The journey of Judge Joan Lefkow

The girls take care of her too.

On Easter, they made her laugh by teaching her dirty words, a few of which she painted on an Easter egg.

On her 30th wedding anniversary--"Take me to Hawaii, I've never been to Hawaii," she'd said to Michael--they took her to dinner.

Mother's Day. Father's Day. Each official festive occasion passes like another hurdle jumped in the psychological escape from 2/28.

The unnamed, uncelebrated moments are hard in a different way. It's on solitary mornings like this one, when the two girls who are home for the summer have gone off to work, that Joan Lefkow sits alone in the stillness, baffled.

"I have to keep reminding myself that this really did happen," she says. "There's something about death that's so stark and shocking. A person who was with you for 40 years is gone! Just gone!"

She tosses her arms into the air. Lets them drop. Tears fill her eyes, but don't fall.

Memory is gravity. It tugs her down and back. She fights to look up, move on.

She changes the picture on her cell phone from one of her husband's grave to one of her daughter Maria trying on a bridal gown.

Now, the phone rings.

"Just the marshals," she says. "Checking on my schedule."

They're a rotating squad, mostly strong men half her age, from places like Arkansas, Missouri, Kentucky. Mostly they disagree with her on politics, but they admire her grace and strength while they hover around the bridal shop, the theater or the grocery store with their sunglasses and their cell phones.

She has learned to stop mothering them as much as she did at first. They'll figure out when they're hungry or need a bathroom break.

Still, she and they trade kindnesses. They carry her groceries, fix a light. After one of her mother's memorial services, a marshal taught her a few pool moves in a small-town Kansas bar. She once made the guys pancakes.

The polite tenderness they exchange sometimes looks a lot like love.

The marshals are there to make her less afraid, but their presence tells her to be wary. Wary of her reflex even now to trust.

Out on the Internet, the ignorant and hateful still spit on her name. In May, she was dining in a Thai restaurant when someone posted a nasty note, seemingly aimed at her, on the window.

Every time she phones the CP, the marshals' command post, to say she's ready to go outside, she's reminded that she's not just a victim of violence, not just a widow navigating the ordinary obstacle course of grief.

She remains a judge, made vulnerable by her power.