One Year Later

April 15, 2013.

It started out as such a regular day. It was Marathon Monday – Patriots’ Day – a public holiday in Massachusetts, so I had the day off. Drew was working from home. The weather was gorgeous.

As Drew settled into the office to work, I settled on the couch to watch the Marathon on Channel 5, something I had always done with my Mum growing up. I hadn’t watched for a few years because, without all the snacks and tradition and my Mum telling me stories about Marathons and marathoners past, I found it all kind of boring; I liked to hear about who won and what countries they were from, and I always liked to see the Hoyts running, but otherwise I couldn’t be arsed to watch strangers running for 2+ hours. This year, however, I had begun running myself and was interested to watch it all through the eyes of a new runner.

Sometime in the early afternoon, after the winners had already crossed the finish line, Drew and I decided to grab lunch. We were both craving Mexican food, and I pushed for a trip to Boloco, home of my favorite “summer” burrito with mango salsa. Google told us the closest location was Medford, a few towns south, so away we went. As we ate our burritos we watched the Sox game that was playing on the restaurant’s TV, then we stopped in the Dunkies next door so I could try their new Irish Creme iced coffee. Everything seemed so normal. Little did we know as we drove home that chaos was about to happen just a few miles away.

When we got home, I plopped down on the couch and opened Twitter. As I scrolled through my feed I started seeing posts about smoke at the finish line and people being injured. I turned the TV back on and sure enough, there on the screen was the finish line obscured by tons of white smoke, with cops everywhere. I called Drew down from the office to see what was happening. He initially thought maybe an electrical box had blown, or something similar, and I clung to that idea; I didn’t want to believe that someone could have bombed my Marathon, my city.

I sent a text to my Mum, who I knew would be watching. I imagine our thoughts were just like everyone else’s at that point: What happened? Did someone really just bomb the Boston Marathon? Who would do that? Is everyone okay? Then I remembered that Gina, one of my best friends, had been planning to be down by the finish line. And another friend from college was running the race, and his wife had been posting pictures on Facebook of their two little girls holding signs at various points along the route. My blood went cold. I sent a frantic text to Gina, and was relieved to hear back that she was already out of the city at a friend’s house. I obsessively refreshed Facebook for updates from my college friend; thankfully he’s crazy fast and had finished in under 3 hours, and he and his family were also safely outside of the city.

I couldn’t pull myself away from the TV. At one point my Mum and I were on the phone with each other, not really talking, just watching the news together in silence. More details were trickling through – people had died. Two young women, an eight-year-old boy. Hundreds of people were injured. The news kept showing blood stains on the sidewalk. I just remember feeling stunned and sick to my stomach. My phone was buzzing constantly with texts and phone calls from friends and relatives; people knew I had started running in races recently and several were worried that I had been at the Marathon.

I’m trying to remember if I went to work the next day, but honestly I can’t remember if campus was closed or not. The next few days were a blur of sadness, worry that there might be more attacks since the bombers were at large, and checking news sites and Twitter constantly. As soon as I got home from work everyday I put the news on to see if they learned anything more about how everything went down. Everyone was Boston Strong, and the outpouring of support from elsewhere in the country, and the world, was incredible.

Then came Thursday, the 18th. My weekly 5K for Beginners class met as usual, and our instructor gave us all hugs. She had been at the finish line, right in the middle of everything, but felt like she couldn’t cancel our class… we had to keep running. We had our 5K race coming up soon, so she led us on a practice run of the route. I was struggling. I was one of the slowest in the class and I was discouraged, but I pushed myself to keep going, to keep running for Boston. I remember limping past an MIT Police cruiser and seeing the cop in the passenger seat grinning/smirking at me. I glared at him, embarrassed and assuming that he was laughing at my slowness, and tried to pick up my pace. That moment still haunts me a little.

On my drive home from work I was listening to the radio, and it was announced that the FBI would be releasing pictures of the suspects a little after 5 that evening. I might have driven a little faster than usual, hoping that I’d get home in time. I put the TV on as soon a I got in, and there they were – Suspect 1 and Suspect 2. I remember my heart pounding as I looked at their pictures, at the people who supposedly placed bombs at the feet of innocent people, children, and then blended back into their lives as if nothing had happened. Would they attack again now that their identities were known? Would they run?

I was in bed that night when my phone pinged just before 11pm. I was vaguely annoyed that someone was texting me so late, but it ended up being an emergency alert from MIT. There were reports of gunshots and they were warning the community to stay away from the area. Wide awake now, I opened Twitter and started trying to get more details. Was this random, or was this connected to the bombings? My phone kept pinging as more alerts came through. Then I saw a picture on Twitter of an MIT Police cruiser with a huge blood stain on the ground next to it. There were reports of an officer down. MIT announced it would be closed the next day and told us all to stay home. I’m not sure how, but eventually I managed to get to sleep.

The next day, Friday the 19th, was the day the city went on lock-down. I was on the couch in front of the TV all day, watching footage of the eerily empty streets and grainy cell phone videos of the shootout that had happened overnight in Watertown. It all kept getting more surreal. Just the year before, Drew and I had moved to our new home from Watertown, and we kept seeing our old apartment in the background as reporters talked and military-style FBI vehicles trundled past. Apparently one of the suspects was dead. So was the MIT Police officer, Sean Collier, who was shot the night before. I kept thinking of the grinning cop I had glared at the day before, hours before Sean got shot… I have no idea if that was even him, but when I picture that moment now I always see Sean’s face.

The lock-down continued all day as police and FBI searched for the remaining suspect. Everything was eerily quiet. Even though it was another beautiful day out, and even though I was miles away from Watertown and my city technically wasn’t on lock-down, I didn’t want to go outside. I was glued to the news. Then the lock-down was lifted, and not long after someone just a few streets away from my old apartment called the police to report a suspicious tear in the cover of his boat. Suspect 2 was captured and the streets of Watertown turned into a street party, with hundreds of people cheering the police, firemen, and other first responders who drove past on their way back to their towns. I remember wanting to hug the reporter on Channel 7, who had been out in Watertown literally all day and looked exhausted and disheveled. You could almost feel the city sigh with relief now that the bombers were no longer at large.

It’s felt like a long road back from those few days one year ago. After the feeling of relief there was still so much pain to deal with. The hundreds of people injured in the blasts were still in hospitals, the families and friends of those killed were dealing with unspeakable loss. There was a palpable sadness at MIT as we all mourned the loss of such a kind, vibrant young man, cut down at the start of a promising career, his dream career. A spontaneous memorial appeared at the site of his shooting, and it grew every day. That palpable sadness still exists at the site of that memorial, which is still marked with flags, a cross, and a stone engraved with his badge number. The loss of Sean is still felt on this campus, by this community, every day.

“Boston Strong” became our rallying cry and soon it was everywhere. Looking at the city today, I can’t really think of a more fitting phrase. Not only did we all band together during a time of terror and grief, but we’ve also grown stronger since that day. The city feels more resilient and is as beautiful as ever. We love that dirty water because, Boston, you’re our home.

bostonstrong

No more hurting people. Peace.

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