The Lives Left Behind

It’s the stupid, ordinary, day-to-day stuff that is still so brutal. Upper West Sider Emily Terry recently took her daughter Lucy to the doctor to discuss whether the 4-year-old’s ear problems would require minor surgery. “The doctor told me, ‘So go home and have a family meeting and decide what you want to do.’ “

These would be innocuous words, except that Terry’s husband, Andrew Kates, worked at Cantor Fitzgerald and perished on September 11. “I thought, This is it, I am the family meeting,” says Terry.

For the spouses of those who died in the Twin Towers, a simple encounter can turn into a trap-door moment that hurls them unexpectedly into bottomless grief. And yet, while the pain and loss remain excruciating, there is also a small sense of relief, a sad triumph in merely having survived.

“In one night, I was turned into a mother and a father, a banker and a carpenter,” says Lori Kane, a stay-at-home New Jersey mom whose husband, Howard Kane, worked at Windows on the World. Her first six months were a blur, as the shock and constant sobbing turned to bleak recognition and numbness. But on an August vacation to Puerto Rico with her 12-year-old son, Jason, Kane found herself musing about how far she’d come. “I’ve never been good at being alone, my whole life. I didn’t think I could do this. I can.”

Anna Mojica, whose husband, Manny, was a firefighter based in Greenwich Village, has received dozens of condolence letters and gifts from strangers, but the note that really got to her came from a 9-year-old Colorado boy. “He wrote that the real heroes were the wives and the families left behind,” she says.

If their husbands had died of cancer or in a car wreck, their loss would be equally agonizing, but what’s disorienting for these women is all the public attention being focused on them. It’s weird to have cars cruise slowly by their homes, to have people in the health club whisper and stare, to hear strangers making judgments about how they should live their lives.

Yet it’s worse when people don’t know. LaChanze Sapp-Gooding, an actress who was married to Cantor Fitzgerald trader Calvin Gooding and gave birth to their second child in October, says she doesn’t want to spend her life wearing a sign saying 9/11 widow and explaining her situation. “The saddest thing about all of this is that my little girl will never meet her father,” she says. “Most people won’t know what happened, and they’re going to see me as yet another African-American single mother in America – and this wasn’t my plan or choice.”

Now, at the one-year mark, these four women have all been time-warped to the past, replaying again and again the last moments with their husbands, the things they said or didn’t say, the final, irrevocable image before everything changed. They are saying good-bye all over again. But they’re also looking to the future, beginning to think about the “What next?” chapter.

Actress and mother of two
LaChanze Sapp-Gooding has a light-up-the-room smile and the resilience of a show-must-go-on Broadway trouper. Sitting in the living room of her high-floor Riverdale apartment, with a serene view of the Hudson River, Sapp-Gooding, dressed in a sexy lace top and flowered skirt, is in full emotional throttle today.

An actress who has been nominated for a Tony Award, she is juggling a variety of roles, including doting mom to two little kids (“Celia, honey, mommy’s going to talk now, stop trying to break Meryl’s tape recorder”) and furious widow (“There are days when I want to take a sledgehammer and crack every window on Fifth Avenue”). But most of all, she is an artist who has found solace in immersing herself in fictional characters. “I’m so grateful that I have a little bit of a name in New York,” says Sapp-Gooding, who has been cast in a revival of the Broadway musical Baby, slated for next year.

Sapp-Gooding is a member of that most heartbreaking Twin Towers sorority – widows who were pregnant on September 11. Married to Calvin Gooding, a trader in international equities at Cantor Fitzgerald, she says, “It meant a lot for us to raise happy African-American children in this world. We were on a mission to do this together.” Her younger sister, Michelle Mackey, was at the hospital on October 23 when Sapp-Gooding gave birth to her second daughter, Zaya. “It was the saddest moment in our lives, but a huge sigh of relief because we were so worried about the baby,” Mackey says.

Sapp-Gooding’s face brightens as she talks about how she and Calvin met. It all began with a head shot and a haircut. “I used to get my hair done at this salon called Scissors,” she recalls. Calvin went there, too, and saw her photo on the wall, pestering the barber unsuccessfully for her number. Then, on Memorial Day weekend in 1996, Sapp-Gooding was at the restaurant B. Smith’s with a girlfriend, and Calvin walked by. “He was so handsome. My girlfriend and I toasted, and we both said, ‘I’ll drink to that.’ ” Calvin strolled into the bar, came by her table, and asked, “Are you an actress? I’ve been trying to meet you for two years. Can I take you out for ice cream, dinner, a trip to the moon?”

