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It is warm for early October and Pamela Works is hoping against the calendar that the mild weather will last.
She is a beach creature, and she'd like to bring her daughter, Allison, to the neighborhood private beach on Long Island Sound one more time before the raw Connecticut winter settles in.
Today, protected by the shade of dark glasses, Pam stands on a road in the Rowayton section of Norwalk where eight days earlier, under the festive illusion of white party tents, she held a memorial service for her 36-year-old husband, John.
He and 66 colleagues at Keefe, Bruyette & Woods were murdered in the Sept. 11 terrorist attack on the World Trade Center. Most of them were ambitious guys like John, who boarded the 6:10 a.m. train every workday and headed for the world's premier financial district dressed in a freshly pressed shirt, antsy for that trading bell to ring.
The martinis and cosmopolitans flowed carelessly after the eulogies were finished at the Sept. 26 memorial, and that's the way John Bentley Works would have wanted it. Nearby, within sight of the well-heeled group, workmen continued construction of the couple's new home.
There will be nearly 400 thank-you notes to write in gratitude for the outpouring. One will be to a stranger, a woman in East Hartford who picked Pam's name to pray for as part of a church project.
This Sunday, Oct. 7, Pam will buy her own dozen roses - 11 red ones and one white one, as her husband would have - to mark their 12th wedding anniversary. Then, she will go apple-picking with friends. But the most satisfying part of the day will be hearing the news that the bombing of Afghanistan is under way. Pam is grateful that friends have obliged her desperate need to have plans to occupy these tedious and lonely weekends. Yet, the practical, Long Island-bred side of Pam is telling her that things will get colder in the coming months.
Her mother is a widow, too.
"I know what's coming down the pike," she says.
"Already I've seen the phones have quieted down at night."
"Look, everyone's got to move on." She is matter-of-fact about it. Convincing.
Even John, she knows, would be telling her "at this point, cope."
Allison is watching "Clifford the Big Red Dog" in the TV room on the morning of Sept. 11 when John calls. At first, Pam is flushed with the mild annoyance of a wife being unexpectedly interrupted during her busy morning routine. Why would he be calling when he had just driven off to the train station three hours earlier? He instructs her to turn on the news. "I told him the news was reporting that a Cessna-type plane had crashed into the tower," Pam says a month later, sitting in her living room, facing a long table crowded with family photographs.
They end their conversation. There seems to be no reason to panic. The massive 110-floor tower can certainly withstand the impact of being struck by a small plane. But Pam stays in the living room, not moving, staring at the TV and live footage of the smoke bursting from the North Tower.
It isn't until blond-haired Allison wanders into the living room to see what Mommy is watching that Pam shuts off the television. This is not preschool fodder.
Pam cannot recall Sept. 11 on this October day without rushing through the details, skipping ahead, as though pausing for too long would allow the facts to catch up with her. Less than eight minutes after his first call, John calls again. This time, Pam hears something jolting in her husband's voice. From his office on the 89th floor of the South Tower, he can see people jumping to their deaths from the North Tower. Still, there seems no reason to fear for his own life. The announcements on the PA system are assuring everybody that the building is secure.
Minutes later, Pam's friend Laura Downey calls. She is breathless, hysterical. A second jet has hit. This time it is the South Tower. The impact is on floors below John's office.
The phone is ringing nonstop now, but Pam hurries each caller off the home phone in case John is trying to get through. A neighbor is already on her way over to help with Allison by the time Pam gets the call from Kimmy Chedel, the wife of John's boss. He had called his wife from a cell phone, and said he and some colleagues were trapped on the 87th floor of the burning South Tower. The doors were locked. They couldn't get down the stairs, or up to the roof. He did not say if John was with them.
The South Tower digests the jet with fury. A band of thick orange flames rages through the relentless plumes of smoke, which are pouring from both towers now. When it collapses in an earthquake-like roar only about 56 minutes after United Airlines Flight 175 flew into it, Pam has no idea where her husband was.
She leaves the home phone line open all day, but never gets the call she is waiting for.
Four days later, Pam phones a counseling service contracted by John's firm.
"When do you throw in the towel?" she asks.
"Not yet," is the reply.
She continues to reassure Allison with child logic. Daddy was in an accident and hasn't phoned because the accident knocked out the telephone service in the city.
