They say your first Marathon Monday is the one you remember forever. For our class of 2016, that will always be true.
It started Sunday night, as we were winding down from the weekend and preparing for this long awaited Marathon Monday. We planned what time to get to the street, what we’d write on our signs, what we’d wear. Wellesley that morning was buzzing with excitement. By the time we all made it to the Wellesley Scream Tunnel, it was about 10:30, and who would know the events happening later that day? There we were, holding our signs, proud to be Wellesley students, proud of each face that came by, slowly trickling in at first with those who swept right past us like wind, then quickly, then in clumps, in costumes. We cheered until our voices were hoarse, laughing and wiping sweat off our cheeks and hands from the runners. I kept watch out for two guys running from BCEC and the buildOn team, neither of which I saw. But I made eye contact, gave high fives to so many, and there was so much joy.
By that afternoon, I was exhausted from having extroverted too much in the morning and retreated to the living room to prepare for Tuesday’s presentation and Wednesday’s exam. I could still hear cheers in the distance when the texts came, when the tweets came. “Explosions at the Boston Marathon finish line.” Went back to my work. More buzzwords: bombs. IEDs. Deaths. Injuries. Amputations. Medical tents. Fires. Suspicious packages. And every minute, something more was falling apart. And then the pictures came out. The blood made it real. And the background made it real, streets I’d walked on a few days ago, stores we’d passed by, rejoicing in the weather, the beauty of spring and life. And then the video. The first video, the man down. Then more. Lost limbs at a marathon. Then more. Then people around breaking down. Then tears. Then hugs. Then silence.
Calls and texts came in, and I’m so grateful to everyone who took the time to check up on and pray for me and Wellesley and Boston. I was grateful to be safe. And yet a little guilty—sitting at the back of my mind, always a question to God in tragedies, why do I get to live, and not them? And, too, a little fear, that I’d considered going to the finishing line that day. And all my concerns were shut down and taken over when one of our friends was still in Boston, right near the finish line. Slowly we learned about Wellesley and BCEC runners who were safe, who were close and shocked but safe, but we still hadn’t heard from a few friends who were in the city, and there were no calls going out or in, only silent texts (and no comforting ones from the nonchalant parents), only looks from one pair of red swollen eyes to the other. Then we learned of more scares at JFK, at Harvard, at BU, and we headed to the dining hall for a nervous dinner.
We had been looking forward to Macklemore all year long. It was Macklemore, after all. We were planning to line up much earlier, but it wasn’t until 6 that we saw the line forming outside and rushed there. Even standing, then sitting on the pavement, waiting, eventually everyone we were waiting for from Boston came back; we kept waiting, even that was a chord of dissonance. Hours later, after waiting and a poor opening and more waiting, even as Macklemore came on, maybe our minds were elsewhere. “Thrift Shop” brought us back to Thursday night’s party, which seemed like ages and ages ago. He was a fantastic performer, and took our minds away from Boston for a while. Singing love is patient, love is kind over and over with a full crowd of people brought me back, not just to Boston but to the world, to justice and to love and around again. And he gave tribute to the victims and the survivors and their families in his closing song, “Irish Celebration.” We felt better. And at the same time, not at all. Besides the ringing in my ear from the concert, there were these lines,
limbs left along twenty six miles
at mile 13 we shared smiles, shook hands
at the concert tonight,
were not our shouts of joy also cries of desperation?
It was all very real and very surreal at the same time. A lot of thinking that night, a lot of crying on the inside, a lot of dissonance, of feeling so close and yet so disconnected, of trying to process.
The next three days, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, went by quickly as I drowned out the events with school and work and extracurriculars. The sun shone these days, too light for our heavy hearts. These days on campus were quiet. Too quiet. We winced at passing jokes and phrases, like “that was the bomb,” the classic “the bomb dot com,” the all-too-frequent-and-casual “I’m gonna die.” Thursday in World Politics class we hid some of our pain behind discussions of terrorism and racial profiling in academia, with only hints of emotion. But there were still periods in between classes and shifts, between meals, laying on my bed, reading more of the news, of anger at racism and false conclusions, of names and faces revealed (of, did I see this face pass by that morning), of speeches and letters, of trying to make sense of things by music, playing and listening to “Oceans,” of wordless prayers. Of being struck by Bostonians’ generosity and compassion—people who ran away from the bombs and to the hospital to give blood—of pride for this new home of mine, of wordless prayers.
