Marian Fontana Interview

Widow's Walk
Marian Fontana

A Conversation with Marian Fontana

Q: How has writing this book affected your work as both a writer and a performer? What were the challenges in writing such a powerful and painful book?

A: I receive, and continue to receive, amazing letters and e-mails from people who have read my book and so for that, I am truly grateful. I never expected to touch people by sharing my experience, but from the letters I receive, I see that I have, and for that I am blessed. I am glad I have the book to give to Aidan as a document of this part of our lives. On the other hand, it has been a cross to bear. I have become identified as a 9/11 widow and so it has made returning to the life I once knew impossible. I don’t blame anyone for this. It is what it is and so I feel both privileged and cursed by my role.

As far as writing the book, next to the experience of 9/11, writing it was truly the most painful thing I have experienced. Writing about it day after day, reliving it for two and a half years really made moving on impossible. Ultimately, I think it helped me process this painful time and helped me let go of Dave. As I wrote the last sentence I burst into tears, knowing that it was, in fact, the final goodbye.

Q: Can you describe how you blended your memories of your life with Dave into the story’s narrative?

A: It happened very organically. In the first draft I made the memories distinctly separate, putting them in italics to let the reader know it was the past, but this felt contrived. Ultimately, it worked much better to weave them throughout the book.

Q: In the months after September 11 you wanted so badly to receive a sign from Dave. Did the search for significance and meaning in small things disappear or do you still find yourself thinking about those types of messages? How have you come to understand the types of signs, communications, or coincidences that many of the widows reported receiving in the weeks after their husbands died?

A: I will never know the answer, but I did feel Dave around me and continue to feel his presence. Now, it does not feel like literal “signs” but more of a feeling that he is around. I became estranged with one of the firefighters from Squad and have always felt very sad about it.

Just last month I planned a surfing trip to a remote part of Puerto Rico. It is not commercial and has only one flight a day. I rented a condo from a former lifeguard on a remote hill overlooking the ocean. There was only one other house there and it turned out it was owned by this firefighter who retired a few years ago. We ended up healing our friendship and he even taught me how to surf again.

I’d like to think that if it wasn’t Divine intervention, that perhaps it was Dave intervention.

Q: When John from Third Watch inquires about your screenwriting and offers to take a look at one of your scripts (on page 124), you say that your creative mind left you. How were you able to regain your creativity?

A: By writing the book. As it says in the book, my creativity left me. I had no interest in anything and had to be convinced by my agent to write the book in the first place. I am grateful that she pushed me, because it helped revive something very important in my life. My husband always supported me, encouraged me to quit my day job to be a writer. He believed in my talent and so I continue to write and am even planning to perform again soon. I never did give John Wells any of my scripts, because I felt like all the scripts I wrote before Dave died were from a different part of my life. If I wrote one now, it would be very different.

Q: A lot of people found fiction, novels, and other forms of entertainment irrelevant in the months after September 11. People reported not being able to concentrate on anything other than the news and political books and articles. Do you think fiction and creative writing are important in a post-9/11 world?

A: Very. At first, it repulsed me. When I was considering writing a book, I went to a book fair at the Jacob Javits Center and eighty seven 9/11 books had been sold to different publishers. I was disgusted and didn’t want to be a part of that. Then the head of Simon & Schuster told me that it was natural for creative people to process this event through their art. I guess that made sense to me, but since I was directly affected, it took me longer to come to terms with writing a book. It was my brother-in-law who convinced me, who reminded me that it was Dave who encouraged me and believed in me as a writer. Most of all, my brother-in-law told me to write the book while the memories were fresh, so that Aidan would remember his father.

Q: In March 2006, construction of the World Trade Center Memorial began. Many families were opposed to the plan and the Coalition of 9/11 Families filed a petition in court to halt construction.

How do you feel about the planned memorial? What would you like to see at the site?

A: I am on the Family Advisory Board of the Lower Manhattan Development Corporation. We are one of eight advisory boards guiding the memorial, which is to say, we have very little impact in what happens. I was touched by how many thousands of people submitted their ideas, but all in all, I felt the whole process was rushed and not forward thinking. Ironically, it is now stalled. I think if we had just slowed down and given the city and the families and the country time to heal and recover, the memorial would have been more poignant. It felt rushed and every great memorial I have seen in my life has had the benefit of time between the event and the memorial.

I think this is necessary to do it well. That said, even though I was the impetus for bringing all the family groups together in the coalition, we are no longer members. I was tired of fighting and only feel good when I am being proactive, not arguing. Therefore, our organization, now called the 9/11 Families Association, is creating the Tribute Center, a visitors’ center across the street from Ground Zero.

We have been offering tours guided by the 9/11 community (survivors, family members, residents, etc.) to visitors, and in June our facility will be open to all. So while the memorial at Ground Zero could take eight more years to open, we are offering a place for people to go—to learn about 9/11, and learn from it.

Q: Dealing with the press and politicians added a complexity to your grieving process that not everyone who lost someone on September 11 had to deal with. What have you learned about politics and the press?

A: While I never planned on being public, I learned so much about the media and politicians. Both are incredibly powerful tools for dispensing messages quickly to the public. Controlling the message was difficult and I was sometimes misquoted, but in general, I met a lot of amazing journalists and politicians who really make a difference.

There were others though, who used 9/11 as a tool for their own political gain. Watching the politicians, I learned how difficult it is—so many people wanting so many things. It seems easy to lose sight of who you are and what you stand for. Not to mention that politicians are beholden to so many who paid for their campaigns and got them where they are. It’s a flawed system, but an amazing one, and I appreciated the access I was granted to get attention for the issues that were confronting the families.

Q: Have you stayed very involved with the widows and families organizations or have you stepped back some?

A: I am still involved in Tribute, the visitors’ center mentioned earlier, but not full-time. The energy and effort involved are exhausting, and I realized that I would not heal if I kept going at such a pace. I tour with the book, work at my organization when I can, but it’s important for me to step back and get away from 9/11. It was vital for my own health and for Aidan and I to start a new life. September 11 is everywhere around us. It’s still in the paper every day. I turn down most media calls unless it promotes the organization or the book. I will always care and speak when I feel it is vital.

Q: What are you working on now? Are you writing? Performing?

A: I am working on my second book and am currently creating a new theater piece. It’s been fun getting back to my comedy and a lighter side of my life. Right now, I am writing essays about dating and finding love again. I am happy for the first time in years, and while I still miss Dave every day, I am rebuilding a new life, spending more time with Aidan and my new nieces, and more time writing and performing. I love my life and feel a deeper sense of gratefulness for all that I am blessed with.