The facts being relayed among adults are less soothing. Pam talks to engineers she knows, and urges them to be frank. It is a hopeless equation: heat and compression, dozens of floors. A week has passed with only five survivors found, none since the day after the attacks, and New York City Mayor Rudolph Giuliani is walking a linguistic tightrope between "rescue" and "recovery." But today he is falling away from hope. "We don't have any substantial amount of hope we can offer anyone that we will find anyone alive," he says. "We have to prepare people for that overwhelming reality." Pam hears the words, and makes the torturous leap. It will take some widows weeks, even a month to do the same.
"I lived with Rudy for how many years in the city and I knew what Rudy was telling me, and that was the turning point," she says. The Center for Hope in Darien specializes in grief counseling, and clients had been calling since just hours after the attack. A new stage of trauma was unfolding as mothers such as Pam sought advice about how to tell their children.
The playroom off the living room in the modest Cape Cod house the couple is renting in a woodsy neighborhood in Darien is a bright, cheery place, scattered with the trappings of a 3-year-old girl. There is a wooden painted table and two kid-sized chairs. One is painted like a pink giraffe and the other like a green elephant. It is the first place Allison brings visitors when offering them a tour of her home.
On many afternoons, a melody of English and Spanish conversation emanates from the room as Elba, the household's bilingual housekeeper, plays with Allison. It is the second Saturday after the attack, Elba is not here, and Allison must be sensing that her mother has something on her mind because she is asking about Daddy over breakfast. We will talk about it after breakfast, Pam tells her. She asks Allison to come into the window-filled playroom, which is bathed in light on this spectacular sunny day, much like the weather on Sept. 11. Pam's session with a counselor at the Center for Hope is fresh in her mind as she begins playing with Allison and her Tinkertoys.
Don't tell her too many details, she remembers the counselor's advice.
She chooses her words meticulously. She does not say "killed." She does not say "missing." "I didn't want to go down that missing route," Pam says.
"Daddy died in that accident," she tells her.
Allison is quiet. She does not look up from her toys
"Daddy's not coming home," she continues. "He's in heaven with the angels."
Mommy is crying.
Allison's questions come later, day after day after day.
Why is Ryan's daddy there?
Where is that one's daddy?
Works answers honestly.
Am I going to die?
Yes, but not for a long, long time.
Daddy's in heaven, but when is he coming home?
Tears cloud Pam's eyes as she recalls this, but she quickly blinks them away and steels herself.
Daddy is never coming home.
"I don't want her to make a mistake about that."
It takes four days to plan Daddy's goodbye party, as Pam describes it to Allison. It is not unlike preparing for a wedding. A neighbor called city hall to get the permits. Roadblocks were set up to close off the Rowayton road.
The minister, a hip, no-guilt kind of guy, presides. "I tried to keep it real light. It's not a hugely religious group," Pam says. John's 25-foot sailboat rocks on its buoy in the background during the service. It had been ripped from its mooring the night before, and eerily, but masterfully, maneuvered an obstacle course of boats moored there. The boat was found on the morning of the memorial with its keel stuck in the sand, its bow pointing out toward the waters that John had sailed since he was a boy. From here on a haze-free day, the outline of the World Trade Center had been visible.
Pam has received her sign, the minister explains. She had already shared with him how troubled she was that she could not feel her husband's presence, as she did 18 years ago when her father, Alan Block, died.
Pam insisted that the marina haul over the damaged boat so it could be present at John's memorial service.
Before it has ended, Pam asks one of her husband's friends to bring a certain trader from J.P. Morgan Chase to her. She is a gracious hostess, the kind who puts a guest's coat on both arms before he leaves. Even today, she feels the need to take care of her guests.
"I just looked at him, and I said I need you to know how much my husband cared for you, that he used to come home after having drinks with you, and just, blah, blah, blah, blah and Owain this, and Owain that and bapbapbapbap," she explains. "And, he looked at me and he just, I could tell he was touched that I sought him out of all the people who were there, but I felt that it was so important for him to know that ... I mean John didn't go on like that about people."
In this first month after the death of her husband, Pam is not "boo-hooing" as she puts it. Some tears come, but crying makes her feel worse, not better. She has no trouble sleeping at night, and she gets up every morning. There's no choice. She has a child. She has plenty of friends, and she prods herself to ask them for help. She is keeping busy with the mechanics of building a house, reviewing the blueprints, picking out bath fixtures, and bringing lemonade to the workers at the house. It is fully framed now, an American flag, raised there by a neighbor, hanging from a rafter. She devours every word of the news, on the television, in The New York Times' "A Nation Challenged" section, on the Internet. There is paperwork to deal with, phone calls to make.
