Excerpt: 'Love You, Mean It'

RIGHT FROM THE start, we always skipped the trivial stuff -- the weather, the movies -- and cut to the chase. "Does anyone have any news?" Claudia was asking. It was always her first question to the other widows. Claudia was paralyzed with fear that the police would show up to give her the news that her husband Bart's body had been identified. She had heard the stories about families being woken up in the middle of the night by a knock on the door, the policeman on the doorstep. Every morning her first thought was "I wonder if today's the day." "I promise, you would be the first to know...," exhaled Ann. "Same here," said Pattie. Both Pattie and Ann were waiting as well. Julia's husband Tommy's body had been recovered right away. Claudia went on: "Last winter, I came home from work one night and there was a police officer in the lobby of my apartment building. I assumed he was there for me. He wasn't, but that didn't matter. By the time he'd explained to me that he'd just come in to warm up from the cold, I was inconsolable." Bart's work ID and his credit cards had been recovered from Ground Zero, but not Bart. Claudia would hold her husband's Amex in the palm of her hand and wonder how the hell a sliver of plastic had managed to survive but Bart hadn't. She'd show the cards to people and they'd look like they were afraid to touch them, like they could catch being murdered.

"Either way, hearing or not hearing, it terrifies me," Claudia was saying to the others. We all lived with these thoughts each moment, replaying them over and over again. They were paralyzing, keeping us from sleeping at night and from getting out of our beds in the mornings. "I'm obsessed with the images of what happened inside that building," Claudia continued. "Did Bart try to go down the stairwell and the stairs were gone? Or instead of being stairs was there a wall of flames? Did he try to climb the stairs to the roof and it was locked? I know he would never jump, but I'm so afraid he was trapped." She told the others about a conversation she'd had with Larry, her brother-in-law, one of Bart's best friends and married to his sister, Kathleen. One day over lunch they'd been talking about Claudia's obsession with what had happened. Larry knew she needed to find some relief from these images. "He told me: 'Claudia, we have to come up with a story you can live with and stick to it.' "So that's what we did," Claudia explained. "We imagined Bart's thought process. We decided that Bart would have said to himself: 'Well, I can be rescued here on the one hundred and fifth floor -- or I can go up to the bar at Windows on the World, pour a Macallan Scotch, and the firemen can rescue me there.' Now whenever the thoughts come back to me, I say to myself, Windows on the World, Macallan, Bart..."

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