Karyn Taylor was only 16-years-old, but she knew this was the one. And it wasn't one of those fleeting romances that teenagers are wont to have. She was sure of it, not a doubt in her mind. Karyn knew the minute she saw him. He was it.
"I instantly knew he was different from the guys he was with," Karyn said. "He was funny and sweet and quieter than his friends. Unlike a lot of people, he didn't seem to need the spotlight to be happy."
He was Leonard Taylor, everybody called him Lenny. There was only one problem. Lenny was 25 and nine years older than Karyn. "I remember when he found out how old I was, he thought I was kidding," she said. "He was pretty bummed."
They met at an ice rink in the San Fernando Valley outside of Los Angeles. Karyn had gone to watch her then-boyfriend in a hockey tournament. Later that day, she met Lenny who was also playing in the tournament. Karyn was a 16-year-old valley girl from California still in high school. Lenny, a native of Andover, Mass. and a lifelong hockey player, was a graduate of Wooster Polytechnic Institute and already working in Southern California. "I was introduced to Lenny and that was it. I was 16 at the time and I never looked back," she said. "He was perfect. He was funny and sweet. I just knew he was different than anyone I had ever met before and he wasn't obnoxious like so many of the other hockey players."
While Karyn knew Lenny was special, she says they both knew nothing could happen until she turned 18. The "age-thing" was just too "uncomfortable," she said. Two years later, she was dating that "quiet and content 27-year-old man."
"I remember Lenny used to drive this old '69 Chevy Impala," Karyn said. "We were in California where cars meant everything, especially to guys. Everyone was driving a 'Z' or a Camaro, but not Lenny. He didn't care and I loved that about him."
The former college hockey star was still playing in weekend hockey tournaments, and Karyn said she went to every game. "Me and the other girlfriends were like little cheerleaders," she said laughing. "More like little hockey groupies. I just loved watching Lenny out on the ice. Could have been a beautiful day outside, but I was in that rink.
Less than three years after they first started dating, Karyn and Lenny were married. She was 21.
<b>EIGHTEEN YEARS LATER</b>, Karyn and Lenny were still happily married. The couple, who moved to Reston more than 10 years ago, had two young daughters, Jessica, 9, and Colette, 6. Lenny loved nothing more than being a dad, his wife said. "He loved being a daddy," she said. "He was just a natural."
Last September, Lenny was in the midst of his 23rd year with XonTech, a research and development firm in Arlington. On the morning of Sept. 11, Lenny got up early to catch a cab to nearby Dulles International Airport. He was flying to Los Angeles with friend and colleague, John Sammartino, for a business meeting. When he wasn't traveling, Lenny, 44, would get up early and ride his bike 21-miles along the WO&D Trail to his office in Crystal City. On the 11th, Lenny hopped in a cab outside of his Reston home.
Cross-country trips to Dallas and California weren't uncommon for Lenny, Karyn said. Nevertheless, she woke up to see him off. "I woke up to say good-bye to him and I got to say that I love him which I know a lot of people didn't," she said. "So at least I got to do that."
Taylor and Sammartino never made it to Los Angeles that day. Their flight was American Airlines Flight 77. Lenny was one of the 184 people who died when terrorists hijacked the California-bound 767 and crashed it into the Pentagon.
Once again, Karyn knew. At home with her youngest daughter who had afternoon kindergarten at Sunrise Valley Elementary School later that September day, Karyn was meeting with a home appraiser when a friend from Minnesota called and told her to turn on her television. "I knew," she said. "I knew the second I heard they had closed down the airports because my husband is not the type of person who wouldn't call the second he could have."
Karyn did not need anyone telling her something she already knew in her heart, she said.
"It was still weird that day — at the number of people who stopped by that day and offered their condolences even before there was confirmation of his death. It's like they had already written him off. I was so mad," Karyn said. "Every time someone came by I was so mad. Even when my sister called and said it was flight 77. I just said she was lying and I hung up the phone on her. And then Lenny's father called and said, 'I am sorry that was our boy,' and I hung up on him, too."
