Monday, February 16, 2009

From the Washington Tribune, 10/27/2008

I was a 9-11 widow. My husband Mark worked on the 81st floor of the first of the Twin Towers to be hit by airplanes. Like so many others, his body was never found. Hundreds of friends and family members were there as we put an empty casket in the ground. It's been unimaginably hard for myself and our two children, who were both under two when their father was taken from us. But I have a secret to tell, these many years later.

In 2001, my husband was having an affair. I don't know when it started, but on that fateful evening of September 10th, he didn't come home. He was with her. I hated the fact that I had to call a private investigator, with so much else going on in what should've been a happy time in our lives. Trust is the key to any relationship, and when I felt I could no longer trust Mark, I took action. I had proven it to myself, as if I needed to. I know he was with her that night. That next morning, I was seething with anger, picturing the two of them going up the elevators together, as they both worked on the same floor.

Of course, those feelings were forgotten, pushed far, far aside by the overwhelming sadness of the tragedy. For the first few years after, I only imagined the positive side of what could have been: Mark rediscovers his love for me, all is forgiven, and we raise a beautiful family. Around 2005, the reality side of our would-be future set in: We would've been miserable, our children growing up in the middle of a horrible, inevitable divorce.

The next year, my friend TJ called me. We'd been watching TV together years earlier when we heard of the two people who jumped to their deaths from the towers while holding hands. TJ knew what I was thinking, and I knew she knew. But we didn't say anything. When she called that day, July 5th, 2006, I almost knew what she was going to say. I was right. "I watched the video," she said. In that moment, I knew I had to accept the truth, that Mark and that woman were linked forever, filmed in a horrific lovers leap, while I, his wife, was home with our children, forced to prepare for a life of misery. Yes, it would've been miserable anyway, but not like this. But the next thing she said shocked me: "It wasn't Mark."

I'd hoped it was him. You see, at some point it hit me that with no proof that my husband even went to work that day, I needed to know he really was dead. Because if he wasn't, well, in my mind, he could be alive, living a new life with that...person. No! I told myself. He's dead. They're both dead.

This past winter, at the urging of my family, I took my nanny and my two boys on a vacation. I chose the South Pacific, as I've always been intrigued by its beauty. I found that it was indeed the magic place it had been in my dreams. But on our last day in the tropical paradise, I took a long walk on a beach that changed my life. My nanny was watching the kids, so I took an hour to be by myself before heading back to snowy, cold Long Island. On a secluded strip of beach, I noticed two people on a blanket, kissing each other, loving each other. I was on the other side of the palm trees, so they never saw me. I thought of the days when Mark was courting me, how we'd kiss for hours on the beach at Far Rockaway. For a few moments as I walked closer to them, I was as close to happy as I'd been in a decade. Then I saw the man's face.

It was Mark. "My" Mark. I wanted to be sure, though. I knew there was a chance this was my mind playing tricks on me. So I stood there behind that palm tree, my nails digging into the bark. I watched my dead husband kiss that girl for five of the longest minutes of my life. I don't even know if it was the same woman I knew to be cheating with him years before. That didn't matter. What did matter was that as soon as I became fully confident that this was Mark, that he was alive, that was the moment I was finally able to move on with my life. Going up that beach, I'd been a lonely, miserable person. Coming back down it, I was a free woman. I started jogging, even. As I reached our beach blanket, I was in a cleansing sprint, the warm wind whipping through my hair. I wasn't running from my past, I was running to my future. There were my kids laughing it up in the water, and there I joined them, gave them big hugs, and frolicked with them like I was their age again. They were finally seeing their mother happy.

We came back home, and life, after a long delay, started again. As for Mark, I don't know if he lives on that island, if he was just taking a vacation of his own, or what. But I don't care. I'd never wish for anyone to have to go through what those people went through on 9-11. But honestly? I stopped feeling sorry for Mark a long time ago, and now I don't have to feel bad about that anymore. Especially since I know he's fooling everyone, not just me. He took the easy way out. Walked out on life. And now he's worse than dead, and he knows it.

Now you know why I say I "was" a 9-11 widow.

The names in this fictional story have been changed.


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