By Thursday night, I’d finished the week’s overwhelming pile of work. I headed off to Harvard for a dinner and then a small group until about nine, then out to froyo until ten. It looked like I, like we, were recovering. Back to normal life. I was planning on taking the T, the red line and the MIT bus back to Wellesley. Instead a friend offered to drive me back to Wellesley, and since it would save me a bit of hassle, I thanked him and took the ride. Back at Wellesley, I gathered with friends per usual on weekday nights just to talk and chill. Then someone came in—“Did you hear about the MIT shooting?” And then texts came in. And tweets. And it felt like Monday again. Then pictures. Then videos.
And then sitting on my bed again, trying to process the proximity, texting friends frantically. Then realizing — I almost took the T at 10. For the 10:40 bus at Kendall, too close to its previous stop on Vassar. By building 32. I would’ve gotten to MIT sometime between 10 and 10:40. Shots were fired at 10:20. Then it became all too real. (“We don’t talk about that anymore, Alice.”)
But as it went down on Monday, I was safe, and in brokenness and gratitude, I continued to follow Twitter and live news feeds. More frantic texts. More thanks to those from Michigan who checked in. It meant the world. The roommate and I watched, read, shared news until two in the morning. Buzz words: shots. Police down. Police dead. Hijacks. Bombs. Hand grenades. IEDs. Run. Suspects. Chase. Was this related to the Marathon? We didn’t know. Were they the same people at MIT? At 7/11? We didn’t know. At any rate, they were moving west, Boston, Cambridge, to Watertown, westward toward my safe bubble of Wellesley. We turned off our computers and our phones, turned to trust. We went to sleep with the promise that things would be better in the morning.
I didn’t sleep well that night (was that last night? seems like ages ago). Nightmares of a Wellesley girl in critical condition. Waking up from that mess, asking to myself, that didn’t really happen, did it, at 7 a.m. Checked my email first thing for emergency alerts, and nothing except that MIT had closed, which made sense. I went to get ready for my classes. Then the emergency call and text and 8:36, when some classes had already begun, that Wellesley was closed for the day. People asked to leave and stay in their dorms. Buildings locked. A quiet stir. Silence suspended in the air. We’d really rather not have the day off.
The remainder of the morning was filling in on the events between three and eight, too much that happened but too little that happened at the same time. One brother died, but more had unfolded. The concept of Boston on lockdown and images of a ghost-town scared me, and as everything canceled, like a sleepover at BU I was supposed to go to, the air filled with uncertainty, more fear. More prayers. God of this city. Even though I walk through the valley. Our afternoon went by with love in our community, as love is the only thing to carry through so much confusion. We distracted ourselves with chick flicks and TV shows throughout the afternoon, watching while refreshing our news sources, not even knowing what to look for, but looking for something. We called too many pizza places looking for one to deliver, giving us something to do for at least an hour.
And this evening as we were too many episodes into a new season of a show, news came in, good news at first, Boston no longer on lockdown. And quickly after, not so much: “More gunshots heard in Watertown.” Silence. Turn off the show. Turn on the police scanner. Computers and phones freezing because too many people were watching. Pregnant silences between voices on the police scanner. Boat. Blood. Eyes peeled, we were addicted to the news. They were getting closer and were hopeful and we were terrified but at least we were together. We went downstairs to the TV room, on the way seeing the new storm unfold outside, weather to match the situation, hearing news of deaths by tornado in the midwest, then learning about the 7.0 Chengdu earthquake, and then smoke coming from the main dorm kitchen, too much tension in one room, you could see it in the lines on our faces, engraved deeper and deeper in that one long hour.
“They got him.” What? We all looked at each other, did we hear that right? Confirmations came in on twitter, on Facebook. We’d been holding our breath for four days. You could hear the exhales. You could hear the new lightness in our steps. We listened to the press conference, and thanked God for the police. To all the responders, thank you, thank you, thank you. There was some closure. Closure that, too, we knew, was the beginning of a long investigation. Questions remain: mainly, why? But closure to us, for safety, and rejoicing, for us, which in turn brought us back to sadness, for them, for “it can’t bring them back, but…” Prayers again, and this time, differently. Tonight was perhaps the first time we, from Michigan, Texas (and oh, Texas), South Carolina, Mexico, Rhode Island, Hawaii, really claimed Boston as ours.
Now it’s raining. The rain, it is our release; it is crying our sadness and our relief. It is washing away the blood stands at Copley, on Vassar, in Watertown. It is watering the earth that will hold Martin, Lingzi, Krystle, and Sean. It is raining in Boston tonight. But tonight, in this place, in this city, we are finally safe, we are finally home.