Attending the majority of Boston Marathon’s from 2006-2016, the marathon has been a lot of first time experiences for me. From running six miles in the marathon dressed up as Spider-Man, my first time ever getting drunk was at a Boston University Marathon Party, but I never expected it to be my first terrorist attack. The marathon is a special event because of how it allows anyone, regardless of stature, to stand at that finish line, and provides support for those pushing themselves through that 26.2 mile run.
Attacking an event like the Boston Marathon is attack on life and human triumph in itself. 4.15.13 was the longest day of my life, feelings of defeat and exhaustion still linger back whenever I look at pictures of victims, such as that young boy Martin Richard, or Massachusetts Institute of Technology Officer Sean Collier. Although that was a dark day, the rest of that April brought out true humanity from the people of Massachusetts, and the world.
It was a cloudy Monday morning, I had my usual debate of bringing a jacket for Boston’s cooler temperature, began making calls, and texts to see who would meet up at the Lowell Train Station. Hoping to catch a train between 9:00am-10:30am, a group of four of us were able to organize and ride a train to Boston’s North Station. From North Station, we hopped on the Green Line Commuter Rail, and then pick a stop that would be close enough to Boylston Street. We decided on an early lunch at Boston’s “Fire and Ice.” A popular Boston establishment, because of you get to select raw meats and sides buffet style, then have the chefs cook it on a massive circular grill in the center of the restaurant. After lunch, we navigated our way through the funneling metal gates dictating human traffic, to walk around the finish line. The 2013 Men’s and Women’s Champion had already won, but’s it’s always uplifting to contribute in the crowds of cheering, as depleted runners turn around skyscraper bends, and push themselves to cross the finish line.
After walking around the finish line, everyone felt ready to move on, and we cut over to Copley Square. Copley was an easy destination because the shut down streets and alleys allowed us to avoid human traffic. Years of experience helped me to pick my steps, move quickly, and usually have a plan for most Mondays. Walking up to the Copley Mall, a giant “BANG” rang out, briefly rumbling the ground, and stopping us in our tracks. All four of us looked at each other, contemplating if there was a construction accident, or drunk BU students shot off fireworks.
I made a joking reference, “Bane’s here.”
It was joke from the 2012 film, Batman:Dark Knight Rises, where the antagonist Bane enters a bombed football stadium, but I wish my joke wasn’t the most accurate guess to what had just occurred on Boylston.
Entering the glass doors of the mall care free, to exiting the other side in pure chaos, was like crossing into an alternate dimension. The doorways and escalator were clogged with screaming frantic people trying to force their own directions.
I pieced together the words “bomb” from the distorted noise and TV’s playing the news in a shop window. A middle aged female bumped into my crying, her foil blanket and running shoes meant she had just finished the marathon, and she pleaded for my phone. Pulling my phone from my pocket, I let her and several other dehydrated crying women call their families. I wasn’t going to deny anyone my phone, the physical demands of the race, abrupt stress, must of left the runners hysteric, but a binding painful fear froze my body, from the thought of being the first person one of these women saw if their families were killed.
Boston declared a “State of Emergency” trapping us within the city. Government officials shut down public transportation, cell phone towers blocked service, and an early evening curfew was set for everyone to be inside. We wouldn’t be able to leave by train until the grid lock was lifted. Three out of four of us are part of the same fraternity and had a separate chapter in Cambridge. We began walking down Huntington, an endless line of ambulances lined up down the middle of the street, leaving us to wonder about the bomb, or how many people were killed. Every twenty feet, my phone would vibrate with texts of loved one slipping through the jamming signals. In a city wide shut down, uncertain of how long we be stranded in Boston, walking to Cambridge felt like the only option.
Sitting on the couches of the Cambridge fraternity living room, we watched the news to learn details of the bombing and how long we’d be stranded. Replayed clips of the news showed the explosion engulfing a building and runners approaching the finish line collapsing from debris. Our cell phones charging, no one speaking, as the news identified two skeptical characters, one larger, a smaller one with a blaring white hat dropping a bag on the sidewalk, were identified as brothers and suspects. As injury totals continued to rise, the story diverted to a Cowboy rushing a marathon runner with severe leg injuries to medical attention. It was at least a change of pace, as the Cowboy reflected on the loss of his sons, riddled with emotions, his pain seemed to trigger the memories, and lead to his heroic actions today. I have deep appreciation for the Cambridge guys letting us hangout in the living room, the despair of the news didn’t really help us physically or mentally recharge, I wasn’t certain what we would do, but I didn’t feel we had the grounds to stay too long, so we departed.
On the corner of Beacon Street, sits an Irish Pub, that always seems to be changing it’s name, opening and re opening. The evening setting in, we decided to spend time in the Pub and see what happened at the city curfew. Our options seemed to be dwindling with the sun setting and the gridlock standing. Heading up to the upstairs section of the pub, we drank, and sulked think about the details we just learned. It was still difficult to accept how this day had transformed from globally empowering event to mangled bodies laying in the streets. Defeat set in, alcohol crept on our exhaustion, my eyes felt heavy, standing at the Lowell Train Station nine hours ago, felt like a week ago. After a few rounds, the curfew became official, we spent the whole day focusing on finding shelter, but now contradicted ourselves by deciding to explore.
The four of us walked post curfew from Beacon Street to Fenway Park. Famous Fenway bars like Cask n Flagan or Boston’s House of Blues concert venue were completed vacant. No other civilians were out, as it got colder, the city made no sound, and in the night, Boston went silent. We continued walking into the darkness to find several platoons of full geared S.W.A.T. teams and National Guard units gathering every couple of blocks. My mind raced on topics from when the last time Boston could of been this quiet to what people in warring countries witness on a regular basis. The stillness felt unnatural, giants dump trucks blocking intersections, as one of the most advanced cities in the world shifted to a ghost town.
I was torn, part of me was glad we ventured into a militarized city, and part of me was embarrassed we were the last wanderers. When was the last time a city like Boston was this quiet? I don’t want to be in a warring country, so this would be my closest experience to understanding the feel of one on defense…or occupation. The platoons didn’t give us a hard time when we passed, but it was embarrassing when we were wandering, slightly buzzed, while they were working to protect us from imminent threats. We ended up back in Cambridge, drained from the series of emotion the last 13 hours brought, getting a ride from our EMT friend at 12:30am, this was the longest day of my entire life.
The Boston Marathon is an incredible event because it brings people from around the globe to compete and support one another. Every April 15th, I think of the series of emotions from fear that woman’s family might be dead, uncertainty of wandering an unstable city, and that picture of that little boy Martin always gets me. What I can say, is after April 15th, I witnessed some of the most genuine humanity from The Common Wealth of Massachusetts. Tom Menino finding the strength to attend the scene in illness, David Ortiz giving us his “This is Our F*cking City” speech and attacking, but more importantly how people treated each other on a regular basis. Massachusetts is such a fast paced place, everyone has their own objectives when they wake up, but that year people really did take the time to be more genuine towards one another. The Boston Marathon was always a celebration of humanity, 2013 tested it, and we have seen proof that the human spirit can overcome fear.