Last year I was playing tennis with my family when we heard the bombs go off. I looked up to the clear blue sky and thought maybe it was a plane going by; one of us said it was probably a truck. About an hour later I knew what happened because a couple dozen people on Twitter were looking for me to see if I was okay.
I had written a blog post just that morning about how much I love the Boston Marathon and I had spent an hour or so along the course near my home screaming until I was hoarse (like I always do) and introducing my son to the joys of picking out runners in the crowd and screaming motivating words to them.
Here are two excerpts I wrote hours before the bombs …
Yes, watching the elite runners is fun … they go so fast it just doesn’t seem humanly possible. But the middle of the packers and the back of the packers … those are my people. The regular Joes trying to do something extraordinary and succeeding.
What makes Boston special is the combination of the runners and the crowd. We love our history — this amazing race — and we want to be part of it even if we’re not running. We know Boston is special and it’s because of the experience it provides everyone, runners and others. It is a big hug of a moment every year where the city and its suburbs come together. I honestly don’t think any other race can touch it.
Reading that post again just now, I burst into tears.
Now We’re Boston Strong
We spent the rest of that week in a daze, the whole city. We were sad, angry, not frightened really, just incredibly pissed off. Someone, somewhere said “Boston Strong” and we all felt it; we all rallied around it. The One Fund took off and millions were donated overnight. The London Marathon held a moment of silence. Baseball parks around the country (even Yankee Stadium) played the iconic Fenway Park singalong “Sweet Caroline” as a show of support for the city.
We all suddenly and viscerally understood what it was like to live through a terrorist attack, and the aftermath of an outpouring of support that comes your way while you’re numbly trying to return to “normal.”
Then the Lockdown
One of my Pilates instructors called me at 4:00 am on Friday to tell me her Watertown neighborhood was overrun with police and armored cars and lots of “guys with guns.” She wasn’t able to leave her house to teach her clients at the studio. Boston, Cambridge, Somerville, and Newton quickly locked down as well by 7:00 am, but Brookline didn’t shut until 9:30 and I had been on the phone with my clients trying to figure out what to do. We all decided it was best just to stay home, to stay safe … my home was only four miles from where the shootings were going down. Maybe the guy could actually get that far. Who knows?
I spent the day watching TV and following social media. After a while, we turned it all off and I watched a movie with my son. There were no accurate and reliable facts being released, so what was the point? At 6:00 pm, the governor said they were lifting the lockdown. They couldn’t find him. How could thousands of cops and military personnel not find one criminal?
Turns out some middle-aged Watertown guy, jonesing for a cigarette, found him. Standing on his back steps and gazing affectionately at his boat, soon destined for the water … he saw a smear of blood.
Then things went crazy, watching them close in. I found a link online to the police scanner and listened as they inched closer; it was agonizing. Then it was over and a whoosh of triumph, of … well, “FUCK YOU!” and “Yes, we got him!” rushing over me, rushing over us all. Boston had won.
“We will shut down the city and we will hunt you and we will find you if you do this to Boston. THIS IS OUR F**ING CITY,” wailed and screamed across the internet.
Boston strong. Boston strong. Boston strong. Boston strong.
We Run Again
The words I want to spill across my screen are words of redemption. I want “Boston strong” to thrum through me. Those runners are brave and spirited and I will cheer mightily for them. There is no way I won’t be along the course on April 21st and I don’t know anyone in Boston who won’t be there as well.
But we’ve lost something. Maybe we’ll get it back someday, but it won’t be this year.
I’m truly just sad. We are trading carefree for security. We will watch runners with prosthetics stream by and we will remember what they’ve faced, what they’ve overcome, what they’re still overcoming. And we will be reminded that what was once a carefree city-wide holiday and celebration has been tainted.
Maybe in a few years we’ll go back to wondering how many college students will get arrested for drinking in public, but is anyone worried about that this year?
I hope I’m wrong. I hope I get into the crowd and relax and cheer and feel my people around me and I leave hoarse and sated. I hope someone proposes to their loved one at the finish line. I hope happy families embrace sweaty runners and are only thinking of the amazing achievement they just completed. I guess I’m really just hoping for normal.