Warning: This story series contains descriptions of physical abuse.
by Tess Willoughby
September 11, 2001. This dark day united all Americans in horror, in terror, and in pain.
With at least one exception: Nate Willoughby.
I found out that our country had been attacked using our own commercial aircraft when my mother called me from town and said, “Turn on the news.” Her tone of voice suggested the worst of the worst of the worst: so awful that you didn’t ask “what channel?” because it didn’t matter what channel. The president had been assassinated. There was some horrific, unthinkable natural disaster, probably in Virginia. Something so bad she couldn’t say it.
I hung up, turned on the TV and watched the Twin Towers burn, holding the phone in my hand.
The phone rang. I hit the answer button. Nate lit into me about how I needed to come back to him and I was in rebellion against God and would probably go to hell.
I swallowed and sat on the floor and said, “Are you aware that terrorists have attacked New York City? The World Trade Center is burning!”
Nate said, “Who cares. We’re talking about my life.”
I hung up on him and sobbed and choked in front of the TV until I didn’t have any more strength to cry. How mean and insane was my husband? How would I ever get away from this vindictive bastard without being destroyed? Was Nate even human? Was my country’s government about to fall? How many more planes had been hijacked, and what would blow up next? It felt as though my own personal hell had unleashed national horrors and worldwide chaos. The lid had blown off life itself and nothing venerable, nothing precious, nothing good could stand. My own personal, religious zealot terrorist had gone global somehow and the world was burning and crumbling to the ground; nothing and nobody was safe from crazy men with extreme religious agendas.
Post-traumatic stress does funky things with your brain. That September, I believed that I had landed in a world without personal boundaries, without national security: a world of merciless anarchy where freedom was not only impossible but a joke and and an illusion. A world where terrorists could strike anywhere and nightmarish, ruinously expensive court hearings never ended, but God was silent. I believed that I could lose absolutely everything, even my nation. If not for my parents, I would have lost my sanity.