Excerpt: 'Love You, Mean It'

Claudia: I was the last to get there. "I'm so happy we finally managed to get together," I said, and I meant it. All three of these women had given me so much already. They'd been there for me and let me be there for them. Any small hurdle they'd managed to overcome -- driving a familiar route alone without bursting into tears, sleeping without pills, managing to make it a day without melting down -- if they could do it, I could do it. It gave me hope. So I was pleased that they were going to get a chance to spend time together, because my instincts told me they were going to get along. I saw that the other three had ordered their cocktails of choice. A good start. "Vodka martini up, with olives," I told the bartender. This evening, like Pattie, I was wearing black, but not because I was grieving. This is New York. Everyone wears black in New York. Even if it's the height of summer. Even if you're not in mourning for your husband, killed in the World Trade Center ten months ago and still not coming home.

If you passed us on the way to the restaurant that night, or rubbed shoulders with us at the bar, you probably wouldn't have guessed that we were widows. To the bartender, we must have looked like yet another crew of girlfriends meeting for drinks after work, probably commiserating the latest terrible date, the Mr. Big who didn't call, the guy who stood us up again. We were all in our thirties. We're all successful, independent businesswomen. We looked the part. Even under the circumstances, we pulled off the charade.

But if you'd stopped and looked for another moment, you might have also seen us for what we were beyond the outfits we wore and the faces we put on each morning. We were changed. We'd almost forgotten the women we used to be before September 11. When we looked in the mirror, we tried to recall what our faces had looked like without the harshness in them. The anguish we were experiencing infiltrated every part of our beings. We were thinner than we'd been, physically thinner -- but we were also less substantial in the psychological sense. We no longer felt like we were fully ourselves. It was a dark, depressing feeling. We missed our husbands more than seemed bearable. And although it was only the middle of July, the anxiety about the first anniversary was building. The one-year mark was coming around too soon, and none of us wanted it to arrive. We would have done anything to make time stand still. The idea that we could live through a whole year without our husbands seemed impossible. There was no way all these months could have passed, every day taking us further away from his actual existence. More than anything, we didn't want to leave him behind in the past, like a memory. We wanted to hold on and never let go. In our minds we would trace his fingers, his toes, imagining a hug or his touch. Even thinking about the eleventh stirred up such an array of deep and difficult emotions, big giant waves pounding us, throwing us under the water, forcing us down so we couldn't breathe.

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