<b>"I HAVE 18 YEARS</b> of memories and I know a lot of people who don't have 18 years of happiness with their spouse," Karyn said. "We were just extraordinarily happy. I just took that for granted until he died."
In the days and months after 9/11, friends, neighbors and Lenny's coworkers told Karyn how lucky she and Lenny were. "I heard so many stories of unhappy marriages. Even his boss said to me, 'I had two marriages that didn't last as long as yours," she said. "I just assumed that everyone was happy like we were. Everything we needed was in our house: our children, each other and the life we were leading. He was my best friend, I met him when I was just a kid. I never had an adult moment without him, ever. Every trial I ever had in my life, he was with me."
For Karyn, Jessica and Colette, no day these days is easy. For four months after the attacks, Colette, who was home that morning, drew pictures of the Twin Towers with a plane going into the buildings. On the plane, the six-year-old drew a picture of her dad, smiling and waving. "I hate that those images are in my daughter's head," she said, adding that she never turns on television these days. She cannot risk seeing her two daughters seeing any more pictures from that day, she said.
For Karyn, the preceding 365 days seems like a never-ending bad dream. "I cannot believe it has been one year" since the attacks that took away her husband. "It seems like a day," she said, fighting back tears, in a recent interview in her two-story colonial home. "Let me tell you. It's gone quick. I mean here we are starting school again."
Lenny, Karyn said, never missed a first day of school, from pre-school on, for either of his two girls. Last year, because his youngest daughter started afternoon kindergarten, Lenny took the whole day off from work to see Jessica and Colette off to school. His work, Karyn said, was very important to Lenny but it always came second to the kids. "This is the kind of person my husband was. He was there every year," she said.
"On the first day of school this year, when all the parents were out there taking pictures and my husband wasn't there. It was just unbelievably tough. The first everything is difficult, even the first summer knowing we wouldn't have the annual family summer vacation."
But as difficult as the days can be, Karyn and her two daughters are surviving without her best friend. Managing paper work, like insurance claims, has become a full-time job for the stay-at-home mom. "I think the kids help so much that there are moments when I am lost in the kids."
Recently, Karyn decided to move from her home that she bought with Lenny 11 years ago. The Taylor women will move into a new home in Loudoun County later this year. The new home will have access to sidewalks and trails and it will be more affordable for Karyn who finds herself on a fixed-income since last fall. "This is where we lived. Everyday that I am here without him is a day that is feeling off," she said, brushing away tears. "Something is just off. Maybe that will pass in time."
"Somehow, I am doing it. I don't want to, but I am. It's been a year. My kids are fed, there's a roof over their head and they both finished school strongly last year," she said. "I think he gave so much of himself to them and to me is the reason that there is this ability to go on without him."
<b>WHILE SHE UNDERSTANDS</b> the significance of the 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, Karyn is not ready to share in all of the nation's grief. "I still find myself not understanding what happened," she said.
"For me, it is two very separate issues: the terrorist attacks and my husband's death. One day I may be losing it because my husband is gone — which is often — but every once in a while I will wake up and be like, 'oh my God, 3,000 people died.' It's like trying to process two really horrible events and I don't think there is a timeline for that. The events of that day haven't hit home for those of us who lost somebody because we are still trying to process our loss."
To mark the year anniversary, the Pentagon has planned a day of ceremonies and speeches. Fifteen members of her family and Lenny's family arrived in Virginia this week, in time for the Pentagon ceremony which will be held not far from where Lenny worked in Crystal City.
At times, Karyn wishes the anniversary date would just pass. She says she really wants to spend time alone with her daughters. "I don't get to mark it in the way that we want to and I don't feel like we have a chance to do anything privately. "We talked about it yesterday — the girls and me and their counselor — that we are going to do something to mark the day for just the three of us."
Deep down, Karyn knows the 9/11 anniversary needs to be monumental, at least the first time, she said. "But the truth of the matter is that everybody I have met, from Donald Rumsfeld to big-time generals, didn't know my husband," she said. "I know everybody is doing so much to help. But nobody but the three of us, my three girls, and me have to live with this loss every single minute of every single day. Even his family doesn't know what it is like to wake up everyday and face the day without him."