Melanie agrees that bitterness and jealousy have never crossed her mind. She does recall, though, how she felt at the first sight of Bob in the hospital in Germany. "When I saw the extent of his injuries, I just crumbled, and wanted to throw my arms around him. And in that one moment, I wished it could have been Dave, and there could have been this hope. I had a vision of David in my arms when his body was in his casket. It was really very profound, all these emotions jostling together, and I just collapsed and had a good cry." But, she adds, "it would have been too cruel for Bob to be taken as well. He is so important to us, too. The hardest thing for a child is to lose a parent, and Bob has been a real father figure to our girls out of his love and friendship with David."
NBC's Tom Brokaw, a close friend of both families, was riding his bike last summer when he ran into Bob outside a favorite local restaurant. "Bob was looking well and just standing there waiting for Mel, Lee, and the kids to come have dinner together," he says, "and I thought, 'This is the way life is supposed to be—'it had almost a fifties quality to it. These were two really attractive couples, with Lee and David as the alphas, charging through life and having fun doing it, and David is suddenly taken out of the equation, Lee and Bob move in and fill the vacuum as best they can, then Bob gets hurt and Mel moves in...sort of a relay team of life."
Melanie and Lee certainly know they can depend on each other. "We have walked through fire together in a way no friends should have to go through," says Lee. "If we were close before this, we are unbreakable now. We'll probably end up in a nursing home together. Having a friend like Mel takes away the fear of old age, takes away the fear of ever being alone."
Nancy Doyle Palmer is a screenwriter who lives in Washington, D.C., and writes for Washingtonian Magazine.
From the April 2007 issue of O, The Oprah Magazine.