But Sapp-Gooding, who grew up in the Florida panhandle and attended the University of the Arts in Philadelphia, soon accepted a role in the national production of Ragtime and told Calvin she would be spending the next year in Los Angeles; she was stunned when he arranged to be transferred to Cantor’s L.A. office. “I didn’t know he was that serious about me,” she says. The couple married in 1998.

On September 10, their last night together, their daughter Celia was fussing, so Calvin went off to sleep in her room, to keep the child quiet so LaChanze could get some rest. “I remember getting up at 3 a.m. and going to Celia’s room,” she says. “He was just laying there, sound asleep on the floor with her on his chest.” She kissed her husband good-bye as he headed off to work, then fell back to sleep in a recliner, woken with a start by a call from a family member alerting her of the attacks at the Twin Towers. “I was watching TV, and I kept counting down the squares to get to his floor, and there it was.”

Sapp-Gooding says her biggest challenge last fall was to try to hold it together in front of the children. “After I had the baby, I didn’t want to be angry, because I was nursing. But there were times I was so sad that my 2-year-old would crawl over to me and say, ‘Mommy, what’s the matter?’ But I couldn’t stop crying.”

What brought her back from crippling depression was an acting job, a role in The Vagina Monologues last December. Offered the part by the play’s author, Eve Ensler, Sapp-Gooding was initially nervous about going back to work, but says, “I got to be funny and happy and loved for an hour and a half. It was the best thing for me. It kick-started me back into wanting to be pretty again, into being LaChanze again, sans husband, sans children, just me.”

She threw herself into auditions this winter and spring; flying off to Montreal to do a commercial, landing the Baby role as well as the lead for a workshop next year of a new musical, Dessa Rose, about an African-American slave. She has felt pressured to work partially because she worries about money: Calvin didn’t buy life insurance.

She can’t help but be upset by the million-dollar disparity between what civilian spouses and the firefighter and police widows and widowers – the beneficiaries of generous pensions and enormous charity donations – are receiving. “I don’t begrudge them a dime, but the organizers of these funds ought to consider the rest of us. I’ve got a long haul ahead of me.”

She remains wary about dating. “I think, I’d like to go to a movie and have a glass of wine. When I think about being with another man, being in the space of conversation with a man who may be attracted to me, it makes me so nervous,” she says.

In July, Sapp-Gooding started seeing a psychiatrist, and at his suggestion she’s taking a work break this fall – with the exception of a one-night performance at Lincoln Center in November (she’ll sing songs – from “That’s All” to “Mockingbird” – that reflect her feelings about Calvin and her children). “My life had gotten ahead of me,” says Sapp-Gooding. “I couldn’t catch the reins. I was trying to do too much, and it was affecting my patience with my children. I was starting to snap at my babies, and I didn’t like it.

“He’s been teaching me balance,” she says. “He said to me, ‘You can talk all you want about your relationship with Calvin and how he died, but what we’re here to do is work on you. There’s no more you and Calvin. We’ve got to make you strong again.’ I found that comforting.”

Firefighter’s widow and mother of two
Anna Mojica is getting really tired of people telling her how well she’s doing. “I’m a mess. I don’t tell my friends what I’m feeling,” she says. “I put the face on. I lose it when I’m home, when I’m doing the chores that Manny used to do. I’ll be crying when I’m trimming the hedges.”

A 36-year-old beauty, she exudes the feistiness of a woman who kick-boxed as a hobby until she hurt her left knee. Sitting in the dining room of her comfy three-bedroom home on a tree-lined street in Bellmore, Long Island, she is wearing her firefighter husband’s squad medallion on a chain, as well as a bracelet engraved with his name. This morning her children, Stephanie, 8, and Manny Jr., 6, are at camp. “They’re okay, a little attached to me,” she says. “They don’t mind going on play dates, but if it’s me that has to go somewhere, they’re terrified.”

Manny Jr. talks about his father incessantly, while Stephanie still hasn’t cried. “I took her to a counselor, and they said she was doing okay,” says Mojica. “She’s just starting to bring him up, but she never talks about what happened.” Mojica, who averages five hours of sleep a night, has joined a firefighter-widows support group that meets on Thursday nights: “It’s good to know I’m not the only one going nuts.”

Mojica’s entire adult life revolved around Manny. She was only 15 when they met. Manny was her neighbor in Queens, and he used to whistle outside her apartment building to get her to come out for a ride on his Harley – the motorcycle now sitting in their garage. Although she’s Italian (née Vecchione) and he was Puerto Rican, this was not West Side Story, Astoria-style – their families approved. In 1990 Manny joined the Fire Department, stationed at Squad 18 in Greenwich Village, and they married the next year.

“Every time he left for work, I cried,” says Mojica, who worked at a bank after high school but gave up the job when Stephanie was born. “He didn’t know that. The kids would say, ‘What’s the matter?’ and I’d say, ‘Nothing.’ A lot of wives don’t think about the danger; it got to me all the time.”

