The journey of Judge Joan Lefkow

Fifteen years of appointment books squeezed into the cluttered shelves.

A 1960s valentine from his wife in a desk drawer near an e-mail from a daughter's boyfriend asking for her hand in marriage.

And everywhere lay records of the clients he loved, like the one who every two weeks mailed a check for $27.50.

On this May day, in the middle of his mess, in the void of his vanished life, his widow stands and cries.

"All this man's life activities," she says. "Phone message lists, calls to return. Now they're just papers in people's way."

- - -

A few days later, big men with big muscles and tattoos evacuate the house Joan and Michael Lefkow shared. Room by room, chair by chair, sofa, dining table, beds, a baggie that holds a baby's teeth.

She fusses over the movers. "Do you want water?"

She bends to straighten the plastic tarp on the stairway carpet. "I don't want anyone to stumble."

A neighbor stops by, they hug. She's losing the family of her neighborhood as well.

"You two were always the two who stopped and talked to everyone," the neighbor says. "How are the kids doing?"

Lefkow smiles the smile she wears like a uniform these days, tender, apologetic, as if she's sorry to intrude with this wreckage that is her life.

"Terrible," she says, but skimps on the details. She protects her girls like a bodyguard.

When the furniture is gone, she stands at a window in her bedroom, empty except for Michael's clothes, a box of his shoes, a jar of his pennies.

"My therapist told me to take a picture of what's out the window, like the tree," she says. "I haven't yet."

She gazes out at the red maple she'd watched from bed through so many changing seasons. So many things still to be done. Michael's headstone to buy. Two daughters' weddings to plan without the father of the brides. A job, the source of all this trouble, waiting for her return.

Suddenly, she recoils.

"They're filming me!"

Out front, a TV news crew aims a camera at the bedroom. She presses a hand to her heart, steps back. How do they know she's here?

Even at her own birthday party, attention makes her squirm. Now she's watched, always watched. By the media. The marshals. Who knows who else. In her solitude, she feels surrounded; in her loneliness, robbed of the right to be alone.