I Married a 9/11 Widower. Sometimes I Still Feel Guilty About Our Second Chance at Love
~ September 2021 ~ A writer reflects on how one of the most devastating moments in U.S. history led to her second chance at love.
In one of my dresser drawers lies a jumbled pile of old costume jewelry. It includes a silver necklace that became tangled up with a few of my own chains when my husband and I moved from Brooklyn to New Jersey. I’ve never bothered unraveling it. I think it’s because the necklace belonged to my husband’s fiancée Amy, who died on 9/11.
From the moment he and I met, my life became intimately intertwined with memories of Amy. Though she doesn’t feel as front and center in our lives as she once did, it seems fitting that we remain entangled through those precious, twisted strands. After all, it’s because of her that my husband and I met.
It was 2004, a year after I signed divorce papers and moved into my recently deceased grandmother’s studio apartment in Manhattan. I was 34 and suddenly alone after nine years of marriage, surrounded by grandma’s needlepoints, my cat, and a Xanax prescription. It was not where I ever thought I’d end up.
One night, I rode the subway to my friend Karin’s birthday party in Brooklyn. I had met her in a divorce support group, and we shared several wine-soaked, tear-filled dinners. As I stood in her kitchen with a beer in my hand, I noticed a tall man with glasses leaning against the fridge.
“Do you get your eyebrows threaded?” he said, smiling with surprisingly deep dimples and twinkling blue eyes.
I laughed at such a quirky opening line. “How do you know about eyebrow threading?” I said, shaking my head with a grin.
I felt a wave of guilt that Amy’s sudden, arbitrary death now offered me the opportunity for a second chance at love.
He told me about how he had been curious enough to accompany a friend getting her eyebrows shaped using the Indian technique. After that, we chatted easily about everything from dogs to running 5Ks. I wasn’t surprised when he emailed me a few days later to ask me out.
I was still a bit gun-shy about dating, though. I called Karin to find out whether there was anything I needed to know about the dimpled-cheeked man I had met at her party.
“Oh, he’s so nice,” she began, “but there is one thing you should probably know.” She paused before continuing: “His fiancée died on 9/11. That’s how I know him. Through her.”
My mind swirled. While two and a half years had passed since that fateful date, to everyone in New York City it felt like the Towers had fallen mere weeks before. There was that massive, gaping hole off the West Side Highway, the memorials filled with nearly 3,000 names, the still-constant television coverage of planes hitting buildings.
My heart sank. A newly divorced woman and a 9/11 widower? The odds of romantic success, unfortunately, seemed very low.
Our chances seemed even less promising during our first date walking through Central Park, when he told me he had met his fiancée on September 11, 1999. He had made an anniversary-dinner reservation at their favorite restaurant for that night, only to fall to his knees in his office after hearing the news. I could barely hold it together while we walked silently past Strawberry Fields. Then I bent down to pet a passing beagle puppy.
“Amy loved dogs,” he said sadly, jamming his hands in his pockets.
Here I was, listening to a grieving man talk about a woman whose last terrifying moments were spent at Windows on the World on the top floor of the North Tower. A professional event planner, Amy had arrived early that morning to set up for a company breakfast. As I stroked the puppy’s soft ears, I felt a wave of guilt that Amy’s sudden, arbitrary death now offered me the opportunity for a second chance at love.
Johannes EiseleIe / Getty Images
Amy’s presence was potent during those first months of dating. Her shining, smiling face, framed by short dark hair, leaped off dozens of photos scattered throughout my husband’s old Brooklyn apartment. Her belongings, from sweaters and jewelry to ID cards and credit-card receipts, still lurked in disorganized piles and boxes. It was, literally and figuratively, a tangled mess.
Yet, while this was uncharted dating territory, our seemingly implausible relationship blossomed through the spring and into summer. I loved his sweet, sensitive demeanor and dry sense of humor. I was a singer-songwriter, and he loved hearing me play. We took long walks on the Brooklyn waterfront, holding hands and telling silly stories. We rarely argued, and both of us were willing to work the little things out. Perhaps, I thought, the odds of happily-ever-after were actually in our favor.
We had dated for a little more than a year when he asked me to move into his apartment. I gently asked him if he would remove some of Amy’s photos.
“I need some emotional room,” I explained. “I need to feel comfortable here, if it’s going to be my space too.”
I was shocked when, stiff and silent, he refused. As Amy’s brown eyes seemed to follow me from room to room, I helplessly imagined the oddsmakers recalculating the results. He seemed stuck in grief. I was suddenly in limbo.
I found myself dreaming about Amy. Sometimes she was still alive, and I was an interloper. Sometimes we were best friends. I began to avoid looking at her photos, even turning them around so I didn’t have to see her expressive, laughing eyes.
Then, a few weeks later, after yet another heated discussion, I arrived at his apartment. All the photos were gone.
“You decide what you’re comfortable with,” he said, taking my hand and showing me a drawer newly filled with Amy’s images. “I want this to be your home. Our home.”
I returned one small, smiling photo of Amy to a shelf. I moved to Brooklyn soon after.
After all these years, though, it remains hard to wrap my mind around the fact that the end for Amy Hope Lamonsoff, who was only 29 in 2001, was a new beginning for me.
Surprisingly, I found I didn’t need — or even want — Amy’s presence to disappear entirely. So, when we left Brooklyn and bought a small house in New Jersey, Amy came along, in the form of one silver chain necklace tangled up with mine.
Don’t get me wrong. It hasn’t been all rosy happiness with the ghost of my husband’s fiancée. There are times when I forget about Amy altogether. There have been times, I’m ashamed to admit, when I almost wish she never existed. There are other times when I still feel deeply guilty that I’ve gotten to spend so many more years with my husband than she did.
Most of the time, though, I just feel grateful. My husband and I have spent the past year and a half in our own Covid-19 bubble, and I think we’ve both felt lucky to have each other to lean on during difficult times. I’m grateful that we’re both healthy — that we were both able to love again.
After all these years, though, it remains hard to wrap my mind around the fact that the end for Amy Hope Lamonsoff, who was only 29 in 2001, was a new beginning for me. I know my husband will be thinking of her, as always, on the 20th anniversary of 9/11. But occasionally I twist our tangled necklaces around my finger. I like to believe that, long ago, she gave us her blessing.
Sharon Goldman is a freelance writer whose work has been published inThe Washington Post’s The Lily, McSweeney’s Internet Tendency, Hippocampus, and Insider. She is on Twitter at @sharongoldman.