When Gov. John G. Rowland calls with his condolences, "Our conversation was a lot more political than it was crying hysterical on the phone," she says. "I don't know him. I didn't feel comfortable sharing that part of myself with him." There are other things she wants her leader to know. "The government has a responsibility to keep my family safe and they failed miserably and I pay a lot of taxes. Where were the CIA and the FBI? Looking for Chandra Levy."
When Giuliani announces that New York City will hand out urns with the dirt of the World Trade Center to those who lost someone in the attack, Pam, who turned 39 in January, has another idea.
She wants one of those chintzy snow globes with a model of the twin towers inside.
"What would I do with an urn?" she asks her mother, Dorothy Block. Pam has not seen her since before the attacks because her mother is not well enough to travel from her home in Florida. Pam, like Allison, is an only child. They talk on the phone for hours. Her mother tells her how, at age 55, she shut down after Pam's father died. The daughter, however, refuses to discount the thought of someday finding someone else.
On the sailboat, Pam always made a worthy mate, but she is not so sure about being the captain.
She has no plans to visit Ground Zero. When ABC News solicits opinions about whether the towers should be rebuilt, Pam has an unusual idea.
"What they really should do is build suite apartments and give each of us one, where we could be close to our loved ones, tax free, of course."
There is a strength and certainty in her voice.
By November, it is still unseasonably warm, and Pam has changed her mind about some things. Her idea to build suites at Ground Zero is gone. "This is the burial ground. I mean it's a burial ground. It's a cemetery," she says, her voice rising. "If they put up two towers, eight towers, it's just not right unless they can get every single person and identify them. You cannot pave over it."
An urn, fashioned tastefully and simply out of wood, sits atop the slate mantel of the fireplace. Next to it is an American flag, folded in a stately triangular shape.
It was a photograph in The New York Times that did it, that persuaded Pam to attend the memorial held for the families at Ground Zero on Oct. 28.
The photograph showed volunteers folding American flags. The newspaper did not say so, but Pam knew, families who came would get a flag. She had to have John's flag.
Before her friends Kevin and Laura Downey pick her up that Sunday morning, Pam dresses in black slacks and a turtleneck, a stylish contrast to her closely cropped dirty blond hair. She pulls on a long, camel-hair tunic blazer, then a black Pashmina shawl. These autumn days have been oddly temperate, but it's finally starting to get chilly.
Pam doesn't feel much like eating when she arrives at the luxurious brunch KBW has arranged for the families at The Regent Wall Street hotel. She picks a little from the spread before heading to Broadway and Vessey Street, the entrance families have been directed to. Seeing Ground Zero suddenly seems imperative now, as she is surrounded by the familiar environs of the city. Manhattan is where she and John met. It is where they lived out the New York scene until moving to Darien last year.
In the mid-1980s, South Street Seaport was the place to be at 6 o'clock on a Friday. An associate promotions manager, Pam Block and her girlfriends at John Wiley & Sons publishing house made it a weekly habit to head down from midtown to scope out the suits of Wall Street. She was 23. One summer evening in 1986, a dark-haired, 6-foot-3 equities research analyst from KBW caught her eye. He asked her for a light.
There will hardly be enough table space in their living room to hold the framed snapshots of their lives over the next 15 years. Pam and John smoking cigars, Pam and John wearing silly oversized Mexican hats, Pam and John sailing, Allison skipping through a lawn sprinkler on a sunny day. There will be years when there are too many invitations to oblige. There will be moments of breathtaking excitement, like the day they rode out a violent squall on Long Island Sound. John deftly kept the boat afloat while Pam below deck was shouting choruses of "Mayday!" into the radio microphone. And there will be moments of mundane domesticity like backyard barbecues, Scrabble games and Friday night videos.
They were the classic yin and yang couple. A romantic lobster dinner at home on New Year's Eve suited him fine; Pam preferred a night in the city, and a show like "Sounds of Brazil." When she lobbied for a stereo to be installed in the sailboat, he looked at her like she just didn't get it.
