A Soul Mate For Better and for Worse

November 8, 2001

He carried her from room to room when she was too weak to move. He cooked her favorite steak dinner to help her gain back the weight she had lost. And, when she cried because she couldn't bear the pain, he cried along with her.

Since his wife, ToniAnn, was diagnosed with a rare nerve disorder 10 months ago, Pete Carroll, 42, left her side as little as possible. And when he had to go to work, as a firefighter in Brooklyn, he called constantly, often just to tell her he loved her.

So when his wife didn't get a phone call on the morning of Sept. 11, she knew something was wrong. Carroll's company, Squad 1 of Park Slope, was one of the first to reach the Twin Towers after they were attacked that morning. His body was found in the wreckage two days later.

"My world is gone," his wife said. "I'm just totally, totally lost."

The Staten Island couple had only a year and a half of marriage, but it was the real thing, she said. "We were soul mates," she said. "Guys in the firehouse said they never saw him smile so much 'til he was with me."

When she became sick with fibromyalgia and chronic fatigue syndrome, she wondered at first whether her husband would stick around, she said. "He told me that he loved me so much," she said. "'For better or for worse,' that's what he would say to me. 'For better or for worse.'"

Despite the difficulties of caring for his new bride, the last year was a high point in Carroll's life, said his sister, Pat Dagata. "He was very happy," she said. "When he married ToniAnn, it seemed like he had finally found the right one for him. They were very happy together."

Between them, the couple had six children from previous marriages. Carroll had four - Nicole, 20; Michael, 17; Peter, 8, and Christopher, 6. ToniAnn's children, Anthony DeNiro, 19, and Dana DeNiro, 17, also considered Carroll a father, she said.

Since they first got together, in 1996, ToniAnn said she never imagined her life without Carroll.

"I always thought I would die before him," she said. "I don't know how I'm going to go on ... You're finally together and you find happiness, and then that happiness is taken away from you."

The couple had looked forward to Carroll's retirement next year, after 20 years with the fire department.

"That's what his dream was, to retire, buy a house by the water. I would have my own garden to plant flowers, and he would go fishing," she said. "We were looking forward to our old age together, no doubt about it."

-- Indrani Sen (Newsday)

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