Jennifer Gardner Trulson's husband, Douglas Gardner, died in the 9/11 destruction of the Twin Towers, where he worked at brokerage firm Cantor Fitzgerald. Her new book, Where You Left Me, tells the moving story of how she and her children slowly came to terms with their enormous loss.
To mark the tenth anniversary of 9/11, we are sharing excerpts from Where You Left Me. Below, Gardner Trulson's memories of the days after the tragedy.
The days and weeks following Doug’s death moved at an unbearably slow pace. It wasn’t easy for me to make sense of my new status. I am Jennifer Gardner, Doug Gardner’s wife. I was Doug Gardner’s wife. I’m still his wife, but he’s dead. I’m single, but I’m married. I’m married, but I have no husband. Doug was my husband, but he’s gone. I’m a widow. What is that? Widow . . . widow . . . widow . . . that word pervaded my thoughts like an insidious virus. Widow-maker, widow’s walk, widow’s peak, black widow, The Merry Widow. The dictionary defines widow as “to separate, to divide.” That’s true. I was, unquestionably, irrevocably separated and divided from the beautiful life we’d had before. From now on, my life would be demarcated with a Before and After; every memory tagged with one of those distinct labels. Could I really be a widow so soon? For me, widow was just the last box on a medical form at the doctor’s office: Single, Married, Separated, Divorced, Widowed. Widowed is always listed last because who the hell is widowed? I never really noticed that word, but now it was as if it were flashing in neon wherever I turned.
Who is a widow? An ancient Italian woman from the Godfather movies dressed in black under a veil? World War II wives in shirtwaist dresses receiving horrible news via telegram? The kaffeeklatsch of Jewish ladies in Boca playing canasta? How can this term possibly apply to me? I was a thirty-five-year-old lawyer raising two small children on the Upper West Side. I’m happily married, for God’s sake. I was definitely not going to get through this.
At least I wasn’t alone in Widowville. Turning on the television, I could see that, post-9/11, widows weren’t such a rare commodity anymore. No longer were we hidden away, only venturing out in the company of girlfriends. We weren’t required to raise our children dutifully while maintaining a quiet distance from the world. Instead, widows were on every talk show and news update, petitioning Congress and City Hall to preserve, redesign, or sanctify Ground Zero. Apparently, we were a hot trend, the new black. We had cachet—at least as far as the media and politicians were concerned. Paraded around State of the Union addresses, honored at charity functions, and remembered at Super Bowl games, the 9/11 widows became every politician’s or social climber’s favorite accessory.
I didn’t have the strength to join the fight for better security measures or a proper memorial at Ground Zero. Thankfully, other brave families did. I knew myself. I’d have pursued the cause single-mindedly and would never have been able to extricate my soul from a bottomless pit of fury and despair. I feared I’d lose myself in the process and diminish Doug if I focused on how he died instead of remembering how he lived. I could neither live at his grave nor attempt to achieve mythical “closure” and move on; how I lived without Doug would never be a black-or-white proposition. I needed not to choose and simply try to muddle through the gray.
Although I avoided most of the media frenzy, I did receive my share of sideshow curiosity from the sympathetic but ever inquisitive young mothers swirling about the Upper East and West Sides of Manhattan. I’ve been pointed out at my children’s school and whispered about at the gym or on the street: “That’s her over there. That one, she lost her husband on 9/11. I like her shoes.” No one meant any malice by it, of course. I was just a marked woman, the girl sporting the Scarlet W on her chest.
I was visible, useful social currency to be exchanged over manicures or lunch at Saks. I was the embodiment of everyone else’s fears. There but for the grace of God go I.
Jennifer Gardner Trulson is a 9/11 widow and the founder of the Douglas B. Gardner Foundation, a non-profit organization dedicated to helping at-risk children in New York. She graduated from Tufts University and received a J.D. from Harvard. She lives with her husband and two children in Manhattan. Her new book, Where You Left Me, tells the story of her family's unimaginable loss, and also the resilience, friendship, and love that helped them heal.
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