He valued his wife's ability to crack him up with her witticisms and playfulness. John was her "J," and when she seemed a little down, he'd ask her what was wrong. "I'm blue, J," she would reply.
They, of course, sometimes took each other for granted. They pushed buttons they knew better to avoid, and cleaned up after the fallout. They were glued, however, like most married couples, by the fundamentals they'd agreed on long ago: personal moral codes, a strong work ethic, similar child-raising views. More recently, they were settling into a suburban life of dinner parties, and kitchen conversations. It was during one of those in August that John posed a question to Pam, and Laura and Kevin, as they stood in the kitchen of the couple's Darien home.
"On a scale from 1-10, how happy are you with your life at present?"
The foursome considered health, friends, family and economic status. Then, one by one, each delivered an answer.
John Works was the only one who rated his life a "10."
Now, somewhere in this stinking, soggy, smoking heap of steel and concrete and flesh is all that is left of him.
"Those bastards," is all she can think as she looks around, the urgency of the moment slapping her in the face. A police officer stops her as she tries to pass through an entrance to the site that has been closed to the families.
"Look," she tells him. "I have to see where my husband died."
He lets her in.
Barricades are everywhere, and not all the police are friendly. Standing there, Works feels mostly disgust as police officer Daniel Rodriguez sings the National Anthem, and Cardinal Edward Egan delivers the invocation. There are not enough seats for everyone, so she and her friends must stand.
Later, at Pier 94, while in line to receive the urn and flag, the sadness seeps under her shell. After registering, she is led down a long corridor, the now well-known gallery of hopeful posters that families fashioned out of snapshots and copy paper in the hours after the attacks. She recognizes some of the faces of the nearly 3,000 dead. Kindly volunteers are handing out cookies.
Pam is directed to a booth, much like those set up for trade shows. There, she steps forward toward two volunteers for the presentation. Kevin, who was among John's closest friends, and Laura are behind her, a step away. "On behalf of the City of New York and the people of the United States, we present you with..." the volunteer begins the ritualistic recital. Her friends do not need to hold her up, but the three of them begin to cry. Pam cries for nearly 10 minutes.
Leaving the pier, Pam, a journalism major, tosses a few verbal crumbs to the hungry line of reporters gathered on the opposite side of 12th Avenue. A volunteer has placed the urn in a Macy's bag, but Pam will not part with the flag. She clutches it close to her body. This is John's flag. She holds it through the interviews with the reporters, through the subway ride uptown and through the walk to the parking garage near Seventh Avenue and 55th Street. There, at the car, she gently lowers Old Glory into a Macy's bag, next to an urn of dirt.
The private world of the World Trade Center widows is not for the faint of heart. The conversations Pam has with them about the remains of their husbands are far from the superficial ones she was used to having over a couple of drinks with girlfriends before 9-11. These discussions are approached cautiously, recalled in near whispers, and bearable only if they don't last too long. The remains of five KBW colleagues were found just days after the Ground Zero memorial.
"That sort of gives you hope, and you're hoping you hear something, and then you hope you don't hear anything," she says. "And you know, is it a good thing or a bad thing? Well, if they found so and so, why didn't they find John?" She is talking quickly, at an exhaustive pace.
The unanswerable questions are her fussy companions. They demand attention. They refuse to settle down. They will not take "I don't know" for an answer.
John had survivalist instincts. He didn't like to wear loafers because he was afraid they would fall off if he needed to run.
Was he trapped with his boss, searching for a way out?
Did they argue about which way to go?
Was John Works all by himself when he died?
There has never been a widow's wait like this. Hundreds of widows are waiting. Each waits for a visit from a police officer, not to be told that her husband is dead, not to be told that his body has been found, but to be told that some part of him has been found.
Does she want to know which part?
How do you answer a question like that?
"I don't know," Pam leans back in the cushioned living room armchair and laughs.
She laughs long and hard.
It's a laugh that releases tension, the kind that shields one from a reality that is too gruesome and too twisted to fully let in. Her dad taught her to laugh.
You wish you knew her before this.
A couple sits in two Adirondack chairs that look out to Long Island Sound and Sheffield Island from a tiny park in the Rowayton neighborhood where Pam plans to move in late spring. It is a sunny, calm day for November. The weather continues to be kind.
