A Love Among the Ruins of 9/11
Sunday, September 7, 2008
On Monday nights, the two groups met in the classrooms of Messiah United Methodist Church on Rolling Road in Springfield, pushing the chairs into a circle. The men and women who came were not there to cope with addiction or bankruptcy, but to seek the company of the few others who knew their extraordinary misfortune. Once husbands and wives, they had become widows and widowers on the same day.
Ben Salamone in one group, Donna Teepe in the other.
Salamone was a broken shell of himself. He would come home to Springfield from his job as a veterinarian for the U.S. Department of Agriculture and sit in the same chair he sat in when Marjorie was alive, crushed by the stillness of the room. In the family photos, the furniture and the travel mementos that decorated their home, she was everywhere and so completely absent. They were married 31 years.
"I'd just sit there in that chair, constantly rehashing everything, every little event in our lives," Salamone, 62, said. "I was so lonesome."
He and Marjorie met at Auburn University in Alabama, where Salamone grew up, and they were married soon after graduation. They raised two daughters, weathering frequent relocations for Salamone's 30-year career in the Army Veterinary Corps. Work and family were everything for him, and with his daughters grown and Marjorie gone, Salamone spent his nights and weekends alone.
Monday nights were his escape.
Teepe, 63, was living the same loneliness, her home in Centreville empty without Karl. Like Salamone's daughters, her two children were adults, the youngest finishing college in the spring of 2001, just before Sept. 11. She viewed everything in her life that way, through the prism of that severe demarcation: before Sept. 11, after Sept. 11.
After Sept. 11, Teepe would come home from her job as the director of a nearby preschool to the house where she and Karl had raised their children, seeing his hand in everything. The deck he had built out back, the wooden cabinets he had crafted, the shelving system he had fashioned for her scrapbooking hobby. They were married 34 years.
When the Monday night sessions were over, the two support groups would linger in the hallways of the church. Often the conversation would continue next door over coffee at McDonald's. Many, like Salamone and Teepe, were in no hurry to go home.
The McDonald's gatherings led to other group activities and outings, concerts and movies and card games. Then one day in October 2002, Salamone asked Teepe if he could take her to dinner.
He was tall, soft-spoken and exceedingly polite, a Southern gentleman. She was blonde and quiet, too, with soft, caring eyes.
They went to a Ruby Tuesday that night and met the next day for lunch. They were nearly the same age and similar in so many other ways. Donna and Karl had been married for about same amount of time as Ben and Marjorie. Both men had long careers in the Army. Both couples had two children, and their daughters belonged to the same sorority at the College of William and Mary, separated by four years. They began to spend more time together and less time alone.