She reaches for a cigarette. In the silence, Manny’s beloved aquarium gurgles. Mojica’s got this reel going in her mind about September 11. “It was the first morning he didn’t wake me up to say good-bye. I heard the door close. I was going to get up to catch him to say good-bye, but I didn’t want to make him late to miss his train. So I went back to bed, like a fool, and now I’ll regret it the rest of my life.”

Squad 18 lost seven men in the Trade Center; Manny was filmed entering Tower Two, in the Naudet brothers documentary aired on CBS – “They sent me the two-minute clip, it made it more real, I didn’t want to believe it” – and he was last in radio contact from the thirty-fifth floor. “If I actually met somebody who was able to get out because of him,” she says, “it would make it a little easier, give it a reason.”

Raised Catholic, she has been so angry at God that she stayed away from services for most of this year. She’s sought otherworldly comfort instead, frequently visiting psychics and having her cards read. She’s defensive when she talks about this quest, but says defiantly that the sessions have helped. “It’s not something I’d ever done in the past, but I was just trying to grab anything I could get,” she says.

Given that she and Manny were always strapped for money, she finds it horribly ironic that his death will make her a millionaire, and she’s appalled at the public reaction. “It bothers me that some people are saying how greedy we are.” She starts to cry. “We don’t want this, we didn’t ask for it. I’ve got no clue how to deal with it, because we never had to worry about it.”

Mojica says she can’t imagine being involved with someone else. “People say, ‘You’re young, you can have another life.’ I don’t want another life. When my friends talk about it, it makes me nauseous.” On April 22, the day that would have been her eleventh anniversary, she honored her much-tattooed husband by getting one of her own on her right ankle – roses with a cross and her nickname for him, BABE.

Her best days are spent with her husband’s pals from the firehouse. Howie Scott, a firefighter, stops by all the time to help out, and he and his wife took Mojica and the kids to the squad picnic in August. “Anna does better when she’s around the guys,” says Scott. “She knows she can feel a lot of things around us – if she wants to cry or laugh or goof off, everything’s okay with us.”

The squad turned up recently to put a new roof on her house, remembering that Manny had worried about leaks. She is planning to spend September 11 at the ceremony at ground zero and then go to lunch at the firehouse. “This was his second family,” she says. “I want to be with them.”

Upper west side mother of three
The front door of Emily Terry’s upper West Side apartment is decorated with exuberant pictures drawn by her three young children, proclaiming this EMILY’S FAMOUS BREAKFAST RESTAURANT, home of EMILY’S FAMOUS OATMEAL, and announcing WE’RE JEWISH.

Emily Terry isn’t, in fact, Jewish – she grew up as a Presbyterian on the Upper East Side – but she and her husband, Andrew Kates, a senior managing director at Cantor Fitzgerald, agreed to raise their children in his religion. Their oldest children, Hannah, 6, and Lucy, 4, are enrolled at the Rodeph Sholom congregation’s school (their youngest child, Henry, is 23 months old). This decision has had enormous repercussions for her this past year.

“I’ve been enveloped by this community,” she marvels. “I just felt like people were taking care of me. I felt like they wouldn’t let me fall, wouldn’t let me collapse.” Congregation members virtually lived with her during the first few months. Suzanne Waltman, a friend and fellow Rodeph parent, says, “People at Rodeph really understood the workload of three children.”

At night, the kids often talk about their dad, and when they go to bed at 8 p.m., Terry often falls asleep in their room. “I feel incredibly sad for them,” she says. “My son was 11 months when it happened, and yet when he sees a picture of Andy, he says, ‘Dad.’ Henry saw someone recently from the back who looked like Andy, and he got so excited.” She pauses to compose herself. “It sounds so goofy, but on September 11, Henry walked across the living-room floor for the first time.” Before the towers collapsed? “Nope.”

On that morning, she stood at the window of their apartment, overlooking Columbus Avenue, and watched her husband play out his usual morning streetside performance for the family. “He’d do a crazy dance or walk in a funny way and people would stare at him, and the kids would be hysterical. The last time I saw him, he was popping out behind that newsstand. It’s a happy moment.” A short while later, her phone rang: “Andy called, and all he said was, ‘A plane hit the building, it’s on fire, and I love you.’ ” His body was found two days later.

A patrician blonde who looks elegant even in khakis and a T-shirt, Terry, 39, a native New Yorker who attended Chapin and then Haverford, met her future husband in Boston in 1985. She attended Boston University, earning a master’s degree in art history; Andy went through Harvard’s M.B.A. program. She left a job at the International Center of Photography after her first child, Hannah, was born. Even though Andy was in a fast-track job at Cantor, they didn’t live in Master of the Universe style: Their apartment is a two-bedroom rental (the three kids sleep in one room), and they vacationed every year in relatively inexpensive Lake Champlain.