Pam stands above the placid scene on the top floor of the house, on its wooden deck. She has just led us up a ladder leading to the perch, navigating the rungs easily with her black suede penny loafers. "This was sort of our widow's walk. John always wanted one," she says, above the din of power saws. "His kinfolk were whalers in Mystic and he's always sort of been into that shtick." Pam is not oblivious to the irony. This widow's walk is a focal point of the house, a place that invites basking in the sunny salty air.
When the builders let her go up there for the first time a few days earlier, Pam was embarrassed to let them see her cry. Even now, recalling the moment, she stretches her black cardigan partly over her face. Just inside is where John would have taken his buddies to sit on leather chairs, no doubt, and smoke cigars, surrounded by his book collection. The grand library is where John had planned to house the nearly 30 cartons of books stored in the basement of the couple's Darien home.
John was as likely to be found with a book or The Wall Street Journal in his hand as a martini or cigarette. During a family vacation to St. John over New Year's two years ago, he was reading "The Lymond Chronicles" for the third time. He once stood in line at a Barnes & Noble bookstore to get a book signed by the author, Dorothy Dunnett, who hooks readers of her weighty 16th century Scottish novels with clues that invite rereadings. The author's society sent Pam a sympathy card after learning of this Scotsman's death in The New York Times. Dunnett died in November.
John was the historical and political expert in the household.
"John could tell you how the Taliban view of the Koran is different than the mainstream Islamic. I mean he knew quite a lot about everything. I'd always be, `Put down the book, and let's go.' "
Reserved and laid back, John could be extraordinarily charming, quietly aloof or exceedingly arrogant, depending on his mood and his level of interest in the person he was with. Pam is a deft conversationalist at any time, while John had to be in the mood to make small talk. He was a skilled public speaker, and he liked nothing better than a verbal sparring match with a challenger who argued a point with equal finesse.
He was the "Jeopardy!" guy, she was the pop culture "Weakest Link" gal. She is the hard-bargainer; he was the happy benefactor of her deal-making. She was the New Yorker at heart, he was the Connecticut boy. They were not trust kids on the Ivy League track. She grew up on Long Island, and then Florida. He went to Manhattan's financial district via Middlebury College with a double major in German and economics. She got a journalism degree from Trinity University in Texas. She worked in Manhattan for more than 10 years before Allison was born.
The summer weekends they spent in Rowayton convinced Pam that she wanted to build their dream house in John's hometown. When John was growing up there in the '70s, Rowayton's small-town Americana flavor was yet to be considered chic. It was before its barbershop, hardware store and post office were labeled charming and quaint. His father, Edwin M. Works, spent 37 years working at General Electric in New York City, retiring in 1987 as a field sales administrator. Now, the income of the village residents exceeds the state average by nearly three-fold, and its Five Mile River is blanketed with pleasure boats every summer.
When John's father decided to sell the house to move to a smaller home in another part of town, Pam wanted to adopt the place as her home. It's more low-key here. People are down-to-earth, well-off, but not pretentious. They don't wear makeup to the beach like in the Hamptons.
Last year, they razed John's family house, and started anew on the postage-stamp lot. This house would be more contemporary and beachy than some of the nearby new houses, with their imposing front columns, yet grander than the old ones that remain. They eventually altered the curved two-person shower, the outside of which gives their new house a castle appearance, so that it blocks less of the neighbors' view of the Sound.
For a while after the terrorist attacks, Pam considered giving up on the new house. But financially, and psychologically, she knew she had to finish it. She hopes to move in by May. She points to where she will erect a flagpole and fly her husband's flag on the deck. In the rafters above is a cork from the Dom Perignon bottle that Pam drank with Kevin and Laura on the widow's walk in October on what would have been John's 37th birthday.
Standing under the library roof that towers above her 5-foot-3 frame, Pam wonders out loud if she will be able to afford the maintenance of the 3,700-square-foot house. "This is a very big house for me and a daughter."
She is trying hard to suppress these thoughts.
"Look, I'm trying hard not to have an identity crisis, you know, but that's part of the whole process. Who am I now, what kind of work can I do that is productive," she says. "I was somebody's wife and somebody's mother. Well, I'm still somebody's mother and I was tending to their needs, and 50 percent of that is gone."
She calls her state limbo.
"You know I'm not a very patient person, and limbo has never been my favorite at any time in my life. This is one time when there's nothing to push."
