I hope you guys will forgive what might look a bit like self-promotion, but I wrote some reflections on yesterday's events and I'd like to share them here. (Oh, and trust me, I have no delusions about my blog—it's fairly lame and infrequently updated. This was just a convenient place to write something at length.)
After finally taking the hot shower my body had been screaming for all day, I toweled off my wet skin, wrapped the cloth around my waist to make a snug towel-skirt, played with my hair in the mirror for a few minutes, returned to my room to put on some briefs and a t, went back again to the bathroom to give my teeth and gums a vigorous scrubbing, mussed my hair for just a half a minute more, clipped my fingernails, and then finally entered my room ready for sleep.
I catalogue these little details because, for the first time in my life, such an insignificant routine has never felt so solemn. This is the first time that a course of events has so thoroughly and terrifyingly put in doubt the guarantee of something so banal as washing the day’s accumulated dirt and stress off of myself before lying down to sleep. A bed has meant many things in my life – a good night’s rest, a cozy place to watch a movie, a lazy afternoon nap, another item in a list of chores, a place to discover and enjoy love with another person (these are mostly positive things, but you get the picture). Tonight this bed is another reminder, in a dark room, that I could have wound up somewhere much, much worse.
We (myself and six of my housemates) got on the T at Park Station, switching from the Red Line to take the Green into Arlington. The trolley stopped at Boylston first, and a handful of folks hopped on. A pair of guys, one far more drunk than the other, offered us and the rest of the car a benign source of amusement as they chattered inanely, wavering unsteadily in the aisle. We got off at the next stop and headed above ground, occasionally yelling out the names of our marathon-running friends into the air, playfully pretending that, in the swarm of people several blocks away from the actual race itself, their ears might perk up and they’d shout back that their legs were doing just fine and yes they’d finish the race very soon. For a bit we entertained the image of getting one of our runner friends on Facetime on his iPod, or maybe starting a brief mid-race Skype session, until the conversation decayed into laughter.
Cutting through the endless stream of bodies and strollers, shopping bags and cell phones – not to mention the ubiquitous posters of support: “You can do it!” “Go Matt!” “Almost there!” and a 10x-blown-up cutout of one particularly lucky runner’s face – the seven of us arrived at Boylston street, just in front of Max Brenner’s (a sort of chocolate- and restaurant-type deal), at maybe a quarter of two. I had already opened up the Boston Marathon’s runner-tracking service on my phone’s browser, but I continued to refresh the page for the next thirty minutes to more accurately gauge when my friends would approach the finish line and pass by our spot along the street. Every time a Tufts runner would pass by – either a student or a volunteer – we’d encouragingly cheer out “go Tufts!”; or, if their name was written on their shirt or on their body (a lot of runners wrote their names in Sharpie on their skin), we’d yell even more hysterically the random stranger’s name.
Coincidentally, the man standing to our left worked at Tufts, and his daughter was an alum. The ladies and their kids standing in front of us, who would grin every now and then at our outbursts, had set up their foldout chairs, replete with what must have been about two dozen hand-drawn signs for the runners they knew. On the patio of Max Brenner’s, one unfortunate woman standing on a chair lost her balance and, with an “oh shiiiiiiiit” crash, knocked over a table and smashed a handful of cocktail glasses. More Tufts runners passed us. At around 2:30, a pair of our good friends ran by and we cheered emphatically.
I’d checked the tracking information for another close friend, and her pace indicated she ought to pass us near quarter of three. Scanning the oncoming marathon runners, every face seemed like it could potentially shape into her own. Just before 3 o’clock, and before I could spot my friend running down Boylston, a deafening boom coming from our left shook the street. Everyone’s heads snapped to the source of the noise; I imagined it must have been overly powerful fireworks, or maybe even the firing of a cannon (since Boston has a tendency to fire cannons for patriotic events). In the following seconds as smoke pushed out further into the street and screams grew louder, it was clear something was terribly wrong. Immediately afterward, a second boom followed on our right side. The propulsion of glass and debris into the street, along with the overpowering thunder of the explosion (the sound felt like it came from inside me), translated into terror and confusion.
