Washington, D.C. — On Monday nights, the two groups met in the classrooms of Messiah United Methodist Church on Rolling Road in Springfield, Va. The men and women who came, once husbands and wives, had become widows and widowers on the same day.
Ben Salamone in one group, Donna Teepe in the other.
Salamone, 62, 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. At 9:37 a.m. on Sept. 11, the plane hit the Trade Center where Marjorie was working as a budget program analyst for the Army. They were married 31 years.
Teepe, 63, was living the same loneliness, her home in Centreville, Va., empty without Karl. On Sept. 11, her husband Karl was in his office at the Pentagon, watching the twin towers burn on TV, when the nose of American Airlines Flight 77 came through the wall. They were married 34 years.
When the Monday night sessions were over, the two support groups would linger in the hallways of the church. Many, like Salamone and Teepe, were in no hurry to go home.
One day in October 2002, Salamone asked Teepe if he could take her to dinner. They began to spend more time together and less time alone.
The love story of Donna Teepe and Ben Salamone has been a cautious courtship, formed from the ruin and wreckage of Sept. 11.
Salamone asked Teepe to marry him Christmas Eve 2006. That night at Teepe's home, Salamone asked her to open a Christmas present. Inside was an ornament, an elaborately painted angel, bearing a diamond ring.
"Will you marry me?" he asked, and after a short pause, Teepe said yes.
It had taken years for them to reach that point. Both worried about what their children, friends and family members would think. It also took time for Salamone and Teepe to make the relationship all right with themselves, to not wake up in the middle of the night and feel guilty.
Little by little, they have eased into their lives together, a process that continues. As Teepe explains it, "love is different the second time around."