Yesterday started off about as perfectly as a day can. I took the train into work because I’d be taking it right to the Garden after work to go to the B’s game with my brother, father, and uncle, something we’ve turned into a sort of yearly tradition around their birthdays at the end of March.
It was a perfect Marathon Monday: not as hot as it was last year, but not cold and rainy either. I was a half hour early for work, and spent that time sitting out in the sun reading The Iliad (nerd alert, I know).
It was a normal Monday for me too: I spent the morning making Bruins jokes on Twitter, polishing up the Bruins Bracket for Cup of Chowder, and helping people with resumes and computer stuff. It was all normal, until everything changed with one click of the mouse.
“XX new Tweets,” and suddenly my screen was filled with reports of bombs going off at the Boston Marathon. “What the hell?” was my first reaction, a mixture of confusion, fear, and disbelief. As the afternoon wore on, it became far too real:
Someone had bombed my home.
I’ve lived in Boston my entire life. I grew up in Dorchester and attended college at Suffolk University, where I lived on campus for two years. During those two years, the entire downtown/Back Bay area was my playground. I’d thought nothing of walking down to Boylston Street after class to pick up a copy of NHL08 (dating myself here, wow), grabbing lunch at the Pour House, or heading to Newbury Street to laugh at the pretentious people browsing the high-end stores.
For those who don’t know, Patriots Day is a uniquely Boston holiday: the Red Sox play at 11 in the morning, after which fans head to Kenmore Square to watch the runners stream through; tens of thousands of people swarm the streets to cheer on people they’ve never seen before, and will likely never see again; kids are off from school, and the entire city is in a good mood. There’s not a drop of animosity in the air: it’s the purest holiday and purest event in the entire city. And someone chose that day to make some statement, to hurt hundreds of innocent people. What started as a testament to human athletic endurance became a testament to the endurance of the human spirit.
A testament to the bravery of cops who grab their guns and headed towards the smoke, not away from it; to the student volunteers who expected to be treating road rash or blisters, and instead had to apply tourniquets; to nurses like my cousin, who had the day off but didn’t hesitate to report to their emergency rooms in the immediate aftermath of the bombings.
As the day went on, I felt similarly to how I felt as a eighth grader back on September 11th: the fear and confusion of not knowing what was going on, and not knowing what was going to happen next. People were claiming a bomb had gone off at the JFK Library, a report that turned out to be false, but a location that is mere minutes from my house. If 9/11 was the seminal moment of my elementary/high school years, unfortunately yesterday might be that moment for my mid-20’s. Sure, I’m hoping great things happen to me in the coming years, but nothing is going to replace that hollow feeling I had in my chest as I watched smoke rising off of Boylston Street.
Of Boylston Street. In Boston. My home.
I was discussing the events with my friend Bill, and we agreed that watching such events unfold at home was surreal. I walked down the other end of Boylston Street just a week ago, on a beautiful Saturday afternoon. I’ve gone in that CVS, scoffed at the people who go to Forum, wondered how rich I’d have to be to live in the Mandarin Oriental.
And someone decided that the people down there, people just like me, needed to be hurt and killed.
One of the best parts of Boston is that despite it being a pretty big city, it seems like everyone knows everyone. Everybody knows somebody who runs the Marathon, and as the day wore on, it started hitting closer to home: my cousin was a few blocks away, having walked further down Boylston minutes before the bombs went off; a friend’s girlfriend had been on the bleachers earlier that afternoon; friends had planned on going to the Marathon but changed their minds; family friends were in front of the Lenox Hotel across the street.
Finally, the tragedy hit my community hard: the eight-year-old boy who was murdered was from my home parish, St. Ann’s in Dorchester. I didn’t know the Richard family, but the boy was a Dorchester kid just like me. Martin Richard attended the same elementary school as I did, wore the same white suit when making his First Communion, and played at the same parks. His mother, who was seriously injured, frequented my mother’s work.
From what I’ve been told, he’s me: grew up in Dorchester, had two loving parents involved in every aspect of his life, had an older brother, and a younger sister. This morning, I saw a picture of him playing in a flag football league at the Garvey Park, a place I played as a kid.
This family, a working-class, community-oriented, loving family, was torn apart, and for what? For what? There’s no reason for this. No reason any of this needed to happen.
As yesterday came to a close, I, like most of you, grew weary of the constant coverage, yet couldn’t look away. I played my brother in NHL13, but didn’t feel like I should be having fun. I told my brother, sister, mother, and father that I loved them, something they all knew but that we all felt the need to confirm. The sense of sadness, of confusion, of fear, and even of guilt, knowing that these tragedies have happened elsewhere but haven’t had as much of a personal impact, lingered.
The city will bounce back, but everything will be different. Before the B’s canceled last night’s game, I told my brother I didn’t want to go anymore. He said the same, as did my father. Have we really reached the point where nowhere is safe? Office buildings, colleges, schools, buses, trains, planes, and now the Marathon?
Even as Tuesday marches on, the eerie feeling remains. As Bill said to me, we’re all trying to make sense of the new reality we’re living in.
Martin’s spirit will live on far longer than that of the cowards responsible for this, as will the spirits of the other two deceased. The city will rise up and support one another, neighbors comforting neighbors, strangers consoling strangers, because that’s what happens here. Boston itself is a contradiction: fiercely divided into proud neighborhoods, but just as fiercely united against outside threats.
I don’t know where the city goes from here, and truthfully, no one does. The hashtags and trending topics will eventually stop, as will the t-shirts and newspaper columns. But we’ll still be here, still be riding the T, still be hanging out at the Pru food court or bar hopping up and down Boylston. But now we’ll be looking over our shoulders, because someone attacked our home.
Nothing will ever be the same.