It should have been a beautiful day.
Sunny, a little cool, a bit breezy, but on the whole, not bad for spring in Boston. A fantastic day for a run.
I worked from home a bit before heading to the lab. A couple of hours after lunch, as is my typical routine, I headed to the gym. After about 45 minutes of strength training, I took off out the door, following one of my short loops to tack a couple of miles onto my workout. I passed people with their yellow bags and blue jackets, reminding me that it was Marathon Monday.
For my first four years in the city, I lived only a couple of blocks from a section of the route, and Paramed and I would walk up, watch with inspiration as the wheelchair division zipped by and with awe as the elite runner zoomed past. We’d meander down the last few miles of the course, cheering on runners and feeding on the energy and excitement of the crowd. Last summer, we moved into one of the more distant suburbs of Boston. I had briefly considered trekking downtown to spectate, but I had things to do, and there simply hadn’t seemed to be enough time of late.
I returned to the lab from my own, much shorter run. I grabbed a yogurt from the fridge. My boss wanted to talk briefly about a collaboration. We chatted briefly about another thing, I giving him a good-natured ribbing. I returned to my desk.
As I sat down, my phone vibrated with a text message vibration. Immediately it buzzed again. And then again. Messages from 3 different people, asking if I was in Boston, wanting to know if I was OK.
My stomach knotted. “I don’t know what’s going on, but something’s happened,” I commented to my labmate. I fired off one reply and started logging into my computer to find out what was going on.
My phone started vibrating again, a call this time from Paramed. When I picked up, I didn’t bother with pleasantries. “What is going on?”
“Where are you at? Are you OK?” he asked urgently.
“I’m at work. I just got back to my desk and had 3 different people asking if I was OK. What happened?” I asked.
As I asked, my labmate – having just gotten a text from her husband – answered. “Oh my god. There’s been some sort of explosion at the marathon.”
I thought I’d been punched in the gut. “Oh my god.”
At the same time, Paramed replied. “I wanted to be sure you were OK. There were two explosions at the marathon near the finish. I’m in class. We just heard about it.”
We exchanged a few more words. “I’m glad you’re OK. Please be careful,” he said before we hung up.
Stunned, I quickly began replying to the direct messages queueing up on Twitter, while pulling up the local newsfeed and checking Twitter. I fired off a text to my dad, knowing that my family would be hearing about this any minute. I assured my friends on Twitter that I was far from danger.
Then I called our other labmate. She’s a runner, a crazy runner, the kind who loves pushing through 26.2 miles and beyond. She had qualified and registered for Boston. But she’s also a new mom, and the time away from her daughter to train for a marathon was more than she was willing to give up, at the moment. So she’d decided not to run. But we had no idea where she was, whether she and her husband and adorable 5-month old daughter were somewhere along the course to watch.
The phone rang a few times, and she answered. “Belle, how could…?” Her voice cracked. She knew.
“Are you alright?”
Her voice steadied. “Yes. We were watching at Coolidge Corner [24 mi marker]. We’re almost home now.”
“Good,” I replied. “We weren’t sure if you were watching or where.”
“I just…” She took a breath. “First, who the fuck would do something like this? But second… if I had run, that’s about the time I would have been finishing. That’s my pace – 4 hours, starting at 10 o’clock.”
“I know.” I did know, and I didn’t know what else to say.
“My sister’s best friend is running, and she would have been in the same group. I hope she’s OK,” she continued. [Later she learned that the friend was fine; she’d finished 10 minutes before the blasts.]
“I hope she’s OK,” I replied. “I’m going to get off, free up a ‘line’. I’m sure everyone’s trying to get through, but I wanted to make sure you were fine.”
“Thanks,” she said. “This just hits close to home. I’m hugging my daughter tight right now.”
Then I returned to the coverage. I watched and listened, my brain numb. By the time I tuned in, the anchors were still being cautious, indicating that there was no information as to whether it was intentional or not. But watching the video, I knew in my gut it was. Some part of my brain tried to come up with an alternative but was quickly shut down. Later they reported that, asked whether the blasts were bombs, a law enforcement official responded, “Hell yes. What else could they be?” As the coverage continued, it became evident no one thought this was accident. It was also clear, unsurprisingly, this story was personal. One anchor commented, “I’m infuriated. I hope they get this SOB in a hurry.” In the confused tumble of emotion, this stuck with me.
And yet through all this, the sun kept shining. It didn’t seem right. No, that wasn’t it. It didn’t seem real. It seemed like something out of a movie. Where was the dimming of the light to set the mood?
After the Boston PD press conference, I packed up to head home, wondering how long it would take me. The bus ride was strangely silent, no one daring to speak a word. Terrible things happen all the time – a bombing, a shooting, a fire – but somehow it seemed more acute, because it happened in our city. More than that on a day that we celebrate human commitment, motivation, discipline, achievement, and joy in what is normally a very solitary activity.
We all disembarked at the train station, murmuring farewells to the driver. At the entrance to the train station, I discovered a full security check – bag searches and metal detectors. And yet, despite the hundred or so people waiting to get to their trains, there wasn’t a word of dissent or complaint or protests of missing a train. As the train pulled out of the station, I watched a helicopter hover over the city. It should have been there for the finale of a marathon; knowing it was there covering the aftermath of an attack was chilling.
I now sit at home, sipping a beer and processing this day. The seemingly overwhelming problems of yesterday seem rather small. The worries I had have been temporarily displaced by shock and staggering sadness. There is no sense to be made of this. It was a horrific act. It’s the sort of thing we want to believe is inconceivable – and yet we know from recent history it is not. Innocent people have been killed, and many, many others injured. It took only a few moments on a Monday afternoon to completely change how we viewed the world. Suddenly every neglected bag, opaque water bottle, or abandoned box had become a threat. But even as objects were eyed with suspicion, there was also a great outpouring of aid and compassion for people.
This city and this event are irrevocably changed…
Changed… but not defeated. There’s far too much spunk in this city for that.