Fearing and expecting a third blast, I hurried away from the front of Max Brenner’s and huddled with a handful of other people against the concrete of the building. I didn’t know where my housemates had gone. To my right, another young man was curled into a ball on the ground, and to my left three young women were holding each other tearfully. Reports today have mentioned broken bones, tissue torn apart, limbs amputated traumatically, and death. Every second during which I expected a third blast extended with it a brace for impact, the expected shattering of my own flesh, my own mutilation, or the increasingly proximal mutilation of another human body. A map of Boylston street on the NY Times website marks the two blasts in red. “The two explosions were about 550 feet apart.” Our position placed us in between them, about 60 yards away from the second explosion.
I spotted two of my housemates in the middle of the street, neither of them hurt. We left quickly, walking south down Ring street, the fleet of ambulances and police cars and fire trucks producing an overwhelming soundtrack of sirens and engine groans. Close to tears, trying multiple times to get a call through to my parents, I finally reached my dad on his cell phone. Getting through brought a sigh of relief, but it dawned on me that the prospect of explaining what had just happened before any official news outlets had even released any information regarding the event would be necessarily clumsy. One of the strangest parts of my day centered on the absolute feeling of dislocation wherever I went. Walking through the Boston Commons, many people had only heard of the attacks whereas we had just left those very sites. Picking up dinner tonight for my housemates, the kind man behind the register hadn’t the faintest idea where I’d been four hours ago. Calling a parent – or anyone significant in your life – and trying to figure out exactly how to begin telling them you’re alright, and why you need to tell them you’re alright in the first place, and no you don’t feel safe but you’re moving your feet because that’s all you can do right now, and yes we can talk later, I’m “okay,” I love you, goodbye… There’s no logical place to start, and wherever your words go they can’t fully explain the very real expectation of death.
The three of us walked from the Commons back to Medford. We thought of taking a bus, but none of us really wanted to gamble with public transportation. An hour or so brought us just before the intersection of Medford and Broadway, but we decided to walk down a couple of side streets when we saw something smoking in the middle of Medford street. It was probably just some newspaper or a sock lit on fire, but today wasn’t the day to take anything so lightly. A woman walking her dog assured us that she would call the fire department, and less than 10 minutes later we could see flashing police vans and a fire truck racing down the street.
Everyone eventually returned home, and everyone we knew turned out to be safe, uninjured. We watched the news, ordered some food, and talked about what we went through. One of my housemates described his experience as “surreal,” or “like a movie,” “an out-of-body experience.” Another one (and I’m paraphrasing here) captured it pretty well: “After the explosions, there’s a reflex to look out for a safe place, some cover… but you can’t know where is safe, where is ‘okay’; you just wait and hope that you’re lucky to be in the right place.”
I’m in bed right now, and I guess I’m supposed to go to class tomorrow. When I think about sitting in a lecture, or opening my computer to do work, leafing through a book to take notes, contemplating jobs for the fall, it makes very little sense. It makes little sense that this experience isn’t an uncommon (often daily) reality for countless populations around the world. It makes little sense that the world we live in pressures people to cover up their wounds so the rest of us don’t have to confront the fact that the very structure of our society demands those wounds in the first place. Since so much information is still developing, and since this day hardly feels “over” in my mind, it’s hard to conclude this sort of meditation. I’m heartened to read reports of altruistic runners offering their blood to the Red Cross, and I’m heartened by the response of volunteer workers who helped organize the belongings of runners that were left behind, and the selfless work of all our emergency responders; but nonetheless, two explosions shook Boston and caused unnameable suffering for countless individuals. More explosions occurred throughout Iraq, Afghanistan, and plenty of other locations around the globe. I just want to sink into this bed and find myself okay in the morning.