Her financial future rides on rules of compensation that are still being written up, and whether she will accept them, rather than file lawsuits seeking damage, depends on what Congress and the U.S. Justice Department decide. She will not say how much she stands to receive because the decision has not been finalized. Socially, she is far from ready to enter the singles scene she left when she was 20-something, and every time she thinks of getting out, it repels her.
Sometimes, in rare glimpses, she can see the freedom of a dream as she stands on the widow's walk, her pale face turned toward the Connecticut sound.
"I don't know what tomorrow will bring. Maybe I will say the hell with everything, sell it and move to Paris. I don't know."
She has met a couple of times with another woman named Kim, who lost a husband, too. They both planned to attend a weekly widow's support group that started in November at the Center for Hope.
"We're not boo-hooing. It's more like, `What have you heard about this, what have you heard about that, and have you made any progress on this thing' ... It's very taking care of business kind of thing, and it's fine." Whether the relationship will last, Pam does not know. "A friendship could develop, but it's hard to be friends with someone if this is the only thing you have in common with them."
She and Kim are coping in the same way - protecting themselves with an armor, she said. She knows she cannot bury things, and there are more times now when Works opens her shell to reveal her vulnerability. Then, she snaps it shut again.
"You know, all your life, you've been told there's a heaven. Wouldn't it be a bummer if you died and that's it, you don't see anybody. It was all like just lore. It was a scam." Standing outside the house near Pine Point Beach, she turned her back to the two Adirondack chairs, which are now empty.
She seems to need a little comic relief to propel her through the thought. "It's like, man, I mean what happens if you get remarried, and then you're up in heaven, you've got your first husband there. What is the whole dynamic of that?"
Then, she gets serious again.
"It kind of makes you think, maybe this isn't what I've been told for, you know, 38 years, that it is."
The thought hovers over Long Island Sound for a few seconds, and then Pam remembers that she has to pick up Allison at the cooperative nursery school.
Pam heads to the older of the family's two Saabs, the 1993 model, carrying her keys and ever-present pack of menthols. She returned the new Saab, and although most of the three-year lease remained, the dealer ripped it up after hearing that her husband died on Sept. 11. That's the kind of thing people have been doing.
Allison, dressed in a baby blue fleece jacket, black pants and black shoes, is standing, looking up at the blue sky as a leaf or two falls alongside her onto the school lawn. Her shiny, straight blond hair is reminiscent of her mom's. She looks lost in a wonderful daydream. But on the way home, like a skater venturing onto untested ice, Allison taps out the questions. She awaits an answer to each one, before she tries another. "Husband" is the theme. She asks about Elba's husband, she asks about my husband. She does not ask about Mommy's husband.
The other day, she was riffling through her mother's pocketbook. At first, Pam found herself scolding Allison for pulling out some photographs of John. Then, she stopped short, and watched her.
Allison cuddled the photos to her face, kissing each one. "Come back," she tells her father. Pam gathered her breath and told her daughter, "I'm sure he would like to, but you need to know the place that he's in, I'm sure he's very happy." Pam's voice gets higher at the end of her sentence, as it often does when her green eyes fill with tears.
By December, Pam is ready to slash the wires of the Christmas lights in every yard she sees. She has long since grown tired of the public displays of mourning, and the inequity in the treatment of the survivors of the firefighters and other emergency workers, compared with the families of the World Trade Center victims. Not that she begrudges them, or questions their heroism, but someone could have asked the WTC widows if they wanted to go to Hawaii, a concert or the World Series.
The deepest rage she continues to feel against the terrorists, besides destroying the life that she loved, is that they made her husband die as a victim. Her husband did not live his life as a victim. Even if he had died of cancer, he would have had more control over his death. She will never have the luxury of knowing if, in his last moments, John carried out his own version of "Let's roll" heroism like the passengers on the United Airlines flight that crashed in rural Pennsylvania.
She is aware there are people who think the government should give her nothing, especially since she lives on Connecticut's Gold Coast. Some have said as much in letters to the U.S. Justice Department that are posted on its web site. She spends much of her free time reading stories on the Internet, listening to the radio news. The Nation Challenged section of the Times is the first she reads every day, and she keeps in touch with other widows through a Yahoo site.
"The world loves to root for the underdog. That's just the way it is," she says. "You know if you have a fireman's wife living in Rockaway in a nice house, and she's got to sell her house and move her family because she can't support her lifestyle, it's a tragedy. If I have to sell my house and move my family because I can't afford it, it's well, it's too damn bad.
