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"The Memorial Warriors" (page 4 of 4)

There are times, says Lemack, when she fixates on the final moment. "I know how my mother slept on airplanes," she says. "She took her glasses off and put them on her lap. And I can think of how her feet were. But sometimes, I'll suddenly be like, Did she hit her head? I dreamed she told me that it was the seat belt that hurt. Everything else was okay."

Lemack recalls the fifth or sixth time she went to Capitol Hill, wandering from office to office, pressing members for an independent investigation into the attacks. "And I realized," she says, "that I was walking around Washington and asking perfect strangers, What happened to my mommy?"

Being in the spotlight has often come at a high price. For Lemack, it was all the hate mail her organization received back in January, when her group and others were protesting over the rules governing the Victims Compensation Fund. For Anthony Gardner, it was the fights he began having with his wife. "My marriage was falling apart," says Gardner, who lost his brother Harvey, a computer technician for General Telecom. "I was going to like four or five meetings a night, because I needed to be with other people who knew what this felt like." (Today, his wife is pregnant with their first child, and all is well.)

For Patricia Reilly, the treasurer of the coalition, it has been something even harder to discuss. "I wasn't always this heavy," she says, tentatively reaching for her wedding photo. She's sitting at her desk at the Teachers' Retirement System. "It's not like I'm craving to be on TV. Because I think to myself, People in high school will see me and say, 'Ooh, she got fat.' But when I have to do it, I just close my mind off from what I look like. I think I owe it to my sister."

Why?

She mulls it over. "I . . . don't know. I think sometimes I want to show her, you know? That she meant a lot to me. I completely forgot to tell her I loved her when we spoke after the plane hit. I'm so frustrated over that. I can't believe I didn't do that."

She stares out her window. "You know, maybe two days after September 11, I was driving along Hylan Boulevard in Staten Island, and I thought: Lorraine will always be a part of history. You know?" She looks back at me. "I mean, I'll die whenever I die, and it'll be a nonevent other than for the people in our family. But the nation is mourning for all of them right now. So I think maybe that's a part of what drives me. I want to make sure that her name is there, along with everybody else's. So I'm trying to make sure that happens."

But will it?

Christy Ferer, Bloomberg's aide, may have been able to secure 1,000 free Star Wars tickets for the victims' families, but she cannot guarantee that the man she works for will give them nine acres -- or seven, or even five. (The Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, as a point of contrast, occupies three.)

"The challenge for those of us who've lost someone," says Ferer, "is to understand the number of other stakeholders involved in the revitalization of downtown -- businesses, residents, commuters. So really, the question is, how far does our moral authority extend?"

Before that question is resolved, many family activists will doubtless continue to explore its limits. Advocacy has become their habit if not their lifework; death has a terrible way of suspending its mourners over the world that the non-grieving occupy. "I'm not very good at talking about things other than retrieving body parts and independent investigations," confesses Lemack. "And it scares me. I no longer meet people very well."

But Marian Fontana says she is trying, at least. Fontana is the introspective writer and performer who started the 9/11 Widows' and Victims' Families Association only days after her husband, Dave, jumped on a fire truck in Park Slope and never came home. For a year, Fontana has been trying to raise the city's awareness about the particular culture of the Fire Department -- how important it is for the boys to stay on a job until all are accounted for, how important it is for them to be paid enough not to need a second job. Both physically and personally, Fontana is a warm, hypnotic figure. For a full year, the media, and particularly the Times, have chronicled her ups and downs.

This past month, though, she disappeared. Fontana went to the wilderness of California for two weeks, then Martha's Vineyard for another. "Now that I've had a chance to reflect," she says, "I'd really like to try to get my old life back. The toll is monumental. The juggling act. Being the only single mom, pretty much, among the activists.

"I don't know how healthy it is to make September 11 the only date on your calendar for the rest of your life," she concludes. "It's not fair to my son, or to Dave's memory, really. I want to find the quiet place where I can start to grieve."

 

 

         
   
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