Munoz said she would return to her job at the start of the school year.

“I feel like I need to get back to some type of routine,” Munoz said.

In recent months, Munoz has gone traveling, visiting Los Angeles as well as Greece and Italy with a good friend.

“It was nice, I mean, any traveling I do right now is nice,” Munoz said. “But I still feel something is missing — my husband by my side.”

Munoz explained her personality had changed. She said she no longer thought of herself as a person who plans in advance.

“I’m just letting things flow,” she said. “Whatever happens happens.”

Munoz said she wanted to move to Miami because she needs a change to “try something new.”

For the Flushing resident, the biggest challenge she faces everyday is dealing with the memory of the husband she loved so much.

While many plan large memorials for Sept. 11, Munoz is not looking forward to the day.

“God, I dread September,” she said. “I really do.”

Reach reporter Alexander Dworkowitz by e-mail at Timesledger@aol.com or call 229-0300, Ext. 141.

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