The Worst Fear Excerpt Chapter Three

Chapter Three

2 min Read

The Boston Public Library stood where it always had for the last one hundred and twenty five years, massive and imposing in its grand Renaissance-style architecture, an anchor from the past in the middle of Copley Square, surrounded now by towering glass and steel testaments to capitalism, and framed by sidewalks bustling with worker bees and tourists scurrying to and fro in the driving rain.

A Boston Metro ‘T’ bus wheezed up to the transit stop in front of the library. The bus’s rear doors whooshed open and Madison stepped off, pulling up the hood on her rain jacket as she alighted and hustled up the library’s marble steps. She was late, again.

Why? Why am I always late for a meeting that’s once a month in the middle of the day?


She knew the answer, of course, even if she didn’t want to admit it. As she rushed through the ornate entry doors into the majestically ornate lobby, there it was on the Events sign, the reason she was always tardy: ‘9/11 Survivors – Boston Chapter: Community Room 4’.


Well, this will be the last time I have to do this, so does it really matter?


Madison stepped quietly inside the Community Room and slipped into an empty chair, trying her best to not draw any notice to herself. Her dark mood had not lifted from the morning; if anything, it had gotten even more grim now that she was trapped here again. Like always, just sitting in the circle with thirty people of all ages and walks of life was almost more than she could bear; today, given how she was feeling, it was all she could do to tamp down her emotions still swirling inside.


There had been a time after 9/11 when these survivor support groups had popped up almost overnight, not just in Boston and New York but in other major cities as well. The monthly meetings were an opportunity for bereaved family members to congregate with those who had suffered a similar fate, precisely the sort of group to which no one would ever want to belong. Back when Madison was turning nine, Dr. Katz had made her promise, pinky swear no less, that she would go with her mom every month to help heal the wound in her little heart caused by the very bad thing that had happened to her.


Initially, and for the first ten years or so, the attendance at the Boston meeting had swelled to well over a hundred, and Madison found coming to be bearable, in large part because she was able to recede into the background, to be more or less invisible, letting the adults share and grieve while she kept to herself.  On those few occasions when she was called upon to express her feelings, to talk about how she was managing without her dad, she couldn’t bear it; it was just too much for her. Truth be told, no one really expected her to be able to speak, given her tender age, so when she remained silent, the group understood and supported her silence.


As the years passed, attendance gradually dropped off. Then, almost two years ago, Madison’s mom had stopped coming after it became clear she could no longer manage. Madison had dutifully continued to show up, even after her mom passed away on New Year’s Day; after all, a pinky swear was a pinky swear.  But now, as an adult, it was harder to be silently invisible. Being chronically late didn’t help.


As if to make the point, a few in the circle had turned and nodded ‘hello’ as she entered, and she had managed to nod back while avoiding all but the briefest eye contact. Madison knew most of their first names by now, but she had tried, diligently, to not know much more than that about any of them. It was just easier that way; simpler.


Madison gazed fixedly down at her feet as she listened as one by one, young and old, strong and frail, they stood and shared how they were coping, or more often, how they weren’t. Tears were shed, the pain for each heart-breaking, real and palpable, even after so many years; the longing, the sadness, the survivor’s guilt. She never stopped marveling at how they were able to open up so willingly, with such vulnerability. 

And then, much to her surprise, especially given the fragile state she was in, she found herself thinking, Today will be the day. Today, I will speak my truth, too. Her inner voice was suddenly ringing in her head, full of resolution, This is my last chance. It’s now or never.


Madison heard her name being called and looked up. 


The facilitator, a kindly elderly man with a droopy mustache, was smiling at her from across the circle. “Care to share, Madison?” he asked. “It would be kind of special, wouldn’t it – seeing how this is your last time with us?”


The eyes of the group were upon her. And in that moment, just as she’d committed to do moments before, Madison told herself to just stand up and express her feelings – her ‘truth’ – to just shout it out, straight from her aching heart.


But in the next instant, the resolve, the commitment, that she’d just felt evaporated into the air like it had never been there in the first place. And suddenly her legs wouldn’t let her stand, her voice wouldn’t let her speak. She was instead overcome with a wave of raw, overpowering emotions – grief, rage, sadness, they were all there in spades – and all she could manage was to lower her eyes and shake her head. And in that moment, she hated herself all the more for it.

The others looked on with compassion. The facilitator nodded caringly.  “It’s okay, Madison,” he said in a gentle voice. “You’ll know when you’re ready.”