"Look, it's not just the United States," she says. "That attitude is pervasive in the world. If people think that you have two nickels to rub together, they don't like you. But the fact is, we paid a lion's share of taxes. We made more, we had higher expenses," she continues. "Each of us has a choice in this life. I mean, everything we have, we worked for. We started with nothing. I told you one other time we are not trust fund children here. We both have bachelor's degrees. My husband did not have a business school degree from Harvard."
Pam funneled some of her anger into a four-page letter to the Justice Department, which was seeking feedback on ways to compensate the victims. Her letter blamed the government for failing to keep people such as Mohammed Atta out of the country, especially in light of the 1993 bombing of the World Trade Center, which John Works survived. Lawyers she has consulted to help untangle the legalese have told her she is such a quick study,she knows more about this than they do. When a guide - "the book," as the widows call it - arrives from the office of U.S. Rep. Christopher Shays, the Republican who represents Fairfield County, she reads the inch-thick binder of information in a single night and is disappointed, but proud, that she already knows most everything in it.
Pam makes no apologies for a lifestyle that seems extravagant to middle America, and notes in her letter that this perception is one reason the terrorists picked lower Manhattan over Lincoln, Nebraska, or Pensacola, Florida. If her daughter wants to attend graduate school, study abroad or go to medical school, she should have that privilege. She should not receive less compensation and be punished for sound financial planning because she had life insurance.
The issue is one that unites the widows on the Internet, and at her support group. She has yet to receive word on her husband's remains. Sitting at the 18th century wooden desk she and John bought at a Manhattan antiques store, she prints out a story that refutes recent comments by the New York medical examiner who said that some of the bodies were likely incinerated in the heat.
Kimberly Statkevicus, who lost her husband Derek in the World Trade Center, is becoming a friend. They joke about who is the bigger media draw. Statkevicus will give birth to her second son, Derek Chase Statkevicus, on Jan. 2, and both The New York Times and The Courant have written stories about her.
One of the other widows they know can barely get out of bed in the morning, so deep is her depression.
A pile atop Pam's Sony television in the living room is growing with newspapers and magazine stories about Sept. 11.
She has cut the budget for the new house. The tiles she picked out for the bathroom were too pricey, some of the light fixtures will be downgraded. The worn 12-year-old leather couch might have to do for now. She has added a security alarm to the budget. That was something she and John had never considered.
The weather is colder now. The phone rarely rings on weekends, and she is more weepy. She blames the holiday season.
"Everybody's getting on with it," she pauses, "and, yeah, it's kinda sad." She is teary. Then, she raises her voice as if to boost herself. "It's not sad that they're getting on with it, it's just sad that I'm getting on with things in a different way."
Allison calls from the playroom. "Mommy, come see the house we made."
"I will in a minute, honey." Her tone is patient and kind.
Then she turns back to her thoughts, and her voice gathers a tortured air.
"I expected this. It doesn't make it any easier."
Soon, she stands, and walks to the entrance of the playroom. "What, honey bunny? Let's see."
"It looks like a whole city. Did you do that yourself?"
"With Elba," Allison replies.
"With Elba?" Pam mirrors her daughter's delighted tone.
It was for Allison that Pam finally put up a wreath on the garage and strung it with white lights, her sole Christmas decoration this year. Allison had wondered why the neighbors' homes looked so bright.
Pam hasn't sent out Christmas cards. She has managed to write 25 of the 400 thank-you cards. Those were the easy ones, the most outer circle of acquaintances. Others will require her to sit and write and think about John. The journal I gave her a month earlier to record thoughts for this story remains empty.
She cannot listen to music on the radio. It used to be that she turned to the all-news station only for traffic reports. Now it is all that she plays. She turned down a Christmas party invitation. Allison is the only one who will get Christmas presents. It was hard enough on Thanksgiving, going to the grocery store, and seeing all these people rushing about. Thanksgiving was John's favorite food holiday, and this was the first time in 12 years that she was not cooking.
She is starting to forget the sound of John's voice. The other widows have already warned her, don't watch the old Christmas home videos.
