Friday, April 19, 2013

A few words about this week from a Boston expat in New Orleans

The bombing on Marathon Day, - April 15, 2013
(Photo credit: Boston.com)
When I read about the bombings near the finish line of the Boston Marathon, even 1500 miles away, I felt the aftershocks all the way in New Orleans. I was glued to my computer, checking Facebook, Twitter, and Boston.com, hanging on to every scrap of news. Was the fire at the JFK Library related? Were there other devices found? How many? How many people were hurt? And most importantly, who the hell could have done this? Why?

Patriot’s Day is the ultimate hooky day - no one else in the country had the day off, and it was even a crapshoot if you’d have it off too. But if you did, it was often a wonderful day of celebration. It was the unofficial start of spring, with the sun in our faces, a beer in hand, and general contentment. My alma mater, Emerson College, threaded throughout the city and my friends lived all through the Back Bay, Fenway, and Beacon Hill. There was always someone who had a driveway or front porch to host a hot dog and burger dinner near the finish line on Marathon Monday. You’d see people that you hadn't seen all winter, all of us coming out of hibernation.

Emerson immediately declared lockdown after the bombs went off; with all the confusion and terror in the immediate wake of the explosion, the urban campus wasn't taking any chances. Boston is full of students and on a random free day, they could be anywhere. One student from Boston University (originally from China) who was at the scene was killed. There were two other deaths; a young woman, resident of Medford and Arlington and close to her family; and an 8 year old boy from Dorchester. Boston residents, suburban professionals, and foreign graduate students, all large populations in Boston, were all tragically represented in the death toll.

Every news update (both true and false) that came through the afternoon delivered another gut punch; frantically contacting friends and family on Facebook and through texts helped a little, but watching the community that I’d lived and worked in for twenty years be violated by fear and terror and death and blood. There were those who tried to look on the bright side; expressing well deserved gratitude for first responders and others who helped the victims; the New England fortitude of strength and character; the acts of kindness shown by individuals and businesses. I couldn't. I felt helpless from here, guilty that I wasn't there, and even more guilty knowing when anyone asked me what I missed about Boston, I’d say “nothing.” I love my new city so much that I forgot how I fell in love with Boston at the age of 17. And how much it shaped who I am now.

Looking back, I think it was reading the tweet “BREAKING: MIT reporting there is a shooter on campus. ” that broke me. When I clicked the link to the emergency.mit.edu web page, this is what greeted me: “At 10:48 PM today gunshots were reported near Building 32 (Stata) which is currently surrounded by responding agencies. The area is cordoned off. Please stay clear of area until further notice. Unknown if injuries have occurred. Although the situation is considered active and extremely dangerous, an investigation is underway. Updates will be provided at this site when more information becomes available.”

When I started working at MIT in the Conference Services Office, the Stata building was finishing up construction. It opened on March 14, 2004, two months after I started working in the neighboring Building 12. I was there almost every day - to get money from the MIT Federal Credit Union ATM, pick up my monthly MBTA pass, get a cup of coffee, swim laps during my lunch break, and staff many, many events and conferences. I moved to the other end of campus in mid-2006 to work overlooking the Charles River and the Longfellow Bridge, but in both of my jobs I had frequent occasion to spend time with MIT campus police, who spent their days and nights protecting the campus, and its students, faculty, and staff.

Officer Sean Collier, the MIT police officer murdered outside the Stata building during the shooting on campus, had only been on the campus force since January 2012, but had worked with the Somerville Police Department previous to that. I moved to Somerville shortly after graduating Emerson in 1995. I lived there (with a quick foray back across the river to live in Brighton on the Watertown town line) until I moved to Salem with my husband in 2005.

As I write this, the final showdown between the second terrorist is counting down... and has resulted in the nineteen-year-old suspect being arrested alive and intact, after his older brother died in one of last night’s shootouts in Watertown. The two brothers lived on the same block in Cambridge between Inman and Union Squares as my high school friend and his husband, They were evacuated this morning, not allowed back home until the second man was apprehended.

Living here in New Orleans following this madness, seeing old friends be profoundly affected, reading about places close to my heart as crime scenes has been horrible. I've been angry, aggravated, easily frustrated, sick in my stomach, iron bands around my head and chest, and so sad for my city that it takes my breath away. After running on all those emotions, I am exhausted. I've been cycling between all of these things constantly since Monday afternoon. Hearing that the suspects are dead and captured has given some relief, but it doesn't bring back the people who have died, the arms and legs of those who have had them ripped off in the vicious explosion, or life before this ugliness. I still grieve for my city.

After this week, I have a long list of what I miss about Boston. And for the first time in almost three years, I think of it as “my city.”

Marathon Day, April 1993. A beautiful day with wonderful friends
(Photo credit: Cinema Wood)

1 comment:

  1. It's a bittersweet joy or sorrow. Take your pick.

    ReplyDelete