Now we would give anything to walk into the bathroom and find the seat up again. There wasn't a single day that we didn't momentarily forget and feel that he was still alive. Any accomplishment, any success, any failure, any concern -- our first instinct was to call him to let him know. We'd think, "I've got to tell him about this" and actually reach for the telephone. We would dream about running into him in the street, working ourselves up to a point where we actually believed that we were going to see him again. We'd wake up in the morning and roll over to hold him, and for that split second, we would forget that our lives were shattered. And then, the ugly reality hit us one more time. In those moments, it was like he died all over again.
Now there was no one to share life with. Even the small things, deciding what we were going to have for dinner, or what to do for the weekend -- these were the daily pleasures that had been ripped away from us. Instead, here we were, in some godforsaken bar on Park Avenue, drinking and talking and talking, still in so much pain, so far from the women we used to be. This was a club that none of us wanted to be members of. But the cocktails were doing their work, softening edges, blurring the spaces between us, drawing us closer and closer. It wasn't just that we were widows, or that our husbands had been killed in the World Trade Center. It had to do with the kind of men our husbands were and the similarities between our relationships, this chemistry that existed between us.
As we spoke about our marriages, someone pointed out -- "It's gone, but at least it was there." At least we'd had it. Someone else raised a glass. "A toast!" No one remembers who was the first to say it. It just happened, the only natural thing to say. Ever since that first meeting it's always been our toast and it always will be. Our first drink -- and believe us, there have been plenty of drinks -- is always to them. "To The Boys," we said. "To The Boys."
By now, Ann had forgotten any worries she might've had about being the odd one out. She looked around at the rest of us and could sense that we were getting swept away in this as much as she was. Ann recognized that part of the comfort of being here was that she didn't have to worry about protecting anyone's feelings.
"You know, I was taking my oldest son to camp last week," she told the women at the bar, "and all I could think about was that this was the first sleep-away camp, the first summer without his father, and I was trying so hard not to cry because I'm the one who has to be strong. But soon the tears are streaming and my son's patting my arm and saying, 'Mom, it's okay, it's going to be all right.' And I'm saying to him, 'No, no, I'm the one who's supposed to be comforting you!'"
She'd had to remain so strong, not break down completely, for the sake of her family. But in this huddle of widows at the bar, there was no one watching her, not her parents, or her in-laws, her kids, her community. Ann's feelings of missing Ward were sharper, more intense and more overwhelming than she could ever begin to describe. But right now, she didn't need to find the words. We all understood, viscerally. Ann could be exactly how she felt.
We were at the bar for two hours before we realized we'd better eat something. As we sat down in a booth, the conversation switched to the subject we were all dreading. The anniversary of the eleventh.