I debated — as many hobbyist writers have as well, I presume — on whether or not to write about the past week here in Boston. What value can I add to the barrage of media coverage, personal stories, images, video, op-ed pieces and political posturing that has held us hostage over the past 6 days? But we all have a story to tell, and each one is personal.
I started working in Copley Square back in 1996, before I even graduated from college. By my calculation that puts me at somewhere around 33,000 hours logged in and around the small stretch of Boylston Street between Dartmouth Street and Berkeley Street — not including the extra hours spent working overtime, enjoying meals at local restaurants, and spilling out into the streets after drinks with friends. During that time, I’ve lived in no less than 16 different apartments, from Back Bay to Somerville, from Mission Hill to Allston/Brighton, from Jamaica Plain to Quincy, and finally, in the second half of my 30s, settling for a commuter life here in Walpole.
The attack on the Boston Marathon was undeniably personal. When all else changed, when the rug was pulled out from under my feet (as is wont to happen at various times in your life), I relied on the familiar routine of getting up each morning, putting on my proverbial pants one leg at a time, and heading to Copley Square for work. My doctor and dentist, dry cleaner and long-abandoned gym are there. My farmer’s market, my beloved wine, cheese, and fine foods store — there. My solace — there.
Having gone to work on many a Marathon Monday and being all too familiar with the general annoyance of street closings and throngs of out-of-towners that it will bring, I opted this year to take advantage of my new-found ability to work from home. At 3:10 on Monday afternoon, I was nose-deep in my laptop, sitting next to my husband when he snapped me out of my work trance and pointed at the TV. A bomb had exploded in the heart of Copley Square, just yards away from the finish line of the 117th Boston Marathon. Within minutes, my phone was ringing, text messages were coming in: “Please tell me you were working from home today…”
Being safe in Walpole, I took to the virtual streets of social media, where crowds of onlookers were gathering on Facebook and Twitter feeds. The bombing images looped over and over in the background on the TV. “I’m safe,” I posted. I liked incoming statuses of other local friends also reporting their safety. I cried.
This was personal. One of my closest friends and Copley Square compatriots was working in the Prudential Mall building, whose entrance was not far away from the second blast. The building went on lockdown, and he stayed there, no TV to update him, until 6 o’clock that night. Confusion and chaos were prevalent alongside the heroism that also ensued.
My work building, situated between Arlington and Berkeley Streets, was closed the next day. I worked from home again, unable to concentrate, head reeling with incomprehension. It remains inconceivable to me days later that this happened in my tiny corner of the earth.
On Wednesday, we all returned to the office — but not to normal. I reached out to friends at other buildings in the area and made plans for lunch. A reaffirming meal with friends and a 2-month old baby was what I needed to soothe my soul. We opted for comfort food at Joe’s American Bar & Grill, on the corner of Newbury and Exeter Streets; when we asked for the check at the end of a long lunch, we were told all meals that day were on the house. I was simultaneously filled with unspeakable sadness and inexpressible gratitude.
Thursday came and went in an uneasy holding pattern, and I longed for the media and the throngs of people around my building to go away. I wandered over to the makeshift memorial to the victims 2 doors down from my office and silently paid my respects. I planned a vacation day for Friday, simply to sleep in, process and try to breathe again. It was not to be.
My husband woke me up from a deep if exhausted sleep at 8am on Friday morning. “They knocked over a 7-11 and killed a police officer and one of the guys is dead and they hijacked a car and the T has been shut down and there’s a massive manhunt in Watertown,” he breathlessly informed me.
Watertown. Where my sister works, my cousin lives, coworkers live, the woman who married us lives. Back to Facebook, back to TV, back to calls and texts and Twitter feeds. The city was on lockdown. Photos circulated, and my brain awkwardly repeated Russian names in my head, trying to master their pronunciation, trying to understand something incomprehensible and foreign. A friend from the post-college years struggled with the realization that one of the suspects was a sparring partner who had broken his eye socket a few years earlier. I performed a neurotic circuit of newscasts, Facebook, and the boston.com live blog feed over and over again for hours on end, juggling phone, laptop and TV until my eyes burned and hunger pangs grew in my stomach.