Describing the past year, she can chart her emotional temperature season by season. In November, she took up her husband’s passion, running in Central Park. “What I like about running around the reservoir now is that it’s a way of being with people – everyone makes eye contact – without having to talk.” This summer, she felt able to do other feel-good things, such as visit the Frick Museum and use a gift certificate for a facial.

Terry is seeing a psychiatrist and has intensely bonded with the other members of her widows’ support group. “I have never thought so much in my entire life,” says Terry. “Everything requires it. I have to decide what I’m going to put on Andy’s headstone. That’s in the category of things you never thought you’d deal with at age 39.”

She finds herself clinging to the unexpectedly kind gestures. She got a visit from an ironworker who found one of Andy’s credit cards at ground zero. “The guy tracked me down, and his wife called to say he had made something for us from metal from the World Trade Center.” Walking over to the fireplace, she shows off a small cross on the mantel. “I was worried when the man saw my daughter’s sign on our door – WE’RE JEWISH – that he’d be embarrassed about bringing us a cross. I thought it was really touching.”

She’s never been to ground zero – the place haunts her. “I keep coming to this image of this huge hole, which is what it feels like,” she says. “Sometimes I’m inside the hole, and sometimes I’m standing at the edge of the hole. But I’m never away from the hole, I’m always near it.”

New Jersey mom with one son
Lori Kane never called her husband, Howard, the financial controller of Windows on the World, first thing in the morning, because it was his busiest time. But on the morning of September 11, she was washing the breakfast dishes in their home in Hazlet, New Jersey, when she suddenly felt the need to talk.

“It was a beautiful day, and it was very still,” she says. “The trees weren’t moving, and I thought, this is weird, it’s almost as if time stopped. I looked up at the clock, it was 8:44 a.m., and I thought, I have to call Howard.” It was family chit-chat, the poetry of daily life: She told her husband that she might take Jason, then 11, to the doctor, and urged him to get home early because she had a parent-teacher meeting that night. “His exact words were, ‘I’ll be there for you and Jason,’ ” she says.

“And then he began screaming my name again and again.”

The first plane had hit his office building. “I thought he was having a heart attack. I heard the phone drop.” She yelled his name, and another man picked up the phone. He told Kane there was a fire and that Howard was organizing an evacuation.

As she tells this story, she’s sitting in the pristine living room of her redwood Colonial, which sits on a quiet street. Her wedding picture hangs over the TV. Last fall she searched hospitals, convinced her husband might still be alive. “One night I did get a call; the Red Cross said, ‘You have to call this hospital right away,’ ” she says. “They said, ‘We have a man named Kane here,’ and I said, ‘Is he alive?,’ and they said yes. But it turned out to be a Craig Kane.” Howard’s remains were found in October.

Back in 1988, Lori (née Renz, the daughter of a Lyndhurst mailman) was running the computer room at Bascom Foods in Paterson, New Jersey, when Howard was hired as the controller there. On his second day of work, he crashed the system. “It took five hours to get it back up. He was so apologetic, he kept saying, ‘Can I take you out to dinner?’ ” They married almost two years later.

Kane, who works several hours a day as an aide in the cafeteria of her son’s school, says he’s doing relatively well but remains very angry. He misses the Sunday fishing trips, the elaborate meals his father concocted from Windows on the World recipes.

What troubles Kane is the feeling that she’s branded by the tragedy. “I just want to be treated normally,” she says. “But people don’t know how to speak to me. I’m the same person.” She was shaken by the ground-zero memorial service in the spring. “People were standing there taking our pictures and watching us. I felt like I was onstage, like I was a movie star. No matter what we did, they wanted to capture us by camera.” Nevertheless, she plans to trek back to ground zero on September 11. “My friends and family keep saying that there will be closure,” she says. “When they call his name, I have to be there for him.”

Kane was contacted last November by another Windows widow – they’d never met but their husbands knew each other – and ever since, they’ve talked several times a month. In June, both women were surprised to discover that on the same weekend they’d both finally ventured out for an evening with friends. “It was as if we both decided at the same time, You can’t sit in the house forever.”

But it is still so hard to make sense of a world in which your husband goes to the office and is killed by terrorists. “I never gave up my faith at all,” says Kane, who is Protestant. “I thought God was holding up the Twin Towers, to let people get out. Am I angry at him? No. They say that everything in life has a purpose. But this one,” she says with a rueful smile, “someone’s got a lot of explaining to do.”

The Lives Left Behind