She has smelled every one of his shirts and looked in his bicycle bag, but still she cannot find anything that carries his scent. Even his robe, which she wears, does not smell of him. His clothes remain where they were on Sept. 11. Pressed shirt after pressed shirt hang in a downstairs closet. In this room, John used to dress every morning so he wouldn't wake Allison, sleeping upstairs. Elba had done the wash on Sept. 10, and so all his clothes were clean except for a pair of shorts, and a T-shirt stained with red wine that reads "Tex-Mex is Life."
Pam shopped for most of his clothes, like his leather jacket. "It was picked out with love, and it's very hard for me. I know where I bought it, I know when I bought it. I know what occasions he wore it to." Maybe when she moves into her new house she will be ready to deal with the clothes, she said. At first, she thought she should; other widows have. Maybe she could give the clothes away. His close friend is John's size, but she realized she could not bear to see him in her husband's clothes.
Finally, Pam told this to the guy's wife. She understood.
Now, she has decided it doesn't hurt anyone, the clothes being there.
The other day, Allison asked her who was going to wear Daddy's clothes. I don't know, she told her, "because I don't." She is matter-of-fact.
Her mourning accelerates just before Christmas.
For more than a week in December, she and Allison stayed in the oceanfront Seagate Hotel & Beach Club at Delray Beach near where her mother lives. It is where she and John married. Drinking wine and sitting by the television night after night while Allison slept was hard. One night, "Prime Time Live" had a show about all the widows who have had children since Sept. 11. "I was hysterical," she said. Every day, she drove to Kinko's to check her e-mail. Three times a day, she called Statkevicus.
Back home, she sees other friends three or four times a week, usually to take the kids out to a diner, go shopping or to a hockey game for Laura's and Kevin's son Will. She is ever grateful to these friends. Still, she rarely talks "turkey" - her word for that painful, private place. There are some things she cannot talk about with anyone else but the other widows. "Even with my close friends, we don't go to that place," she said.
There are jokes between Statkevicus and her that she fears no one else would understand. "I crack up people all the time because I actually have the nerve to say what other people think." She has friends who have never lost a loved one, not a parent, some not even a grandparent. How could they understand this? On Christmas Day at her mother's Florida apartment, she misses her husband in the most unlikely moments. After the presents were unwrapped, he would have sat with Allison, and put in the batteries, unwrapped the plastic bags holding the dolls, and dealt with some of the other demanding and tedious chores of parenthood. He might not have liked it, but he would have done it. It's the same in the early evenings when John would come home from work and Pam would hand over Allison before he even got in the door. "I've had such a day, take her." John would play with Allison while Pam cooked dinner. Now, raising a child by herself, (she mouths the words in a whisper) "Sometimes I feel like a bitch."
On New Year's Eve, a clear, cold night with a nearly full moon, friends from Houston, Claire Poole Auchter and Ronald Auchter, are visiting with their two daughters, Madeline, 7, and Jane, 5.
The house smells of thyme and Dijon, the paste Pam has spread on the pork roast she is cooking. She is a fabulous cook. On the glass-topped coffee table in the living room is one of John's favorite Dunnett novels. Claire bought it for Ron, who is reading it.
On the mantel the flag is now in a glass and wooden case that a friend of Pam's mom bought for her. Meticulous, Pam tried to align the stars of the flag with the viewing window of the case, but the line is off slightly, and that bothers her. The pile of Sept. 11-related stories atop the Sony now includes a coffee-table book about the attacks.
More guests are due soon, including Kevin and Laura, who are bringing a Karaoke machine. Nearly a dozen adults and 10 children will soon fill the house, and it will be fun. There will be dancing and singing. Midnight will be hard. Afterward, she and Kevin will each toss a pair of John's shoes into the Sound "to kick this year in the ass because it's been an annoying year."
She heads upstairs to change into a simple pair of dark blue dress slacks and a turtleneck, diamond necklace and diamond stud earrings.
"She's always been very strong, a go-getter, self-starter," says her friend Claire, who is in Pam's kitchen, microwaving macaroni and cheese for her two girls and Allison. "I told her, `You'll make it. You're strong,' " Claire says.
"I knew she would."
Then, she quickly corrects her assessment. While they were grocery shopping for tonight's dinner, Claire looked over to see that her ever-sturdy friend was crying in the aisles of Stew Leonard's.
This is the first of several stories about Pam Works and her daughter Allison that will appear in Northeast this year after the death of John Works in the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center.