I was afraid. Afraid for those I loved, afraid for my city, afraid for the state of the world, and afraid that normalcy was a thing of the past. And so I watched the news for 14 hours straight yesterday, trying to ignore the curious tightening of the neck, chest and arms that those of us with nervous dispositions are prone to.
Is it reasonable to have experienced such fear?
I don’t know anymore.
As hour 13 drew nigh and the suspect was cornered in a boat a street over from where our family friend and wedding officiant lives, I received second-hand updates from one of my college friends, a Boston police officer on the scene. Our friend was in her car leaving the area as the shots began. The suspect was now bleeding out, I was informed. When it was finally over, the city erupted in exhausted pent-up relief and once again took to the streets, in a display not unlike the triumph of the Red Sox in 2004. We celebrated our officers, our city, and our freedom.
Here’s the important thing, though. My personal experience is in no way unique. We ALL had a cousin down the road, a friend in law enforcement, classmates and colleagues who missed the explosion by five minutes and a twist of fate. This week was made up of threads from the fabric of every part of the Boston experience: the gathering of athletes from across the world to participate in the marathon, including members of our own running community of every age and from every walk of life; the selflessness, skill and dedication of our world-class doctors, surgeons and nurses; businessmen, students, and “townies” alike affected across the various locales where the drama unfolded, from the business district of Copley Square to the venerated Massachusetts Institute of Technology campus, to the working-class Watertown neighborhood; the visit from President Obama, speeches at the interfaith service offering comfort from the president, our mayor, governor, congressmen — and the typical political commentary that followed; the tireless dedication of our law-enforcement professionals, showcasing cooperation across all representative bodies and the citizens themselves; the pride of our professional sports teams and their fans, who honored the victims in the most moving ways, cancelled games so as not to pull resources from the police, and whose logos were repurposed in countless new icons of Boston pride.
The week also memorialized the cross-section of Bostonians affected by this tragedy, heartbreakingly represented by the four victims: our youth — Martin Richard, an 8-year old boy from the uniquely proud Boston neighborhood of Dorchester; our locals — Krystle Campbell, a hard-working 29-year old waitress with a big smile and quick wit from the metropolitan suburb of Arlington; our students and foreign nationals — Lingzi Lu, a 23-year old Chinese national living in Boston to attend graduate school at one of our world-class educational facilities; and our officers — Sean Collier, the 26-year old MIT police officer, killed in the line of duty during the terrible manhunt that ensued.
The fact is, though I may curse Boston every year as we shake off the mantle of yet another tough winter, my heart is inextricably tied to this locale. As someone who is wary of change, it’s been a hard pill for me to swallow that important people may come and go from our lives, our routines change, we age (as do our loved ones), jobs and store fronts come and go…and yet the ever-fluid city stands as my constant. I moved to Boston a full 20 years ago this September, and it’s been my solace in times of need; its streets have welcomed me, calmed me, protected me, throughout the ups and downs of my life since I showed up here as a fresh-faced 18-year old student. It’s taught me of an unwavering loyalty and faith that manifests itself in the absurdly tenacious 87-year belief that next year is the year. I could not be prouder to report that our faith HAS been rewarded, and my city continues to stand strong. In its darkest hour, my city still comforts me, still makes my heart sing, and yes, still protects me. This is the resilience of Boston.
This morning, after my husband left the house, I picked up the remote and turned off the barrage. For the first time in a week, my house is silent. The couch where I camped out all day yesterday on high-alert holds me again, but this time in quiet repose. A peace has descended. And in this silence, I can hear myself think for the first time. My heart swells, my eyes fill with tears, and I’m filled with love for my town. We have prevailed.